Final Project Phase 3



I will be planning to travel to the Island nation of Cuba for an intense study of that country’s music, particularly the son. According to Wikipedia, “Son cubano is a style of music that originated in Cuba and gained worldwide popularity in the 1930s… The Cuban son is one of the most influential and widespread forms of Latin American music.” Instruments used include: tres guitar, guitar, acoustic bass, maracas, claves, trumpet, timbales, cow bell, among others. In my limited research, Cuban son music seems to be produced by people mainly living in urban areas, where the popular ballroom venue is easily accessible.


For an American citizen, traveling to Cuba is a laborious ordeal. Due to the Cuban Revolution overthrowing the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, the American government placed a strict embargo on the island nation. It is legal for Americans to travel to Cuba, but unless given approval by the government, it is illegal to spend money on any Cuban products or services. In order to successfully research son music, it is necessary for an ethnomusicologist to have the ability to purchase supplies and accommodations in Cuba. There are several legal methods of accomplishing this, yet the only one that applies to my situation would be going on a “people-to-people” tour. Companies such as Abercrombie & Kent offer tours of Cuba to American citizens willing to forgive the $5,995 price tag. These tours typically last 10 days and are intended to fully immerse the foreign travelers in Cuban culture. A tour guide drags you and 23 other tourists around the island, visiting all the famous landmarks and locales. Although not a guarantee, it is safe to assume that at some point there will be an interaction with Cuban musicians playing son music, and it is at that point I would record the music for my ethnomusicological needs.

This is, however, an unacceptable option if I wanted to truly study son. Therefore, due to restrictions imposed by my government, it is essential that I operate outside the law.

The United States’ embargo does not prevent citizens of other countries from traveling to Cuba, and it may surprise some that the impoverished Socialist nation’s economy is based primarily on tourism. In fact, Cuba has a voracious appetite for tourists, and it has been well known among world travelers that Cuban immigration officials rarely, if ever, stamp American passports. Traveling to Cuba via a foreign nation will provide an unrestricted visit that is required for my research.

Air travel: The trip will begin in Toronto, Canada on June 1st, 2014. A round trip flight from Toronto to Havana, Cuba at that time will cost $464.00.

Accommodations: I will be staying at the Hotel Plaza in Havana, which costs $143.60 a night. I will be staying for a total of 7 nights, bringing the total to $1005.20

Food, Transportation: Both of these are fairly cheap, especially transportation since I will not be leaving the city of Havana. An educated guess as to the amount I should bring for food, transportation and other financial issues that arise is $500.00.

There are many clubs and venues in Havana where one can hear son. The Casa de la Musica, the Café Cantante, the Café del Hotel Florida, the Casa de la Amistad, the Sala Atril, among others. The plethora of options to chose from will provide me with a different location every night of the trip. Tickets are cheap for foreigners, costing on average $10.00, bringing the total to $70.00.


Because I am traveling alone, I will need to travel light. The Zoom h4n recorder, along with a Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic are lightweight and yield superb audio recordings. A Zoom h4n recorder will cost $259.90 and the microphone will cost $269.00, bringing the total for equipment to $529.90.


Due to financial constraints, I will publish my work utilizing the cheapest method available: as a post on my blog website.

The total for this ethnomusicology trip will be $2,569.10


Olmsted, Larry. “How To Travel To Cuba Legally And Expertly.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 31 July 2013. Web.

“Guide to Havana, Cuba – Cuban Music & Dance Clubs and Cabaret Shows.” Guide to Havana, Cuba – Cuban Music & Dance Clubs and Cabaret Shows.

“Cuba: People to People.” Luxury Travel. N.p., n.d. Web.

Cave, Damien. “Cuba: Doing It Your Way.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.

“Hotel Plaza, Havana.” Hotel Plaza (Havana, Cuba). N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.

Miller, Terry E. World Music, A Global Journey. 3rd ed


Ethnomusicology Chapter 8 Review



– Home to one of the most ancient of civilizations.

– Contains iconic relics such as the pyramids, the Sphinx. great temples, hieroglyphics, wall paintings, mummies, etc.

– Mostly desert, although lands are fertile along the Nile.

– Population of 83 million, most of which reside along the Nile.

