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Popular Songs, Melodies from the Dead: Moving beyond Historicism with the Buddhist Ethics and Aesthetics of Pin Peat and Cambodian Hip Hop

By: Jeffrey Dyer

Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA

Published by: Religions 11(11)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11110625

Brief Introduction

This article illustrates how the aesthetics of two types of Cambodian music—pin peat and Cambodian hip hop—enact Cambodian–Buddhist ethics and function as ritual practices through musicians’ recollections of deceased teachers’ musical legacies. Noting how prevalent historicist and secular epistemologies isolate Cambodian and, more broadly, Southeast Asian musical aesthetics from their ethical and ritual functions, I propose that analyses focusing on Buddhist ethics more closely translate the moral, religious, and ontological aspects inherent in playing and listening to Cambodian music. I detail how Cambodian musicians’ widespread practices of quoting deceased teachers’ variations, repurposing old musical styles, and reiterating the melodies and rhythms played by artistic ancestors have the potential to function as Buddhist rituals, whether those aesthetic and stylistic features surface in pin peat songs or in hip hop. Those aesthetic practices entail a modality of being historical that partially connects with but exceeds historicism’s approach to Buddhism, temporality, and history by enacting relations of mutual care that bring the living and dead to be ontologically coeval. Such relational practices bring me to conclude with a brief discussion rethinking what post-genocide remembrance sounds like and feels like.

The full text of the paper can be accessed here.

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