Lisa Decenteceo gives dissertation presentation

August 13, 2020

On August 12, 2020, in a summer seemingly like no other, SMR members and SMTD faculty gathered to hear a dissertation presentation by Lisa Decenteceo via Zoom. Congratulations, Lisa, on this important step and on your excellent work in “From Being to Becoming: Protests, Festivals, and Musical Meditations of Igorot Self-Representation” (abstract below).

From Being to Becoming: Protests, Festivals, and Musical Mediations of Igorot Self-Representation

Case studies that highlight the complex musical lives of Igorots, an ethnic minority based in Northern Philippines, remain sparse in ethnomusicological studies on Philippine indigenous music. Due largely to colonial racial logics and postcolonial nationalism, scholarship on Igorot music has been driven by essentialism and an attachment to cultural purity; it refuses consideration of indigenous people as agents who engage contemporary realities. My dissertation confronts these issues by illuminating conflicting expressions of Igorotness demonstrated through past and present discourse and the case studies of two Igorot groups who performed in protests and festivals in the Philippines in 2017 and 2018. Compelled by clashing politics, diverse audiences, internal community frictions, and subjective desires, members of both groups grappled with their identities through musical performances in public and intimate settings. From their enactments, Igorotness emerged as at once commemorative, politically pointed, unconstrained by “tradition,” and radically transformed. Adapting Sherry Ortner’s subaltern theory of practice to capture the tensions between and among their musical renderings, I demonstrate that Igorotness is less a broad category of difference than it is a field where identity is constantly contested.

The strategic performances of the leftwing Igorot cultural ensemble Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera (DKK) illustrate these contestations. Deploying Igorotness as political activism, DKK are vulnerable to the prejudice of mainstream audiences and to criticisms from non-activist Igorots about cultural propriety. But they challenged these issues in protests held in 2017 and 2018. Rather than reenact their traditions for a concert in Manila, DKK members sang a hybrid protest song, rejecting ingrained audience demands for “authenticity.” Conversely, troubled by disapproval of his performances of a traditional dance in protests, a DKK performer staged a solo act, whose earnest presentation of Igorotness reaffirmed the legitimacy of his activism. These strategies reveal Igorotness as continually evolving from agents’ multiple refashionings of tradition—they either adhere to or deviate from it, depending on how audiences influence their politicized self-representation. Offering ethnographies on these and other competing narratives alongside historical critique, I foreground Igorots’ struggle for self-determination and the recognition of their complex human trajectories as seen in their musical lives.