– The Suez Canal, opened in 1869, connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and separates the main part of Egypt from the Sinai Peninsula.

– Little is known about the music of Egypt until long after contact with Islam.

Takht Ensemble

– Commonly used throughout the Middle East; including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, etc.

– Consists of three to five players

– Instruments used include:

– Qanun:

– a four-sided zither (stringed instrument with no neck) resembling an autoharp

– contains a plethora of tuning mechanisms

– rests on the lap and plucked with either tortoise shell picks or the fingernails

– Riq:

– a tambourine traditionally made from a wooden frame with fish or goat skin for the head

– Ney:

– an end-blown flute

– one of the only wind instruments used in the Middle East

– dates back 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest musical instruments still in use

– a hollow wooden cylinder with five or six finger holes

– range depends on the skill of the player, skilled players reaching up to 3 octaves

– Tablah:

– small goblet-shaped single-headed drum

– no relation to the tabla of India

– Kemanja:

– unfretted spike fiddle

– Other instruments include the Ud (pear-shaped lute), the violin, the cello, and sometimes the string bass.

– Takht ensembles usually play fixed compositions; the drums especially playing in organized cycles with various degrees of ornamentation

– Often accompanies belly dances.


– frequently described as the “mystical” branch of Islam

– regard themselves as part of the Sunni branch of Islam, however their interpretation of the Koran allows for activities, such as music, that are frowned upon by other Muslims

– Sufis believe that a person can become one with Allah through the elimination of the ego

– Some Muslims consider Sufis devoted followers of Allah, while others view them as heretics

– The term “Sufi” is derived from the Arabic word suf, meaning “wool”.

Sufi Dhikr Ceremony

– A Sufi devotional act in which believers chant the name of God with the goal of entering an ecstatic state (an exuberant celebration of Allah)

– instruments used are practically the same as in a Takht ensemble with a few minor differences

– of particular importance is the ney, which is often used in extended solos

– vocals are of great significance because they provide an opportunity to attain union with Allah


– World Jewish population is about fifteen million

– 42% of Jews live in Israel, 42% live in the U.S. and Canada, the rest are mostly in Europe

– Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people, located in the Middle East

– Due to its importance to various religions (Muslims and Christians), Israel has been fought over for over a millennium


– European-derived dance music commonly associated with Jewish celebrations, influenced by jazz and other non-Jewish styles

– Instruments such as the clarinet, violin and accordion are heavily featured.

Jewish Shofar and Liturgical Cantillation

– Essentially reading from a prayer book in “heightened speech”, somewhere between speaking and singing.

– “The human relationship with the spiritual world requires an extraordinary form of dialogue, one that takes it outside the realm of ordinary speech or song”.

– Person reading the holy texts in heightened speech is called a “cantor”.

– Only instrument used is a Shofar, a horn traditionally made from a ram’s horn

Final Project Phase 1


I will be planning to travel to the Island nation of Cuba for an intense study of that country’s music, particularly the son.


According to Wikipedia, “Son cubano is a style of music that originated in Cuba and gained worldwide popularity in the 1930s… The Cuban son is one of the most influential and widespread forms of Latin American music.” Instruments used include: tres guitar, guitar, acoustic bass, maracas, claves, trumpet, timbales, cow bell, among others. In my limited research, Cuban son music seems to be produced by people mainly living in urban areas, where the popular ballroom venue is easily accessible. In order to fully immerse myself into this culture and music without actually applying for a Cuban residency, I plan on staying somewhere in the realm of weeks.

Possible resources for this assignment:

