This event is co-presented by the China Studies Centre & Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the University of Sydney and China Cultural Centre in Sydney.
“They are just listening to the melody,” commented one of my Kam (in Chinese, Dong 侗) song teachers from Guizhou province on the audience reaction to a recent Kam song performance, “they aren’t listening to the bones of the song.” For experienced Kam singers, it is the lak ga – the bones of songs, the Kam name for song lyrics – that is still the most important aspect of a song and its performance. Kam songs, including Kam ‘big song’, the multi-part Kam choral genre recognized by UNESCO as world Intangible Cultural Heritage, are mainly sung in the Kam language, a Thai-related language with no widely used written form that is completely different from Chinese. The lyrics are by turn educational and philosophical, dealing with historical, social, environmental, agricultural and cosmological issues that have been important to Kam people for centuries. In this lecture I draw upon my extensive research on Kam song over a fifteen-year period, and my experience joining Kam friends and teachers in many Kam song performances, to explain how Kam song is understood by Kam people and why songs of Chinese minorities such as the Kam minority continue to be significant today.
Dr Catherine Ingram is a lecturer in ethnomusicology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and visiting expert with the Chinese Music Ecology Research Team, Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Her monograph on Kam big song is forthcoming with Oxford University Press. She has recently commenced a three-year Australian Research Council-funded Discovery Project on musical resilience within marginal groups in culturally diverse societies.