by Dr. Dale A. Olsen
Below is a chronological list of published books I have written (or edited), containing publisher information and links for purchasing them (see also Amazon.com), brief statements and several reviews about their contents, other data, and links to accompanying audio examples (if available) and visual images. All audio examples and images are my copyrighted property. However, with this statement give my unsolicited permission for their limited use for noncommercial and nonprofit educational purposes only, and kindly ask that users/borrowers completely reference my work. Please contact me for other permissions or further information about my publications.
Winner of the 1996 Alan Merriam Prize for the “most distinguished book in ethnomusicology” — Society for Ethnomusicology.
Cultural tragedy often accompanies the death of biological species in the South American rain forests. As fragile as the ecosystem is the culture of the Warao Native Americans continues to thrive. In this lively blend of musicology, anthropology, and environmental awareness, the author argues that music holds together much of the Warao’s existence. Hardback published in 1996.
DALE A. OLSEN. Music of the Warao of Venezuela: Song People of the Rainforest. xxxiii+290 pages, 80 figures, 3 tables. 1996. Gainesville (FL): University Press of Florida.
Dale Olsen begins
This study guide and workbook is designed to guide students through the diverse chapters of Elizabeth May’s textbook, Musics of Many Cultures: An Introduction (University of California Press, 1980), for college and university world music classes. The workbook helps both music and non-music majors more clearly understand the materials in the text; it will also aid in preparations for exams. Original edition published in 2000; fourth edition published in 2013.
In the first comprehensive synthesis of pre-Columbian Andean musical instruments from Colombia and Peru, the author breathes life and humanity into the music making of numerous ancient cultures in the northern and central Andes. He assesses three decades’ worth of archaeological and anthropological findings from diverse collections, museums, tombs, and temples. Hardback published in 2002; paperback version published in 2004.
DALE A. OLSEN. Music of El Dorado: The Ethnomusicology of Ancient South American Cultures. xxxiii+290 pages, 80 figures, 3 tables. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. 2002.
Dale Olsen begins with a very telling quote from Christopher Columbus: ‘Truly for gold he can gain entrance for his soul into paradise’. Naturally, the book is not about metal and Catholic spirituality at all, but about cultures in which other values besides those of the Spanish (and, by extension, ourselves) held sway. He implies, and then discusses at some length, that ancient South American cultures such as those of Peru and Colombia placed a high, even religious premium on musical products and productions. Olsen uses ethnographic analogy – the study of modern cultural/ritual practices to determine potential continuities over long spans of time and reconstruct ancient lifeways – to show how music has played a key role for millennia. His evidence is first hand in the case of the North Coast of Peru, as he worked with the famous shaman Eduardo Calderón of Trujillo for many years and key archaeologists such as Christopher Donnan. Thus, Music of El Dorado adds significantly to our understanding of how music fits into visionary spirituality past and present.
However, there are certainly ways in which a specialist in one art form (the aural) cannot help but fall a bit short when using another art form (the visual) as a central part of his or her analysis. When discussing the actual musical instruments, with their correct technical terminology and sensitivity to nuances of sound, Olsen is very convincing, generates appreciation, and remains surprisingly readable for a non-musician. However, being an art historian, I must object to a few assumptions that Olsen makes regarding art as evidence for music. He treats such art styles as those of the Moche, the early hegemonic culture in northern Peru c. AD 1- 800, as encyclopaedic treatments of the daily and ritual lives of their makers. He writes, ‘their pottery is like a ceramic ethnographic textbook’ (p. 15), despite the fact that archaeologists and art historians repeatedly agree that certain subjects are not illustrated in the sculptural or painted record. Nor can small-scale ceramic surfaces detail all aspects of an ancient practice. Therefore, for example, when Olsen comments that Moche musical scenes show only a flutist and a drummer, it cannot be concluded, as he does, that the actual ceremonies only featured a limited range of performers. So much archaeology is going on in this area (having just come back from there in August 2004, I can personally attest to this) that such generalisations are dangerous as well. The most serious problem he flirts with is using objects from private collections whose pieces may not have been carefully screened by objective scholars. If the instruments on which he bases his analyses are not, in fact, ancient, then the foundations of his findings are suspect from the outset. Some plain or lesser objects in all collections, as well as some of the most impressive, are often found to be heavily reconstructed or culturally incorrect when a trained conservator, scholar, and, or, curator examine them in person.
