Having joined Music / Cultural Anthropology 130 late, I missed the opportunity to choose and exhibit a captivating voice at the very start of the semester. However, this gave me more time to think about my choice, allowing myself to consider multiple facets of culture, society, music, and the world before I made my decision. These considerations were informed by an understanding of the material presented in the readings and taught in class done through the lens of my personal experience and background. The voice I chose would not only express a personal circumstance or emotion, but also reflect a political or social circumstance. It would be a voice that sounds foreign to most listeners in our class, yet familiar in its employment of certain techniques to enhance its sonic qualities. Its sonic qualities would stand out as a paralinguistic feature recognizable by most listeners, who would not typically speak the language it is sung in.
I chose the voice of Fairuz, a Lebanese singer who is considered a shining beacon of the country’s musical folklore, because it embodies all of the aforementioned qualities and more. The song chosen is called “Sa’alouuni el Nas”, which translates to “The People Asked Me,” and talks of the singer being asked of the whereabouts her lover. On a literal level, the song tackles Fairuz’s dealing with not being joined on stage by her husband and longtime musical composer, due to his suffering a brain hemorrhage in 1972.
To the Lebanese listener, the voice of Fairuz encapsulates a yearning for the peace, freedom, and beauty of Lebanon (a large portion of her body of work is dedicated to singing, quite literally, the country’s praises.) Indeed, before the eruption of the catastrophically destructive Lebanese Civil War, the former two adjectives accurately described the social and political climate of the country. However, as a result of its diverse religious composition and its unfortunate position among neighboring political regimes, the emergence of sectarian conflict in the country would soon change all of that.
This project, along with the annotated recordings chosen, aims to explain what makes Fairuz’s voice captivating in terms of its sonic qualities, its evocation of imagery pertaining to the political landscape of the region at the time of singing, and the implications that global colonial powers have had on this landscape: colonialism altered the power dynamic between Western and non-Western nations and therefore had several implications on the experience of cultural exchange between their people. The recordings chosen will thus explain the why the voice is captivating using the aforementioned criteria.
The first recording is that of an excerpt from a World War 1 documentary, which explains very briefly the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement is representative of colonialist influence over the shaping of the Middle East, and is thought to be the reason for the impractically divided religious and sectarian clusters in the region. In fact, some historians believe that the division of the Middle East under Sykes-Picot was done with the intention of preventing communities in the region from ever gaining power through unity. With this in mind, it can be said that colonialism played a hand in the Lebanese Civil War, which resulted in the emigration of a large portion of the Lebanese population to Western nations.
The second recording, then, is that of French-Lebanese singer and popular singing competition “The Voice” finalist, Anthony Touma, whose cover of Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran was recorded. Touma is a tenor with a voice that is characteristically devoid of the sonic qualities found in Fairuz’s voice. The recording serves to create a juxtaposition that demonstrates how culture, setting, and time influence the vocal style that is thought to be prevalent in popular culture. That is, Touma’s voice in this project serves as an icon for the pop culture voices of our time, both in Lebanon and across different borders, whereas that of Fairuz represents the pop culture voice of 20th century Lebanon.
This recording also serves to represent a form of cultural exchange that occurs largely in one direction, rather than the other. It symbolizes the preference of representation of Western culture over non-Western individual origins: Touma is Francophone and singing in English. The songs with which he chose to compete on The Voice were as well mostly in English. Touma’s displacement from his parents’ place of birth, Lebanon, was the result of the Civil War in 1975. It is often immigrants’ only choice to acclimate to the culture of the communities to which they move their residence.
However, the exchange is not exclusively unidirectional, as can be seen from the third supporting recording. In this recording, I am teaching a friend how to speak Lebanese Arabic, starting with basic, everyday sentences such as “how are you?” and “I’m fine.” When this kind of exchange occurs, however, it also tends to highlight the power dynamic created by colonialism: no one is obligated to learn Arabic, but the same cannot be said about English.
The fourth recording is that of a friend talking about her experience joining the African choir at her international school. This recording also serves to demonstrate a form of cultural exchange that some individuals strive to attain in their lives.
Finally, the fifth recording is that of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an acclaimed Nigerian author, giving her TED talk on the dangers of “a single story.” The single story is a metaphor for an oversimplified, and often false, one-dimensional representation of a community that is often pushed and publicized by bodies of power. As we live in an age where radical Islamic terrorism has presented itself as a danger worthy of being heeded by the global community, this talk becomes relevant in the effort to prevent irrational backlashes to the entire Muslim population of the world.
All of the recordings are done on a Zoom H4n, even the ones that contain content that is being played off of the internet. This is done to emphasize, when relevant, the degree of separation between the location of origin of the content being played and the location of its playing.
This song is the main recording. Its annotation is the main body of text found above. One aspect of the song that was not discussed in the text above, however, is the aspect of "singing together" that was discussed in class. The chorus of the song is sung first individually by Fairuz and the second time with backup from a choir of mostly men and one woman. It is unclear whether the female voice is that of Fairuz herself, but given her artistic reputation in Lebanon, it would be safe to assume that it is. The communal singing in the song amplifies its message, which is to be discussed later in the next annotations: there is a collective yearning for the missing person who is being sung about.
