Abstract: IASPM-US Annual Conference (2014)

In two days I’ll be taking a very long flight to Chapel Hill, NC to participate in the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (US chapter). The conference theme is ‘Music Flows’, which resonates quite well with my research on creative/cultural and migrant labor mobilities in this part of the world. The conference programme is here. Looks like it’ll be a terrific event.

It’ll be my first music-themed conference too, so I’m quite apprehensive (in a good way) about sharing my research with a different audience—thus far, most of the research events I’ve participated in are migration- and Philippine studies-related ones.

Here’s the abstract of my presentation; it’ll be a condensed version of my thesis. I decided not to present any of my individual chapter because I’m still threshing out the identities of each one. Anyway, this will be a good opportunity to rehearse my general argument.

The Fluid Fixity of Overseas Filipino Musicians in Asia’s Leisure and Tourism Economy

Dubbed ‘Asia’s entertainers’, Filipino musicians have supplied live musical entertainment in international leisure and tourism venues since the 19th and early 20th centuries (Ng, 2005; Watkins, 2009; Keppy, 2013). Overseas Filipino musicians pose a conundrum to scholars of musical diasporas who posit a place-based homology between music and collective identity. In contrast with other diasporic musicians who seek to represent and/or reinvent the musical traditions of their homelands while abroad, Filipino musicians migrate precisely to perform the gamut of global, i.e. Anglo-American, popular music, occupying an ethnicized niche of ‘Filipino’ musical labor that is defined not so much by claims to authenticity as a historically ascribed and discursively constructed set of performative practices. How do we account for these musical mobilities—which not only encompass extensive cross-border circuits across different sites and cities of performance, but also symbolic movements across genres, audiences, and performances of cultural identity?

Drawing from 70 interviews with Filipino musicians and agents in cruise ships, and hotels and theme parks in Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore, I situate this group of migrant musicians within the larger cultural economy of leisure/tourism venues in Asia, where live music is an auxiliary service that forms part of the overall product, the entertainment experience. I also consider how migration policy—in this instance, the Philippine government’s extensive labor migration regime—plays a role in ‘exporting’ Filipino musical talent for specifically transnational markets. I argue that these fluid geographies of cultural and migrant labor paradoxically fix Filipino musicians in an ethnicized labor niche that constrains and undervalues them even as it provides them access to economic and professional stability. By focusing on these ‘hidden musicians’ (Finnegan, 1989) on the peripheries of the global popular music industry, I hope to demonstrate that the mobilities of music also result in concomitant immobilities—and that the contradictory dynamics definitive of creative and musical labor are amplified by the ‘complex inequalities’ (McDowell, 2008) of transnational labor migration.

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