These objections do not, however, take away from the copiously referenced, logically presented, and original aspects of Music of El Dorado. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the book is that it directs the reader to a website containing the actual recordings of the illustrated instruments when they were played. Usually a visiting musician and a very lenient conservator are the only ways for the public to gain such an experience. Having access to these recordings is obviously invaluable for conveying what he calls ‘non-speech communication’ and listening creates a powerful sensory interaction with the sounds of the past and present. His presentation of the words of shamans, their fascinating points of view and ways of using music, such as their experiences of synaesthesia, are all remarkable. Olsen also is careful to frame his more controversial claims as hypotheses, and presents the shaman’s answers fairly. For instance, after asking Calderón if he thought the Moche pursed-lip human effigy vessels depicted shamans whistling to call spirits, Olsen reports his informant as replying ‘One cannot know … They are probably just people whistling’ (p. 153; one is reminded of Picasso saying that a bird in the painting, Guernica, is just a chicken). Of course, the comments of one man do not invalidate the point that music was a highly spiritual pursuit in the ancient Americas and Olsen gives us many insightful ways to approach this crucial topic.
Antiquity 78 (302):952-53 (2007), by REBECCA STONE-MILLER, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Music helps form and nurture ethnic identity for large populations of people of Japanese descent in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and Paraguay. In a story never before told, the author offers a musical history and ethnography of this vibrant Asian diaspora, the largest population of overseas Japanese in the world and one of the most successful subcultures in South America. Hardback published in 2004.
Author’s note: This book is out of print, but I (the author) have over 200 copies that I wish to distribute free of charge. All I ask is for the price of postage for me to mail the book anywhere in the United States (approximately $10). Please send me an email for a free copy — I will even autograph it if so desired.
DALE A. OLSEN. The Chrysanthemum and the Song: Music, Memory, and Identity in the South American Japanese Diaspora. 360 pages. ISBN: 0-8130-2764-0 (hard cover). Gainesville, FL. University Press of Florida. 2004.
This book, in the author’s own words, “is about how Nikkei South Americans perceive of themselves, remember or learn about their heritage, negotiate their identities, and in effect culturally survive through music.” Dale Olsen is the quintessential participant-observer who himself learned to play the melodies that are instantly recognizable as Japanese. His instrument is the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese flute, and he often performed in concert with the people featured in his book. The book has frequent audio examples which can be accessed through an accompanying website, adding an extra dimension to his descriptions. Along the way of his journeys through South America, he kept a journal of “personal bimusical participatory reflections,” which are interspersed like silver nuggets throughout the book.
His book is about Nikkei, people of Japanese descent who live outside of Japan. He focuses on the South American countries of Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia. For each country, he treats the following topics: the history of Japanese immigration, music clubs and associations, religious music, Naichi (Japanese mainland) involvement, Okinawan involvement, Nikkei activities, Nikkei westernized activities, host country music traditions, popular music, and Nikkei musical understanding. His overviews come from extensive research in newspaper archives and other historical resources, but he also zooms in to give musical ethnographies of individuals, whom we can see in many excellent photographs, and with whom he often had “musical encounters.”
Olsen’s book covers the whole realm of Nikkei musical experience in South America—from traditional folk dances to Japanese classical music to Enka ballads to karaoke singing. He follows “issei” (first-generation) cultural memories but also investigates the westernized performances of “No sé” generations. Because his chapters are organized in a parallel manner, it is easy to compare the various histories.
His theoretical objective is to show how “music among the Nikkei is one of their major vehicles for remembering their pasts and those of their ancestors… and how music functions to determine, manipulate, maintain and sometimes recreate those identities”; i.e., how music and memory work together to effect identity. He often uses Jan Assmann’s terms “cultural memory” and “communicative memory,” the former marking that which is taught from person to person, and the latter that which is disseminated by collective organizations. In fact, he uses those concepts as an organizational tool for his chapters. Although he does not present any startling new theory, his book is valuable for its rich presentation of what happens when a culture is uprooted and replanted somewhere else. The story of Japanese musical traditions maintained against the rugged South American landscape is truly precious and poignant.
