Abstract: UWM School of Music Colloquium series (2015)

Recently I was fortunate and honored to be invited by the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin, Madison to deliver a presentation on my PhD research, as part of their regular Colloquium Series. I couldn’t have asked for a kinder or more insightful audience, especially in light of the fact that I’d only slept about two or three hours the night before cramming the last round of final edits of my dissertation. (I managed to submit it before the presentation!) Here’s the abstract of that talk:


“Cheap, high-quality talent”: Overseas Filipino Musicians and the Racialized Flexibility of Migrant Creative Labor

Current debates on contemporary popular music performance by migrants in/from Asia and the global South may be understood through two intertwined research themes on racial-national difference: the postcolonial cultural politics of constructing the labor values of authenticity and originality in musical representation, and the creative economies of producing distinctive national musical products for competition in the global media, tourism, and heritage industries. While important, I suggest that these scholarly foci preclude diverse practices and sectors of popular music operating outside these basic assumptions of place/race-as-identity and authenticity-as-commodity.

The present research proposes to expand the critical understanding of music and migration by attuning to one such excluded sector of popular music production: the regular performance of “Western” music in leisure venues such as hotels, theme parks, and cruise ships in Asia by overseas Filipino musicians (OFMs). Drawing from qualitative data collected from 2012 to 2013 in the Philippines, Macao, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, I argue that live music entertainment in leisure venues constitutes a significant creative industry, notable for its reliance on a mode of embodied creative labor that is simultaneously configured as a form of service work.

I make a second claim that this industry is premised on a transnational migrant labor economy unevenly segmented by race, gender, and other sociospatial categories of differentiation. As migrant creative workers in a post-Fordist production regime of intense labor precarity, OFMs dominate this performance sector in spite and because of their corporeal marginality as purveyors of Western popular music. Key to their niching is the racialization of flexibility as an ideal of migrant creative labor, articulated through the global branding of OFMs as “cheap, high-quality talent.” By tracing the cultural and economic geographies of OFMs in Asia, I seek to speak to a more complex politics and economics of music—as labor, mobility, and differential value.

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