Articulating modernity


The making of popular music in 20th century Southeast Asia and the rise of new audiences.

This is a four-year joint project of KITLV in cooperation with the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) and the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology of University Leiden funded by NWO. KITLV acts as hosting institute.

The project focuses on societal change through the prism of popular music, emphasizing the appeal of modernity rather than that of the nation-state. This study offers a new way of studying Southeast Asia that foregrounds the movement of people, music, ideas, and technologies among the region’s cosmopolitan centers like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila. The focus on popular music offers new insights into the particular historical trajectories of modernity in specific urban settings. Music, by its nature, is suitable for expressing new styles while simultaneously connecting the familiar with the new, the foreign with the local.

The empirical focus is on pioneering creative artists who straddle conventional categories of ethnicity, religion, gender, generation and class, and their audiences. Mobilizing cultural resources and networks, and exploring technological and entrepreneurial possibilities, these artists are at the forefront of popular culture’s production and redefinition. By calling into question the conventional and articulating what is modern, they co-produce new audiences and contribute to new processes of social differentiation.

The team members will investigate decisive historical junctures where technological innovation, human agency, the consumption of new musical styles and the rise of new audiences came together within particular Southeast Asian urban localities. The cultural transformations and contestations taking place in these localities are intertwined with expressions of modernity. The project aims to capture these processes in several sub-projects: (1) The Jazz Age (Peter Keppy); (2) Pop, Politics and Piety in the Digital Era (Bart Barendregt); (3) Postcolonial Music in two Southeast Asian urban localities, 1960s-70s (Buni Yani); (4) Remixing Regimes: a history of Indonesian participatory culture (Nuraini Julisastuti) and (5) Indonesian Muslim fan girls of East Asian pop (Lusvita Nuziliyanti).

Program directors
Prof. Henk Schulte Nordholt 
Prof. Patrica Spyer

Senior researchers and  project coordinators
Dr. Bart Barendregt 
Dr. Peter Keppy

Bart Barendregt:    tel: +31(0)71 5273475.

Selected Publications

KITLV Press has issued a ‘Call for manuscripts’ for a new book series on the roles of old and new media, Southeast Asia Mediated, which is also related to this research project. For contact information and a description of the series, click here...>>