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Digital Technology and Orally Transmitted Music: Two Case Studies from Amazonian Shamanism - Owain Graham (EUA)


Icaros are songs fundamental to the practice of traditional Amazonian medicine among indigenous and mestizo populations in the Western Amazon. The word icaro has been traced back to the Quechua word ikaray, “to blow smoke in order to heal.”

This definition points to a conception of the breath as a medium that carries healing power, especially when augmented by smoke and singing. In traditional Amazonian medicine, a healer’s prestige is often tied to their ability to memorize a large number of icaros. These songs are the source of shamanic power, a means of connecting to healing and protecting spirits, and the primary structural elements of rituals that may last from a few minutes to several hours. Historically, these songs were either orally transmitted from master to apprentice or learned by direct contact with spirits during various rituals involving altered states of consciousness achieved by ingesting consciousness altering plants or through ritualized social seclusion and dietary restriction. In this presentation, I explore the benefits, pitfalls, and ethical implications of the use of digital recordings in learning, sharing, researching, and selling icaros--especially considering their status as semi-secret knowledge and the growing incentives to commodify the songs due to the increasing popularity of shamanic tourism. I also discuss the recent development of live-streamed medicine ceremonies in which icaros are used to create ritual spaces at a distance.

Owain Graham is a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Riverside. His current research focuses on the songs that structure healing rituals in the Peruvian Amazon and how music, ritual, and relationality with non-human entities mediate interactions between tourists and Amazonian healers.
Mr. Graham holds a B.M. from the Stetson University School of Music, where he studied classical guitar with internationally renowned artist and teacher, Stephen Robinson. He also holds a master’s degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Mr. Graham founded the guitar studies program at the Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio, Texas where he also taught music theory and Mexican Rondalla Ensemble.

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