  • Argeliers, Leon. “Notes toward a Panorama of Popular and Folk Music.” Essays on Cuban Music: North American and Cuban Perspectives. Ed. Peter Manuel. Maryland: University Press of America, 1991. 1-23. Print.
  • Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. “Music and Nation.” Cuba: Idea of a Nation Displaced. Ed. Andrea O’Reilly Herrera. New York: State University of New York Press, 2007. 328-340. Print.
  • Leymarie, Isabelle. Cuban Fire: The Story of Salsa and Latin Jazz. New York, Continuum Publishing, 2002. Print.
  • Loza, Steven. “Poncho Sanchez, Latin Jazz, and the Cuban Son: A Stylistic and Social Analysis.” Situating Salsa. Ed. Lise Waxer. New York: Routledge, 2002. 201-215. Print.
  • Manuel, Peter, with Kenneth Bilby and Michael Largey. Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. 2nd edition. Temple University Press, 2006. ISBN 1-59213-463-7.
  • Moore, Robin. “Salsa and Socialism: Dance Music in Cuba, 1959-99.” Situating Salsa. Ed. Lise Waxer. New York: Routledge, 2002. 51-74. Print.
  • Moore, Robin. “Afrocubanismo and Son.” The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Ed. Chomsky, Carr, and Smorkaloff. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. 192-200. Print.
  • Orovio, Helio. Cuban Music from A to Z. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Print
  • Peñalosa, David. The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins. Redway, CA: Bembe Inc., 2009. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.
  • Perna, Vincenzo. Timba: The Sound of the Cuban Crisis. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005. Print.
  • Thomas, Susan. “Cosmopolitan, International, Transnational: Locating Cuban Music.” Cuba Transnational. Ed. Damian J. Fernandez. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005. 104-120. Print.

Case Study: Tibet


The concept of “music” is tested for virgin ears upon first hearing the sonic abnormalities which accompany a Tibetan Buddhist ritual. It is a sound unlike any other – creepy by Western standards – reminiscent of monsters yammering in a child’s nightmare. It comes from the pseudo-nation of Tibet where the quotidian lifestyle consists of thin air, high altitudes, rocky plateaus, yaks, yaks, and yaks. Suffocating the landscape are the tallest mountains on Earth,  blocking the horizon and isolating Tibet both geographically and culturally.  For decades, the isolation has been penetrated only by gluttonous China, swallowing Tibet and capriciously restricting various customs and religious practices. It is within this severe isolation, foreign aggression, and harsh environment that Tibetans gradually developed an unyielding spirituality and in turn produced an uncommon music.

Buddhist rituals contain a small number of instruments, the most conspicuous of which is the kang dung, “traditionally made from a human thigh bone but today made from metal” (Miller). The kang dung trumpet has a wavering timbre that bellows every note like some funhouse yodeler, its volume and prominence making it impossible to ignore. Usually played in unison with the kang dung is the dung dkar, a “trumpet formed from a white conch shell… decorated with ornate patterns in metals such as silver, bronze or tin” (Dung-Dkar). These two trumpets blend together into one cohesive (albeit aurally intrusive) sound. Joining the fray is yet another aerophone: the dung chen, a metal trumpet that can range anywhere from 5 to 12 feet long. The sound of the dung chen can best be described using the poetic words of author Tsultrim Allione: “It is a long, deep, whirring, haunting wail that takes you out somewhere beyond the highest Himalaya peaks and at the same time back into your mother’s womb” (Tibetan horn).

tibet kang dung tibet dung kar tibet dung chen

An ethnomusicologist would be remiss if the gyaling failed to get a mention when discussing the music of Tibet. A double-reed woodwind instrument that requires circular breathing to master, the gyaling resembles the oboe in its design and a squawking bird in its timbre. It is evident that the music of Tibetan Buddhist rituals are incomplete without the dissonant ululations of various aerophones.

Not counting the bland and uninspired woodblock, the percussion found in these rituals are as otherworldly as the alien trumpets they accompany. The most common of the drums are the nga bom, “double-faced frame membranophones that hang vertically in a stand and are struck by a hook-shaped stick” (Miller). These drums are played in a plodding manner, booming loudly like the footsteps of giants, seemingly reverberating off the walls of a massive cave. Anxiety is produced in the unaccustomed listener with every thunderous bang. The other frequently used percussion instrument is the rom, large cymbals that are struck during chants. The piercing sound of these cymbals adds yet another peculiar structure to this music’s aural landscape.

tibet nga bomtibet cymbals

Chanting is featured heavily in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, eerily hovering among the blaring instruments. They chant to earn a better existence in the next life. Unlike most artists who create music influenced by their religion, these Buddhists produce spiritual sounds which are necessary to their religion, and it is non-Buddhists who classify it as “music”. To the casual listener with eclectic tastes, it is indeed a form of music. But to the Buddhists it is a method for calling spirits, warding off demons, and preparing for the afterlife.



