Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Articulating Modernity: The Making of Popular Music in 20th Century Southeast Asia and the Rise of New Audiences.

Who were the main artists and producers who generated new forms of popular music? What was the music like that was produced by artists in particular urban settings? How were particular lifestyles articulated to identify new audiences and what does this reveal about the way popular music contributed to popular culture? What is the impact of respectively decolonization and transition from authoritarian rule towards democratization on the context of popular music’s production?

Henk Schulte Nordholt
Direktorat Jenderal Pendidikan Tinggi (DIKTI) Direktorat Jenderal Pendidikan Tinggi (DIKTI)


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 Leiden University 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; (4) Remixing Regimes: a history of Indonesian participatory culture (Nuraini Julisastuti) and (5) Indonesian Muslim fan girls of East Asian pop (Lusvita Nuziliyanti).

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