The title of the book is borrowed from Ruth Benedict’s wartime study, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Whereas Benedict’s chrysanthemum represented the imperial throne of Japan, Olsen uses the white flower as a metaphor for the rough work done by groups of Nikkei workers in the fields, such as cultivating chrysanthemums.
I have only a few minor quibbles, one with this definition: “Shintoism is a belief system and way of life based on remembrance of the ancestors” (98). Actually, it is Buddhism that is based on remembrance of the ancestors. Japanese people use Shinto shrines to pray for success in life, good health, and good luck, focusing on their current lives and the future; the same Japanese people use Buddhist temples to remember and pray for their dead ancestors. And, on page 139, in reference to a photograph of a Bon Odori festival, it is stated that “the dancing platform is in the center.” Usually, the platform holds the musicians and singers, while the dancing is performed by hundreds of people in the wide open space around the platform. These are minor points in a work so broad in scope, however, and are probably mere editorial misses.
Olsen’s book will provide plenty of fodder for discussions on memory, identity, diasporic studies, ethnomusicology, and Japanese music. It is a lovingly presented history, unique in this world, and entertaining to read as well as factual. It could also serve as a model for participant-observation fieldwork. In addition, surely Nikkei in South America will appreciate it as a history of their immigrant musical experience for generations to come.
Reviewed by Linda Kinsey Spetter, Baiko Gakuin University, Shimonoseki, posted on August 14, 2006 at <http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/jfrr/article/view/2375/2251>
Volume 2 of the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (coedited by Dale A. Olsen and Daniel Sheehy) includes essays by dozens of notable scholars that describe and study the extraordinarily rich and varied music from all the countries south/southeast of Florida and the Rio Grande River. Unique emphasis is given to 25 Amerindian cultures, including the Yuma and Otopame (Mexico), Maya (Guatemala), Kuna (Colombia and Panama), Suya (Brazil), Aymara and Quechua (Ecuador to Chile), Mapuche (Chile and Argentina), Warao and Yanomami (Venezuela), and many more. Several articles are devoted to the popular music of Mexico, Brazil, the Caribbean islands, and other areas. A survey of the music of immigrants to Latin America shows how arrivals from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Germany, Italy, and Spain have preserved their musical traditions in the region for the past 150 years.
“Garland’s ambitious 10-volume series takes a cultural approach to its focus on the music of all the world’s peoples. Each volume is arranged topically, regionally, or by ethnic group, and complemented by an extensive index. Although each volume will differ because of the nature of the material, the organization remains consistent throughout all: regional overviews first; music in the social context next; then finally, the musical traditions of individual countries or ethnic groups. Of exceptional value are the CDs that accompany each volume, often with previously unrecorded music, as well as the resource guides, extensive bibliographies, and photographs. Separate pricing makes it easy to buy just the volumes that your patrons need and will use.”
From “Outstanding Reference Sources: the 1999 Selection of New Titles,” American Libraries, May 1999. Comp. by the Reference Sources Committee, RUSA, ALA.
The Garland Handbook of Latin American Music is comprised of selected essays from The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: Volume 2, South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean (1998). Revised and updated for use as a college textbook, the essays offer detailed and readable regional studies of many music cultures south of the United States and examine the ways in which music helps to define the identity of that very large and vibrant area. The book includes two CDs of musical examples that correspond to many of the essays. Second paperback edition published in 2008.
Based on the author’s research in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and other urban areas in Vietnam between 2003-05, this study of contemporary Vietnamese popular music explores the ways globalization and free market economics have influenced the music and subcultures of Vietnamese youth, focusing on the conflict between the politics of remembering, nurtured by the Vietnamese Communist government, and the politics of forgetting, driven by the capitalist interests of Vietnam’s market economy and music industry since the end of the American embargo. Hardback published in 2008; paperback version published in 2010.