“Dung-Dkar.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web.

“Tibetan Horn” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web.

Miller, Terry E. World Music, A Global Journey. 3rd ed

Case Study: North India


Adorned with the preeminent Himalayas, inundated with deserts and plains and grand metropolises, the physical diversity of North India is unavoidably palpable.  This is an expansive land densely populated with inhabitants whose history has been scarred by the bellicosity of imperious neighbors and would-be conquerors, from the Persian and British Empires to the Scythians and Sassanids. The constant influx of outside cultures permeated that of North India’s, blending and blurring into the unique lifestyle its people have today, mostly centered around devout religious beliefs and customs. Although mosques and Sikh temples are prevalent, Hinduism reigns supreme, but not in an all-encompassing manner. In the same way that vibrant colors of light compromise when combined and become white, the large variety of faiths in North India have melded together into a secular society.  And out of this place of cultural intermingling seeps a transcendental sound that rises above the heterogeneous landscape, launching its audience into an ethereality. It is known as Hindustani music.

Essential to Hindustani music is the dichotomy of stringent rules and unfettered improvisation. Any ethnomusicologist studying this region will have a platter of words to digest (such as soflège, alap, jor, theka, bols, and a side order of gat). These terms describe aspects of raga, or the “comprehensive system for the simultaneous composition and performance of music” in North India (Miller).  Raga encompasses the notes and scales, the beat, and the organization of thematic sections used in a certain performance, but it is up the musician to utilize this foundation and its inherent constraints in a compelling way for the audience. This is done through “the musicians’ dexterity, creativity, and stage presence” while improvising on their instruments (Miller).

Of the notable Indian instruments, none has grabbed the world’s attention more so than the sitar. Having between 18 and 20 strings, the sitar “derives its distinctive timbre and resonance from bridge design, a long hollow neck, and a gourd resonating chamber” (Music).  Resembling a whiny cartoon character, the sound of the sitar can be heard extensively throughout North India, helpfully played by virtuosos such as Ravi Shankar in such a manner that its typically grating noise mutates from an unwanted cacophony into a mesmerizing welter of tones that induce tranquility in the listener.

Other instruments that are not as renowned as the sitar yet make more than one appearance in Hindustani music include the sarod and the santur, both chordophones that make use of sympathetic strings, which are not directly played but rather resonate based on the vibrations of the instrument’s main strings.  The most common type of membranophones in North India is the tabla, a “pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres” (Music). Another must-mention is the harmonium, a European instrument that was brought over to North India by British missionaries, who “did not anticipate that Indians would embrace the instrument so enthusiastically” (Miller). The harmonium is a portable version of the pipe organ, producing sounds with hand or foot pumps.


This music thrives today both in its traditional form and as a distinctive element of some popular music and the soundtracks of Bollywood films. One can experience North Indian music by traveling to Delhi or Kanpur and witnessing firsthand the jazz-like improvisations of those trained in raga, or simply listen to “Love You Too” by the Beatles. One option is less financially demanding than the other, though probably not as enlightening.


“Music of India.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web.

Miller, Terry E. World Music, A Global Journey. 3rd ed

Case Study: Hawaiian Music


It emanates from the misty jungles, ceaselessly flowing in a casual manner like lava from Mauna Loa. It is usually a plaintive, melancholic tune tinged with the exotic beauty of its birthplace: sunshine and beaches, mango trees and rainbows. It is the music of Hawaii, an unmistakable and influential sound in both Polynesia and the United States.

Hawaii is an archipelago located in northern Oceania containing a small population. Its tropical climate and location make it a tourist mecca. There is a unique culture and tradition in Hawaii, but it has been inundated with foreign mindsets and ideologies since Captain James Cook arrived in the late 18th century. This outside influence has been reciprocated by the inhabitants of Hawaii in many forms, most notably in their music.

