Documentary videos for teaching ethnomusicology

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Documentary videos for teaching ethnomusicology - recommendations

Collated from responses to my query to SEM-L

Last update: Friday, January 31, 2003

Please feel free to edit this page.

Many thanks to all the contributors!

Michael Frishkopf

University of Alberta

From: "Doug Auerbach" <>


You may be interested in a video on tradional and contemporary Dagara xylophone music and dance.

For more information and video samples, check out the Dagara Music website at


Doug Auerbach

From: Drew Beisswenger <>

1. Exploring the World of Music series

2. Atumpan, form UCLA

3. The Routes of Rhythm

4. Discovering the Music of Latin America (and others in that series)

5. Music and Culture (EAV)

6. Martin Clayton's videos for the British Open University (email from


7. RARA Carnival Week in Haiti (email from producer)

I'd add part one of The Romany Trail (I haven't seen part two) and Samba, Black Music of Brazil. Both were favorites in the world music class I taught last semester. I used the JVC Smithsonian tapes extensively.

Drew Beisswenger

From: Helen Rees <>

I teach a survey of Asian musics as well as upper level

undergraduate/graduate classes on East Asian musics, and part from the

obvious JVC series, I find the following especially useful:

--5 videos on different genres of Japanese music, put out by University of

Oklahoma in the 1990s (narratived by Malm and an American colleague of

his). They're great--very clear explanations, musical technical aspects

explained and demonstrated clearly, professional quality video work,

attention to history, etc.

--about 8 videos put out by Apsara Media (run by Nazir Jairazbhoy and Amy

Catlin) on musics of different parts of India; also of refugee Cambodian

and Hmong communities in the US. Again, technical aspects well explained,

appropriate attention to context, etc. They have titles like Folk

Musicians of Rajasthan, Bake Restudy, Hmong Musicians in America...

All these videos are aimed at the college student class, and can be used in

their entirety or in small chunks.

Thailand, China, and India videos from Beats of the Heart series are good

in parts--can select useful small chunks therefrom. Good price, too--can

usually get them for about $25 each.

Hope this helps.


From: "Henrietta Carter"

I found the suggestions in the Teacher's Manual for Shelemay's book "Soundsdapes" very useful. I had been using some of them even before reading her list. Start early to collect them; it takes months for some of the deliveries. I ordered some in July and the did not arrive until november, too late for me to use them last fall. A Jumpin' Night in the Garden of Eden (Klezmer), Tantra of Gyuto, and Genghis Blues are three I used this semester. By the way, there is a really fun documentary called "Sing Faster, the Stagehand's View of Wagner's Ring Cycle" which you might find useful. You will need a license for classroom use.

Henrietta Carter

Chair, Performing Arts

Golden West College

From: "Jeff Janeczko" <>


I taught a summer course for children aged 5-12 a couple of years ago. I

found a series of videos in the children's library that were pretty good.

They're basically designed to introduce kids to different cultures. They

present different types of food, arts & crafts, and music (this is usually a

popular cultural song presented at the conclusion of the video). I think

they run about 30 minutes in length. One feature I liked was that they often

incorporate a segment featuring a child of the culture where he or she tells

about his/her family life, leisure activities, etc.

Most of the younger kids in my classes seemed to enjoy them, but they were

not a huge hit with the older ones.

American Cultures for Children is the title of the series. They have 12

segments (i.e. Africa, Central America, Mexico, etc.) So the individual

titles would be, for example, American Cultures for Children: Africa. The

series was produced by Schlessinger Video Production, 1997.

I hope you find this useful.

Jeff Janeczko

From: Karl Signell <>

[EOL video review: The JVC/Smithsonian Folkways Video Anthology of Music and Dance of the Americas in six volumes]


From: "Leslie Hall" <>

Hi Michael,

Two of the best I can recommend, especially for Canadian classes, are World Drums (filmed at Expo 86 in Vancouver) and The Eternal Earth (about Alexina Louie, who uses avant garde and Chinese aspects in her compositions).  Both of these were made by Rhombus.

Leslie Hall

From: "Martin Clayton" <>

Hi Michael

If you need details of my stuff, you'll find links from my web page at

I know lots of people are using them, including at your own university(!),

but you'll have to look elsewhere for testimonials!

All the best


From: Stephen Hill <>

You might look at the University of Oregon's library video collection. They have a handy catalog of "World Music & Dance Videos" Not sure how current it is.



From: Susan Hurley-Glowa <>

Hello Michael,

I just put a bunch of videos on reserve. Here is a partial and rather random list of films that I find useful. You may edit my list for a larger list if you'd like!


