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Issues of Regionalisation: Sharing the fruits of twelve months reflecting on the opportunities and challenges for taking forward music in connection with ASEAN

11 September 2015

The 2015 ambitions for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) clearly aimed to offer some impetus in the last 12 months towards greater regional integration. In relation to Music, the thrust of the Southeast Asian Directors of Music Association has been to use the AEC developments as a catalyst for facilitating connections and evolving visibility in the region and indeed this was the driver for the 2015 Congress in Manila in March. 

When I spoke at the equivalent symposium at the Princess Galyani Institute last year, I used examples from the French-Vietnamese film, ‘Mùi du du xanh (The Scent of Green Papaya), to demonstrate what I saw as the potential complexities implicit in the perceptions of ‘Eastern/Western’ or ‘Traditional/Contemporary’ musical functions and the likely challenges such complexity brings to any ambitions for contemporary regional integration. Twelve months on, a series of different experiences in the region have offered me considerable time to reflect further on the issues raised in October 2015 (both in my presentation but also through the dialogues at the symposium itself). 

In consequence, I feel as if I have spent twelve months watching the ‘green papaya’ gradually ripening. In this presentation, I seek to recount some of these experiences and share some further thoughts with a view to enabling some interactions in connection with what I now see as fundamental issues for music and the arts in our current context. As with ripenings, not all of my reflections have been unambiguously positive. 

Critical questions emerge: How deeply believed or owned is the project of regionalization? Should the arts contribute to or have a role to play in relation to regionalization (or is regionalization sometimes seen as a potential threat to deeply held artistic beliefs)? Can/should there be open borders within the region? What would this mean for musicians, our music and our musical education? Where does regionalization fit in a local-global domain? Are their common characteristics to music in the region or do the differences outweigh the commonalities? Is what we are seeking to engage with the consequence of soon-to-be-outdated political rhetoric or a soon-to-be-achieved political reality (or, most likely, somewhere ambiguously in-between? There are of course no simple answers to such questions but this perhaps an appropriate forum and time for honest reflection.

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