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Multi-Sited Ethnography Project:

Music, Memory and Place
and the Journey into the Happy Hunting Ground in-between them

  Jamie Isabel Rosado 

    Place is something that offers many options as to definitions. You can tackle it from a purely geographical standpoint, for instance a certain location is at latitude 18, longitude 67(that is where Puerto Rico is). We can also analyze place from a purely geo-political stance such as Egypt is a country situated in a desert zono-biome and uses a multi-party semi- presidential political system. Unfortunately for me and my desire for clarity in my paper, music is also a topic that can include much transience.  Although purists would not agree with me, music is anything that people as a whole call music, which includes everything from Blue Man Group, Beethoven, Britney Spears, and everything conceivable that lies in between.

A search on Wikipedia for place elicits 12 possible definitions or explanations, while a search for music brings us to one big page but with over 15 subdivisions and a million hyperlinks to various people’s best music lists. 

My intention with this project is to find the ground where place and music meet. I have found that interesting things can happen there even back home, in Puerto Rico. Every one of us has had a song play, for the first time or in general, at the best possible moment in time and had a memory of a moment be better off for the welcome or unwelcome addition.  There are songs that every time you hear them you are teleported back to the memory that that song evokes, whether you wanted to go there or not. Be it your most devastating break-up or your first kiss the connection is immediate and intense and often difficult if not possible to prevent. People often have the same kind of reaction to place as they do to music. I doubt that any of us can speak about Vietnam as a place separate from all of our recollections of the place be they good or bad.

Memory is the area where all of these things collide. I remember from my introduction to Psychology class that memory is the ability of a person to form and retain information but memory is so much more than that.  The book Fear, Death and Resistance: An Ethnography of War: Croatia 1991-1992 starts with a quote that I will repeat here.  “All that we had, all that we were, reduced to memories.”  I believe that it was well chosen to start the article about fieldwork after the war in the Balkans because it shows us the power of memories.

Angry Men Screaming
The Little Old Lady’s Den of Corporate Sin. (Vietnam Version)
The Same but Different


          During my time in Croatia, I tried to understand the difference between one Croatian man’s reaction to a particular band and another Croatian man’s reaction to the same band. Analyzing the variables we come up with several possible explanations for the difference in opinion. The first is the most obvious, that they grew up in two different cities with different family situations, temperaments and lifestyles. That fact although important and worth mentioning is not one I want to consider for this paper.

          I could also say that since they spent their time during the war in two different cities, their hypothetical anger issues could be greatly affected by their different experiences in it. Darko stayed in Dubrovnik and Sime lived in Sarajevo during the war. Each city, though greatly affected by the war, had marked differences, such as duration of conflict and the amount of exposure to the surrounding violence and threat.  As "Darker Than Midnight," Monique Skidmore’s article on modern day Burma shows us, fear is not something that you can easily isolate yourself from. Even though the threat was not directed at the author she still felt it as profusely as the people of the nation of Burma.

          The experience of walking into a store in Vietnam and hearing a song that came from Puerto Rico was a surreal experience. As my article shows I was pulled down an avenue I was not looking forward to strolling down. All of my memories hidden so far from common view where pulled out because of a song and just maybe a place. Did the place that I was in at that particular moment affect my reaction to that song? I have been in many places; Puerto Rico, New York, San Diego, on board ship and in a variety of other places but have not had the same reaction as I had then. Was the tinny sound of the speakers to blame? They seemed to accentuate his voice and lose all of the music behind him.  Why was the combination of one song and one place cause enough emotion in me to bring me to tears? Unfortunately I can not answer this question at this time because I don’t quite know the answer myself.    

            I entered Egypt unsure of what I was going to write about, which is not too uncommon. However by the second day I still had no concrete ideas. Usually by the second and third day in port I have an idea of where I am headed with my field report and just lack information.  This time I had the chatter in my head; religion and public life, the difference between men and women in society, all of them were good topics but none of them really spoke to me. Like Theodore Bestor in his article on field work in Japan, "Inquisitive Observation," I was fortunate to have my topic find me like his found him.

          Most of my time as I walked through Cairo I was conscious of myself and my surroundings though my tour guide told me not to bother I decided it was in my best interest to wear it. Eventually I gave up and stopped wearing it because as long as I stayed with the group everyone knew that I was an “American Lady”. Which is what they all yelled after me as they whistled and called. My old standby of I don’t speak English (said in Spanish) did not work here; it didn’t matter if I understood them they were going to have their fun. 


          All of my articles deal with memories and two of its most potent triggers, place and music. As I have already stated the terms music and place lack singular definitions.   No matter where I went music was present in one way or another, especially in India where even the ambient noises seemed musical and in Egypt where the call to prayer was also much more musical then I expected.

          The importance of all three subtopics of my paper is that all of them shape our best souvenirs of this trip our memories.   

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