International Council for Traditional Music

A Non-Governmental Organization in Formal Consultative Relations with UNESCO

27th ICTM Colloquium: Drums and Drum Ensembles of the Silk Road (28–30 December 2020, Shanghai, China)

The Silk Road was already twice an important topic in the history of ICTM colloquia. This time, the various drum and drum ensembles that were part of cultural exchanges and local uniqueness along the Ancient Tea Route, the Maritime Silk Road, and the Fur Road, may shape a further step in completing some significant knowledge about processes in musical developments of past times which still have an enormous impact on present cultural practices. 

It is of general interest to not only see single instruments that make use of membranes but the context of their use in ensembles and their production in sets for a wide array of different purposes. Drums and drum ensembles shape a tradition that was and still is closely related to military actions which were of concern to many cultures in the proximity to trade routes and along significant contact points between them. Yet China’s diversity of drums and drum ensembles as well as drum playing traditions in all connected regions are also a result of developing non-military purposes. One important feature is the confined link of drum and drum ensembles to body movements, dance, and drama. Another point of interest are the diverse rituals and religious practices that include the use of drums and drum ensembles. 

Drums of all kinds found their way through the times of trade such as the kettle drums of the naqarit or tasa type, the many local and regional traditions of frame drums in their diverse meanings to the communities, the sets of cylindrical and double conical drums played during processions, or the tuned drum circles and the Hindustani way of playing tabla. It seems that drums and drum ensembles either played with mallets or hands, were also indicative for music practices across gender and age groups. Finally, drums are crucial as signalling instruments that not only mark meter and rhythmic structures of traditional and contemporary music genres, but are often used to bridge larger distances. Many questions in this regard are yet to be answered studying historical and recent literature in various languages, sound, and audiovisual sources that are already available in an increasing number. 

In this context, a closer and far more analytical view on current drumming practices should be given due attention. The amalgamation of scholarly discussions, the presentation of most recent research, and the immediate performance have to ensure a highly effective addition to the current state of knowledge about the topic.

Again, it may look difficult to answer the many questions arising from the diverse perspectives drafted here, but it is worth to look deeper into details that contributed to present performance skills, their applications in communal settings and their symbolic meanings. The colloquium will include live music performances featuring drums and drum ensembles from diverse regions, communities, and periods in their present musical contexts. When participants experience both academic presentations and musical performances, scholars can overcome preconceptions formed over the past decades and develop new understandings that can lead to a more effective research, while performers can get a better sense of how their music is presented to their specific audiences and is then interpreted by scholars. Bringing together a number of distinguished scholars and performers will help bridge the gap between theories, myths, visions, and existing cultural practices.  

The envisioned thematic frames include:

  1. History of drums and drum ensembles and their relation to specific cultural assets and values in different societies and at different times
  2. The correlation between ergological characteristics of drums, playing techniques, and performance skills in various ensemble contexts 
  3. Drums and drum ensembles and their cultural use in daily life as well as in rituals of people connected to the Great Silk Road
  4. Performance skills and the development of sound aesthetics in contemporary music practices with drums and drum ensembles among people interconnected across regions of the Great Silk Road.

Scale of the colloquium

20-25 scholars from China and abroad will attend the seminar. 

Colloquium date

From 28 to 30 December 2020

Colloquium site

Shanghai conservatory of Music, Shanghai, China / Online

Colloquium Langue

The language will be mainly in English, with Chinese as auxiliary languages. (Regardless of the language of presentation, all potential participants must submit abstracts in English.) Simultaneous interpretation will be provided by the LAC.

Program Committee

  • Xiao Mei (China)
  • Don Niles (Papua New Guinea)
  • Gisa Jähnichen (Germany/China)
  • João de Carvalho (Portugal)
  • Tan Shzr Ee (UK)
  • Timkehet Teffera (Germany/Ethiopia)
  • Zhao Weiping (China)