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Daniel Fisher

Daniel Fisher is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. He is co-editor of Radio Fields: Anthropology and Wireless Sound in the 21st Century (NYU Press, 2012), and author of The Voice and its Doubles (Duke University, forthcoming April 2016). He has contributed to journals such as American Ethnologist and Cultural Anthropology, and the collections Aural Cultures and Keywords in Sound. His current research explores the political life of Aboriginal audio media and the production of the voice in Northern Australia.

“The Music of Celebrity: Avatars of the Voice in Northern Australia”
This paper draws on long-term ethnographic research to explore the mediatization of the voice in contemporary Aboriginal Australia. Recent decades have seen the efflorescence of Aboriginal media production spanning radio, film, and recorded music. These media emerged in the early 1980s as sites of a broad and vibrant cultural activism, of musical creativity, and also as a focus of governmental interest and investment. Where activists looked to the voice as an expressive instrument in the struggle for Aboriginal rights and cultural revitalization, the Australian state endeavored to solicit forms of Indigenous voice as indices of multicultural inclusion in efforts to secure the legitimacy of Australia’s nominally liberal democratic sovereign order. Today Indigenous performers frequently attain commercial success and celebrity in Australian public culture and feature in talent search programs such as The Voice and Australian Idol. As a result, talent, expressive singularity, and exceptionality vie with representational power as primary rubrics for assessing and valuing today's Aboriginal voices and performances. Aboriginal music media is thus a site of historically diverse and at times discordant interests. 

This history has encouraged Indigenous producers, performers, and audiences to reflect on the voice as partible from particular bodies, vulnerable to expressive and technological manipulation and improvement, and as partaking of a contentious political conflict. This paper describes how Indigenous performers and producers reckon with the voice’s politicized plasticity. I explore the distinct vocal performance styles of two Aboriginal musical celebrities; George Burarrwanga, frequently described as the ‘Indigenous Mick Jagger,’ and Jessica Mauboy, a virtuosic performer of soul and R&B and a star of the recent film The Sapphires (2013). The vocal personae these performers cultivate and their remediation in Indigenous filmic media provide opportunities to explore historically shifting relations between Indigeneity, vocal media, and musicality in Northern Australia.

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