Mawlam and Jazz in Interculturalmusical Synthesis

John Garzoli





This paper discusses contemporary practices of synthesising musical elements associated with traditional Isan music, especially the khaen and pin instruments, with Western derived musical elements. It is based on extensive fieldwork and draws on the contemporary musicological insight that musical meaning arises in the performance of music rather than residing in a ‘score’. This places the emphasis on the performers’ concepts and practices which are understood through ethnographic fieldwork. The process of intercultural musical synthesis raises a variety of musical and extra-musical questions about established orthodoxies in music. The objectives, processes and outcomes of Isan musicians who use traditional performance practice in contemporary musical forms demonstrates that the task of bringing into alignment musical elements from disparate musical systems is but one of the challenges faced by musicians working towards music-cultural hybridity. There are also a range of cultural and ethical factors involved in the combination of Isan and Western derived musical elements. The concept of improvisation that has grown up in jazz and ‘world music’ understands it to be a practice involving personal musical expression. However the idiomatic conventions of traditional khaen and pin playing are more tightly circumscribed and the concept of artistic freedom does not play a significant role in Isan music. Isan musicians who aim to situate their performance within contemporary jazz and ‘world music’ contexts are in a potential conflict between musical and cultural ideals as the value of personal artistic expression enshrined in the ethos of jazz collides with notions of musical and cultural authenticity of Isan music.


(Published in Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, Volume 11/2018 (Number 1), Page 1-18)


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