DALE A. OLSEN. Popular Music of Vietnam: The Politics of Remembering, the Economics of Forgetting. 286 pp. Paperback, $39.95. ISBN-13: 978-0-415-98886-5; ISBN-10: 0-415-98886-1. Routledge, New York, London, 2008.
Popular Music of Vietnam is an important book. To begin with it is the first study in the new series, Routledge Studies in Ethnomusicology.[i] Accordingly, it sets the style, scope and tone of those that will follow. Departing from tradition, it provides an in-depth encyclopedic perspective on the range of popular music in Vietnam in the 1990’s. Incorporating materials from the mass media, interviews and ethnography, Olsen provides deeply sensitive accounts of the artists and their careers. He describes the contexts in which they perform, the recording industry and the relevant media, the relations with the government and history and much more. In bringing such diverse material together, this book will be of long-lasting value not only to ethnomusicology but more broadly to the study of popular culture and the appreciation of popular music globally. Moreover, though it is theoretically informed, those discussions are effective and brief and do not detract from the somewhat unmediated nature of the text.[ii] Above all, what we learn here is a great deal about the surprisingly lively popular music scene in Vietnam.
The title is deftly chosen with Olsen noting that the subtitle was inspired by Arjun Appadurai’s discussion of the globalization of archaeology and heritage. There Appadurai comments that not enough attention has been paid to the national cultural politics of forgetting.[iii] For Olsen, this serves him well to illustrate how both individuals and the state have pursued a cultural agenda to promote minority culture through popular music. They and the youth in particular have also used the music as a means to forget disturbing aspects of the past. In this the book’s originality lies in its discussion of the economics of forgetting and as such it makes an important contribution to the study of national imagination and music.
The book includes accounts of the historical, cultural and political aspects of artists’ musical careers and of their particular gifts. It describes all manner of popular music and performance venues from clubs to concerts, festivals and competitions and much more including discussions of the audio and video recording industry and a chapter on the politics and pleasures of karaoke. The star profiles and the accompanying photographs are especially compelling. We also gain unusually direct insight into this world through accounts of his field experiences and from long quotes taken from newspaper and other mass media accounts. Therein Olsen provides us with a useful case study of how to conduct ethnographic and historical studies which can take into account the full richness of national music scenes and the global and the local therein. In this, a daunting challenge in itself, it has relevance far beyond ethnomusicology itself.
Popular Music of Vietnam is also a wonderful instance of an age-centric study. Take this humorous and revealing account from the author’s field notes for instance: “I have never in my life experienced anything like this. It was as futuristic as anything you could ever imagine – blue and green spotlights flashing everywhere over continuous black lights; techno music with the bass so loud and so monotonous . . . that my pants legs vibrated and my stomach felt upset . . .” (Olsen 2008, p. 180).
As a respected emeritus American ethnomusicology professor who first worked on traditional music in Peru[iv], Olsen has passionately engaged the whole gamut of Vietnamese popular music from rap to rock and pop, from head banging and Snoop Doggy Dog to techno and much more. He attended to every imaginable popular and traditional form of music in clubs small and large. He braved the stadium madness and the pulsing nightlife of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the noise and the smoke and the pant leg shaking stomach upsetting base. All together then, this results in a book which is a lasting tribute to his career and to more generally to the longevity of the joys of research, fieldwork and writing.
It is in this important and touching to learn that Olsen’s original interest in Vietnamese music was inspired by a recital by Pham Duy and his family, then newly refugees. That shared experience in a church in Florida is in part then responsible for this study. After that recital in 1975, Olsen always included the study of Vietnamese traditional and contemporary musics in his ethnomusicology survey classes. There he would discuss the similarities between Duy’s and Pete Seeger’s use of musical politics as he briefly considers in this study (see Olsen 2008, pp.131-132). In this one can see how decades of thoughtful engagement eventually can find their final form and how the study of Vietnamese music can have deep relevance to the appreciation of American music and its global influence.[v]
Though Olsen very successfully conveys the essence of what makes contemporary Vietnamese music popular and therefore important it is unfortunate that there is no an accompanying CD or better yet DVD. Nevertheless, in the final analysis this is an enormously rich text that exudes sincerity. In that and in its broad reach, this study will be valuable not only to ethnomusicologists but to anthropologists, historians and all others studying global popular culture. In time, perhaps another author will be inspired to reveal to us the dark side of the earlier period of this history of Americanized music, that is, the all important Vietnam War years. For as Olsen quotes Reebe Garofalo – “Rock . . . was not only the sound track of domestic opposition to the war [within the United States]; it was the soundtrack of the war itself [within Vietnam] (in Olsen 2008, p. 6).