1) Title Songs of the Badius [videorecording] / produced, directed and narrated by Gei Zantzinger. Publication info [Devault, Pa.] : Constant Spring Productions, c1986. Physical descrip 1 videocassette (35 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. Credits Editor, Ben Levin. Summary Depicts the dance music of the Kriolu people of Santiago Island in the Cape Verde Islands

This one is about Cape Verdean music, but he has other great films on Luso-African and South African traditions, as well as one on the music of Brittany

2) Title Genghis blues [videorecording] / Wadi Rum Productions. Publication info [New York, NY?] : Docurama : Distributed in the U.S. by New Video, c2000. Physical descrip 1 videodisc (90 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in. Credits Produced by Roko & Adrian Belic ; directed by Roko Belic. Performer Paul Pena, Kongar-ol Ondar, Richard Feynman, Ralph Leighton.

Summary The story of a Paul Pena, a blind American blues musician, and his trek to Tuva to live among its inhabitants and compete in their triennial throat singing contest.

I have found this film to be very useful in its ability to get students to think about "music as a universal language" (or not!). Although Pena is not an ethnomusicologist, the film clearly shows his struggles to understand another music culture. It is an extremely popular film with my classes.

3) Title Wisconsin Powwow [videorecording] : Naamikaaged Dancer for the People / produced by Thomas Vennum, Jr. Publication info Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian / Folkways Recordings, c1996 Physical descrip 2 videocassettes (67 min) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in + 1 guide Summary Illustrates the way in which powwows today incorporate historical traditions and modern innovations.

Two part film that beautifully depicts the recent powwow scene. Full of appealing people that students can relate to. Wonderfully made.

4) Title Mountain music of Peru [videorecording] : a film / by John Cohen. Publication info Berkeley, CA : University of California Extension, Center for Media and Independent Learning, [199-], c1984. Physical descrip 1 videocassette (ca. 60 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. Credits Director, producer, writer, narrator, John Cohen ; camera, John Cohen ; photography, Martin Chambi ; editors, John Cohen, Jerry Michaels. Summary A portrait of the folk music, culture and lifestyle of the people of Qeros, high in the Peruvian mountains.

5) Title Carnival in Q'eros [videorecording] : where the mountain meet the jungle / produced by John Cohen Publication info Berkeley, California : University of California Extension Media Center, 1990 Physical descrip 1 videocassette (VHS)(32 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in.

Summary This documentray videotape shows the remarkable carnival celebrations never before seen by outsiders - of a remote community of Quechua Indians high in the Peruvian Andes.

I highly recommend almost any of Cohen's film. He has made several on Appalachia/Roots music/Country music His website:

6) Title The language you cry in [videorecording] / producer/directors, Alvaro Toepke and Angel Serrano. Publication info San Francisco, CA : California Newsreel, 1998. Physical descrip 1 videocassette (53 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. Series (Library of African cinema) Summary Traces the history of a burial hymn of the Mende people brought by slaves to the rice plantations of the Southeast coast of the United States more than two hundred years ago. Joe Opala and Cynthia Schmidt discover that the Gullah family have preserved this song for generations in the United States. They travel to a remote Mende village in Sierra Leone where the villagers reenact the burial ritual.

This is a heartbreakingly powerful documentary that really shows ethnomusicologists at work. Fantastic for many different classroom purposes.

7) Title The Black music of Brazil [videorecording] / a Harcourt Films production ; producer/director, Jeremy Marre. Publication info [Newton, NJ?] : Shanachie, [1990?], c1982. Physical descrip 1 videocassette (ca. 50 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. Series (Beats of the heart) Credits Editor, Richard Bedford. Summary Street tour of Brazil from ghettos to Samba schools with the many styles of music of the country including Samba, bossa nova and others. Brazilian stars are shown in performance and conversation.

A little outdated but still useful for Brazilian topics.

8) Title Black orpheus [videorecording] / a Sacha Gordine production ; original screenplay, Jacques Viot ; directed by Marcel Camus. Publication info [United States] : Home Vision, [199-?] Physical descrip 1 videocassette (VHS)(103 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. Series ([Home Vision cinema]) Credits Director of photography, Jean Bourgoin ; camera, Louis Stein ; editor, Andrée Feix ; music, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luis Bonfa. Cast Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn, Lourdes de Oliviera, Lea Garcia. Summary Story based on the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice set against the colorful background of the carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

I use clips form this to demonstrate the early Bossa Nova style and atmosphere. It is dated but still beautiful.

9) Title Powerhouse for God [videorecording] / produced and directed by Barry Dornfeld, Tom Rankin, Jeff Titon. Publication info [Watertown, MA.] : Documentary Educational Resources [distributor], c1986. Physical descrip 1 videocassette (58 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. Credits Camera, Barry Dornfeld, Tom Rankin; editor, Barry Dornfeld; narration, Jeff Titon. Summary A documentary about Fellowship Independent Baptist Church in Stanley, Va. Focuses on the pastor, John Sherfey and his family, and on the congregation and "how they bring meaning to their lives through songs, prayers, sermons, and life sciences.

Useful in classes that talk about music and faith.

10) Title Exploring the world of music [videorecording] / narrated by Fritz Weaver ; series producers, Steven Fischler, Joel Sucher ; producer, director, editor, Martin D. Toub ; project director, Stephen Rabin.

Publication info S. Burlington, VT : Annenberg/CPB Project, c1998. Physical descrip 12 videocassettes (ca. 360 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. Series (The Annenberg/CPB collection) Contents 1. Sound, music and the environment -- 2. The transformative power of music -- 3. Music and memory -- 4. Transmission, learning music -- 5. Rhythm -- 6. Melody -- 7. Timbre, the color of music -- 8. Texture -- 9. Harmony -- 10. Form, the shape of music -- 11. Composers and improvisors -- 12. Music and technology.

Summary Shows how elements such as melody, rhythm, and texture can create an infinite variety of sounds and serve as expressions of culture. Includes rare archival footage and contemporary performances, and themes such as music and the environment, music as cultural memory, and how technology changes music.

I find this series extremely useful in many different contexts. I sometimes just use clips from the individual films.

Other great music documentary films: many of the offering by Les Blanc. website: especially his "Sprout Wings and fly" and his Cajun ones. Always feature food as well as music!

Susan Hurley-Glowa, Ph.D.

From: "T.M. Scruggs" <>


I used the video on Umm Kulthum in combination with Virginia Danielson's book with great success in a general undergrad. world music course; will be doing it again in a few weeks.

In my LAm and Caribbean course I used the documentary Os Filhos de Ghandi, which is a very good tracing of the history of the most venerable and politically/socially important Afro-carnival group in Bahia, Brazil.

In previous undergrad. courses I also used one or two of the following videos on tejano music, but recently I've used them in a grad. seminar the Ethnography of Musical Experience for a video/film section. They're the only examples I know of video documentation of the same tradition and performers over several decades: Chulas Fronteras, Del Mero Corazon (both via Arhoolie), Tex-Mex (by Jeremey Marre, available through Schanachie), and Songs of the Homelands (from director's own Galán Productions, Austin TX).


T.M. Scruggs

From: "Williams, Sean" <>

Hi Michael! I haven't had much luck with documentary videos. Instead, I use a combination of the documentary format with some of the following films. Fortunately, I teach in a place where interdisciplinarity is our main pedagogical tool, so the films can examine cultural elements more broadly. Dealing with these link building service films also allows me to examine the gaze of the filmmaker (and the music composer for the film), how musical elements are incorporated and why, and how these elements play into (or against) American ideas of what music of an area "should" sound like. I also examine and problematize films in which outsiders come in and end up as the focus of the film (Songcatcher, The Mission, Max Havelaar) when -- more generally -- there is a perfectly good "native subject" who could have been the main character. Cheers, Sean

Black Orpheus (Brazil) The Scent of Green Papaya (Vietnam) Buena Vista Social Club (Cuba) The Field (Ireland) A Wedding in Gallilee (Israel/Palestine) Farewell, My Concubine (China) The Mission (rainforest South America) The Killing Fields (Cambodia) Max Havelaar (Indonesia) Babette's Feast (Denmark) Songcatcher (Appalachia) Smoke Signals (Northwest Native American)

From: Verna Gillis/Soundscape

Rara, Carnival week in Haiti, filmed in 1978 by Verna Gillis. This film shows the transformation of bamboo into vaccine, and takes you to various neighborhoods as groups come out and take to the streets in this most swinging Haitian celebration during Easter Week. Glorious costumes and infectious music, a splendid African-Haitian event.

$35. Order directly from SOUNDSCAPE, P.O. Box 70, Accord, NY 12404


From: "Amy K. Stillman" <>

I would recommend the film "Kumu Hula: Keepers of a Culture" as a

solid intro to Hawaiian hula. It's directed by Robert Mugge, dated 1989, and

is now available widely on DVD.