Penang Story Lecture: Cosmopolitan Backwaters: Penang and Rural Performing Arts in the Twentieth Century
Speaker: Mr. Lawrence Ross
Date: 07th November 2015, Saturday
Venue: The Star Level 1, The Star Pitt Street, 15 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, 10200 Penang
Admission fee: PHT members RM10; Non-members RM25
Limited seats only.
Cultural histories of Penang have been documented from many perspectives, but cultural
relationships between the island and its rural ‘hinterlands’ are still under-explored.
For this talk, the speaker will discuss diffusions of performing arts between Penang and its regional neighbours during the middle twentieth century following two separate geographical branches: the Andaman Coast sea lanes leading northward to Phuket, and overland routes linking it to Pattani and Songkhla.
The speaker will focus on several ‘cosmopolitan backwaters’ – remote, though hardly isolated locales – where contemporaneous popular culture flowing from Penang was embraced and reworked together with local folk media to create novel idioms that have become today’s ‘traditions.’ He will draw from his ethnographic fieldwork and musicological studies among several extant (and perhaps familiar-sounding) regional performing arts present within the Malaysia-Thailand border region including ronggeng, makyong, and manora, whose oral histories, repertoires, and styles offer a unique glimpse into social, economic and political transformations of the era.
Lawrence Ross is an ethnomusicologist and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Socio-culture and Malay Arts at the Academy of Malay Studies, University of Malaya with decades of experience in this region. His research seeks to better understand social trends of the past century by exploring interrelationships between Southeast Asian performing arts and the tapestry of local cultures that have produced them. Among his ongoing projects are the documentation of oral texts and musical repertoires of traditional dance and theater genres found in Malaysia and on Thailand’s Andaman Sea Coast, shared musical traditions of Peninsular Malaysia and Indochina’s Champa, and contemporary developments in ceremonial drumming among northern Malays.