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Strings across the ocean: practices, traditions, and histories of the Cocos Malay biola in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Indian Ocean

AuthorsIrving, David R. M.
KeywordsBiola (violin)
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Cocos Malay music
Issue Date2019
PublisherTaylor & Francis
CitationEthnomusicology Forum (28/3) : 283-320 (2019)
AbstractThe "biola" (violin) is an emblematic musical instrument of the Cocos Malay community, who have been based on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands -part of Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories- since 1826. In Cocos Malay culture, the "biola" accompanies local dance genres and occasional performances of "bangsawan" theatre. Malay melodies constitute the bulk of the repertoire; there are also melodies exhibiting Scottish characteristics. The latter are often attributed to the influence of the Clunies-Ross family, who maintained a commanding presence on the islands from 1827 to 1978. Since the mid-twentieth century, "biola" playing has been the preserve of two families on the islands and in Western Australia. The practice has declined over the past two decades, owing to a decrease in players; however, a revitalisation programme was initiated in 2014. This article explores aspects of the practice and cultural functions of the "biola" on Cocos and documents the history of the instrument on the islands, drawing on data from ethnographic and archival research.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1080/17411912.2020.1754874
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