04 Jul, 2012

“Discrete” Cases: Female Traditional Instrumental Musicians in Serbia

Posted by: helen In: Radio

The etnomusicologist Iva Nenić from the University of Arts in Belgrade participated at the Fourth International Doctoral Workshop “Current Trends in Ethnomusicological Research” at the Center for World Music at the University of Hildesheim from 27th till 30th June 2012. In an interview with tinya.org she outlines her research about female traditional instrumental musicians in Serbia.

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“Discrete” Cases: Female Traditional Instrumental Musicians in Serbia 

by Iva Nenić

“While researching gender roles within Serbian and Balkan traditional music cultures, one almost promptly encounters a stance that women are not ‘supposed’ to play musical instruments: rather, the singing is seen as being more common (and thus more “natural”) to them. This idea, while being broadly disseminated in scholarly discourses quoting ethnographic evidence, seems suspicious on several grounds.

Firstly, many different ‘cases’ of female musical players such as famous “Milena guslarka” from the middle of 20th century (gusle being a bowed lute of the Balkans) indeed were reported, but at the same time loosely interpreted as an exception to the rule. This ‘exceptionality’ was then quickly explained as a sort of tolerable gender bending, although a broader systematic research focusing on women instrumentalists and their self-perception was almost never conducted.

In addition to that, a critical survey of early and modern scholarly discourses concerning female players demonstrates that they were largely underrepresented and thus invisible in the various canons of instrumental music that were constructed throughout the 19th and 20th century.

Iva Nenićs field research while focusing on both ‘concealed’ history and contemporary practice of female musicians, engendered several important questions that suggest a different view of female musicianship in Serbia. The first question is how female instrumentalists of today negotiate between gendered representations imposed upon them by the society and their self- perceptions, which leads to another question – how are they, in Althusserian terms, ‘interpellated’ by an ideology in comparison to male musicians? The second issue Iva Nenić wants to further explore centers around the idea of a ‘broken history’: namely, how the dominant discourse functions in order to prevent female bonding in terms of taking part in music today and throughout the history.”



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