To conclude, in describing how Vietnamese musicians have incorporated influences from rock and other musics and exploited the explosive power of new technologies such as the CD which has become the iconic symbol of the new Vietnam, Olsen pithily states: “This is where it is at; this is the future; this is the economics of forgetting at work; this is globalization in its mediated glory” (2008, p.187). In bringing all this richness together, and keeping in mind the exceptional case of Phurong Tao – the “Mariah Carey of Vietnam” (such Amerasian children being known either as the “dust of life” or as my lai, ibid, p. 41-43) and perhaps unavoidably the recent conviction of Comrade Duch in nearby Cambodia on Tuesday July 27th, 2010, this study begins the process of revisiting such painful histories informing Vietnamese artists’ lives and for other musicians further afield. For now then, here is an encyclopedic resource which speaks to the enduring salience of traditional musics and the strange affective power of American music, no less the soul’s desire for seeking expression and transcendence through music and dance.
[i] For the leading series in the field of ethnomusicology, see Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology at http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Complete/Series/CSE.html. For one particularly relevant example from that series for Olsen’s study as regards technology and music, see Peter Manuel’s Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India (1993).
[ii] Olsen’s study will speak to many other studies of popular music notably Craig Lockard’s Dance of Life: Popular Music and Politics in Southeast Asia (1998), Theodore Gracyk’s I Wanna Be Me: Rock Music and the Politics of Identity (2001), Simon Frith’s Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (1996) and Brian Longhurst’s Popular Music & Society (1995). For two more focused and theoretical ethnomusicological case studies and discussions of the anthropological issues of music and identity, modernity and tradition, see Christopher Waterman’s Juju: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music (1990) and Tom Turino’s Nationalists, Cosmopolitans and Popular Music in Zimbabwe (2000). For a detailed consideration of Turino’s study, see Jonathan Zilberg’s review in the Journal of Cultural Studies, Lagos 3(2), 2001, pp. 514-522 available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/32692828/Nationalists-Cosmopolitans-and-Popular-Music-in-Zimbabwe.
[iii] See “The globalization of archaeology and heritage: A discussion with Arjun Appadurai”, Journal of Social Archaeology 1(1), 2001, pp. 35-49.
[iv] Two of Olsen’s previous books are The Music of El Dorado: The Ethnomusicology of Ancient Andean Cultures (2001) and The Chrysanthemum and the Song: Music, Memory, and Identity in the South American Japanese Diaspora (2004).
[v] I am grateful for Dale Olsen for sharing this and other insights with me during the course of writing this review.
This book explores the cultural significance of flutes, flute playing, and flute players from around the world as interpreted from folktales, legends, myths, poems, ethnographies, and other stories–in a word, “flutelore.” A scholarly yet readable study, World Flutelore: Folktales, Myths, and Other Stories of Magical Flute Power draws upon a range of sources in folklore, anthropology, ethnomusicology, and literary analysis. Published in 2013.
This book, self published in 2018, is a narrative about the World Music Ensemble Program at Florida State University from 1973 to 2008, the 35 years of my employment there as Distinguished Research Professor of Ethnomusicology. While admittedly it is partially a memoir, my major goal with this book is to provide philosophical bases and practical organizational and instructional strategies for creating world music ensembles in schools and other public places where participatory world music groups can be instructive and constructive vehicles for creating cross-cultural communication, goodwill, and understanding; personal and community well-being; healing, joy, love; and even, perhaps, world peace.