This audio recording is an excerpt from a History Channel World War 1 documentary called Promises and Betrayals explaining the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Sykes-Picot agreement was an agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and France, which divided control of the fallen Ottoman Empire into areas of British and French control and influence. This agreement served the interest of the Allied States with little consideration for those of the Arabs and was thus kept secret until it was publicized by the Bolsheviks. The agreement is thought to have laid the foundations for the present-day instability of the Middle East, which, at multiple points in time, has led to emigration from the region in massive ways. To the culturally familiar ear, the lament that could be heard in Fairuz’s voice can relate to the sadness of losing community members who were part of the mass exodus of citizens to Western nations during and after the Civil War. I chose an excerpt from this documentary among several others online because it is objective and factual in its explanation of the agreement. However, it did contain ominous violin chords playing in the background, which served to highlight the aspect of the secrecy of the agreement. Several chords are played continuously before they switch over to other chords in the middle of the narrator’s sentences. The asynchronous nature of the chord switching and the sentence endings is a subtle feature of this audio segment that adds a dramatic effect that would be more conspicuous had the switching been done synchronously.
This audio recording is a cover of popular Ed Sheeran song, Thinking Out Loud, done by Anthony Touma. Anthony Touma is a Lebanese-French singer who rose to fame, particularly in Lebanon, through the singing competition TV show The Voice. Touma’s vocal style and the songs that he chooses to cover on the singing competition largely reflect what is culturally popular and favorable to listen to in his time. This vocal recording serves to embody a voice that has been transplanted across borders, whose stylistic features and qualities are culturally distinct from those found in its region of origin. This serves to highlight how different cultures influence the sound of a voice, and how music itself is shaped by the very culture that it shapes. For the purpose of this project, Touma himself embodies the people, the brains, and the talent that were lost to mass exodus during the Civil War, even though he himself was not born at the time. In another light, Touma represents what the Lebanese are so very proud of: a fellow Lebanese individual making it big in the world. Touma's popularity does not necessarily entail a cultural exchange per se, but it is an assertion made by the Lebanese to the global community on the merits of the Lebanese people, a matter largely relating to nationalistic pride. The voice is characterized by a peculiar pronunciation of the lyrics that it is singing, probably due to the singer’s Francophonic nature. Touma’s letters are clearly and sharply articulated, and his syllables ornamented with a subtle vibrato that reaffirms his control over the vocals. While signs of virtuosity are not abundant in this clip, Touma himself is a skilled tenor with impressive reach.
In this recording, I am teaching a dear friend Lebanese conversational Arabic. This recording lends itself very well to demonstrating the concept of intimate voices. In the clip, the voices heard are both low amplitude and conversational, save for several moments when the student raises her voice to express excitement, eagerness, or impatience. The intimacy here is maintained by a sense of proximity of the recording device from the speakers and also the fact that the two individuals in the recording are close friends. The recording serves to emphasize how cultural exchange is enhanced by the existence of intimacy between the two parties across which the exchange occurs. It also serves to demonstrate a sense of dedication among some individuals who associate with Western culture to go out of their way to learn about cultures outside their own. The exchange occurs in a form of give and take that is akin to hocketing. Though far-fetched this metaphor is made possible by the fact that the teacher in the clip would pronounce a new word and wait for the student to pronounce it before he moves on to the next word. This kind of pattern is broken when the student grows impatient and asks the teacher to say the new word again instead of explaining how the individual sounds are pronounced.
This recording is that of a senior Duke student called Beth, who is a dear friend at Duke. I consider Beth’s voice to be captivating for several reasons, and at first considered using her voice as the centerpiece of this project. Beth is a US citizen from Rhode Island, but her intonation and pronunciations transcend typical American archetypes. In real life, Beth’s speaking voice projects far without sounding too domineering, as she uses her nasal cavity to amplify the mid-to-low frequencies. Her pronunciation is atypical in that she never slurs her words, and her intonation often follows a pattern of upwardly inflecting at the end of her sentences or phrases, without taking on archetypal “Valley Girl” qualities. In this clip, Beth talks of joining the African choir at her international school, United World College, and being a minority in a country where she would usually be part of the majority. The voice itself explains how cultural exchange can and does occur from the side of less empowerment to the other side. It represents a person who strives to understand other cultures through challenging immersions and humanitarian contribution efforts. In the context of my project, it represents the voice of solace for the singer who lost her significant other in Fairuz’s song, knowing that there is someone in the world who is willing to take the time and effort to understand a person’s cultural upbringing and roots, thereby shifting the power dynamics that were so heavily influenced by colonialism.
The Single Story TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a talk centered on the importance of recognizing the different facets of peoples, cultures, and communities. It found a comfortable spot in my project as a talk that mentions the influence of colonialism and power structures on the representation and perception of different cultures. This is in addition to the influence that these structures hold on the process of cultural exchange across borders.