The only purely original form of Hawaiian music is the drum-chant dance. Played mostly at funerals, weddings, and sacred ceremonies, the drum-chant dance is an “important role in the maintenance of indigenous language, spiritual beliefs, history and social customs” of Hawaiians [Miller]. Through chants such as hula pahu, traditional Hawaiians believed that the sound they produced was a voice that had the ability to speak to the gods. This voice was created using membranophone instruments such as the pahu and the kilu, both drums made from coconuts or coconut tree wood.

Most popular Hawaiian music, however, are the songs that feature instruments brought in from the outside world, such as ukulele and the steel guitar. The ukulele is essentially a Portuguese guitar, being much smaller than a normal guitar and utilizing only four strings. The steel guitar is a stringed instrument that is played horizontally. It is known for its unique “sliding tone” that is “produced by sliding a metal bar along the strings without pressing them down to the fretboard” [Miller]. This is known as a portamento, which is the continuous movement from one pitch to another.

Hawaiian music has infiltrated the music of other locales, most notably with the steel guitar being a prominently used instrument in country music. Popular songs that have a “Hawaiian” flavor to them can be heard everywhere, from the Christmas ditty “Mele Kalikimaka” to “Blue Hawaii” by Elvis Presley. The ukulele has been used extensively by a variety of artists, including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and virtuoso ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro. Hawaiian music has both been influenced by and made a long-lasting impact on the outside world.

“Aloha Oe” by Queen Lili’uokalani (an example of a popular song from Hawaii):



World Music: A Global Journey by Andrew Shahriari and Terry E. Miller


Cultural Insider vs. Cultural Outsider


It may be parochial of me to assume that of all the musical instruments known to man, the one which requires the most skill and patience to master is the piano, but this is the assumption I find myself making based on what little knowledge I have. The guitar, the concertina, the oboe – I have never played these instruments and therefor have no concept of how they operate. For all I know they may be as easily tamed as the vapid kazoo I once found masquerading as a prize in a box of Froot Loops. The piano, on the other hand, is something I have a dab of experience in. By no means talented, I can at least play scales and chords. I know some songs. My fingers and knuckles bear all invisible scars and scabs developed by a beginner pianist. So whenever the superlative sounds of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor intrude upon my ears, the mellifluous interloper is always granted a warm welcome.

I didn’t grow up listening to classical (or specifically in this case, Romantic) music. Five years ago I probably would not have appreciated the splendor and beauty of Frederic Chopin’s masterwork. It was only when I discovered how difficult it is to ensure each finger hits the right note at the precise time during a performance that I begun to understand the technical wizardry involved in composing and playing such a piece.  It is this required proficiency to pull the sonata off that initially draws me in, but it is the gorgeous and mesmerizing music that forces me to really and truly listen. Chopin draws emotions out of the audience like a prospector, digging deeper and deeper and hitting upon gold when arriving at the world-famous “Funeral March”, a sound so embedded in the modern zeitgeist that I doubt it possible for anyone in the Western world to listen to it and not immediately conjure up images of mourners in a cemetery.

Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat:

I try to approach every new musical piece with a journalist’s objectivity. If an artist had previously been responsible for otiose tunes and annoying lyrics, I try my best to not hold it against them. All preconceptions are left behind (to the best of my ability). In the case of Nicki Minaj, there were several blunders of hers that had marred my ear drums in the past, but clemency was bestowed upon the female rapper/singer/songwriter. So I can say with honesty that I was not persuaded by any prior convictions when, two years ago, she released a track titled “Beez in the Trap” that I gave my utmost attention. I found it to be an atrocious and lazy effort, bordering on ignominious. The beat – insipid, bass-heavy (of course) – offers no hints of inspiration or originality. It’s a sound I’ve heard dozens of times in dozens of other forgettable rap songs. The lyrics are nonsensical, or perhaps the meaning is just hidden behind my disinterest in analyzing them. Well-known gangsta rapper 2-Chainz makes a cameo appearance, spitting lines that are equally vacuous.

I am not biased against the genre from which Minaj’s song labels itself; on the contrary, I find many of my favorite songs are rap hits from Nas, Kendrick Lamar, The Notorious B.I.G., et al.  I simply did not connect with it on an instrumental and structural level. The foundations of the song itself – the beat, the lyrics – offered nothing for my ears to grab onto.

Nicki Minaj’s “Beez in the Trap”: