The Song Readers: Rap Music and the Politics of Storytelling in Taiwan

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The Song Readers: Rap Music and the Politics of Storytelling in Taiwan

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Title: The Song Readers: Rap Music and the Politics of Storytelling in Taiwan
Author: Schweig, Meredith Lynne
Citation: Schweig, Meredith Lynne. 2013. The Song Readers: Rap Music and the Politics of Storytelling in Taiwan. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation is an ethnographic study of Taiwan's hip-hop scene and an examination of rap music's emergence as a trenchant form of musical narrative discourse in the post-martial law era (1987 to the present). Its central argument is that performers have invoked rap as a storytelling practice to make sound and sense of the dramatic social and political transformations that transpired in the wake of Taiwan's democratization at the dusk of the twentieth century, and in the years thereafter. My discussion draws on a vibrant archive of materials collected over eighteen months of fieldwork and proceeds from two primary assumptions: first, that Taiwan rap is a narrative genre, with antecedents in an array of Afro-diasporic oral narrative traditions as well as local narrative traditions that employ speech-song techniques; and second, that storytelling can be understood as a process of collaborative social and political engagement that empowers artists and audiences to a sense of agency in the world they see around them. The document is divided into three main parts, the first of which approaches the history of rap in Taiwan as itself a narrative construction, subject to revision and reinterpretation at the hands of multiple authors. In this spirit, it unfolds not one but three distinct histories, each anchored by a different term used locally to designate "rap." The second part of the dissertation examines the people and places that collectively comprise the Taiwan rap community, with a dual focus on demographic representation vis-a-vis the interlocking categories of ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, and the emplaced qualities of the music vis-a-vis its emergence from specific localities, places of learning, and places of production. The third and final part foregrounds rap’s specificity as a narrative genre to examine more closely the music’s poetics and politics. It considers the stories rappers tell and the means by which they tell them, in the process exploring works that reflect or construct larger narratives about Taiwan as a nation, as well as those that engage smaller, more specifically contextual narratives about relationships, family, school, and work.
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