Abstracts

Jim Kippen
"Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Sources on Drumming in North India"

This paper examines in detail several of the eighteenth and nineteenth century Persian and vernacular sources pertaining to drumming in North India with the aim of tracing the evolution of the theory and practice of tāl: changes in metric and rhythmic theory; changes in performance practice; associations with different genres; social implications for communities of drummers; and the responses to colonialism.

David J. Lunn
“Spectacular Performances Over Seas”: Travelling Artistes and the Indian Emigration Act of 1901

The question of emigration was a serious one in fin de siècle British India.  The desire of capitalists in various other British possessions – and specifically in the Straits Settlements – for increased coolie or indentured labour, conflicted with the strictly applied and apparently humanely motivated restrictions on labour recruitment imposed by the Indian Emigration Act of 1883.
It was in this context that the question of how to regulate the movement outside of India of artisans, artistes, or performers arose.  Coinciding with both the outbreak of plague in India and the Paris Exhibition of 1900, the debate over the amendments necessary to the 1883 Act – designed with mass coolie emigration in mind – revealed both a variety of pertinent issues and cases, and a set of conflicting official views on how best to accommodate the movement of troupes of performers while ensuring their welfare.

Given the centrality of the movement of artistes to the circulation and interaction of cultural forms, this Act provides a rare instance of such actors and acts finding mention in the colonial archive.  This paper will examine the Act and its legislative history in the context of wider debates in the colonial public sphere on the movement of peoples throughout the Empire, in an effort to increase our understanding of how, where, and under what strictures such movements took place, and to what effect.

Allyn Miner
"Wajid Ali Shah’s Favorites: the Musical Non-elites of Lucknow"

Lucknow has been celebrated for its stylistic contributions to north Indian music, but details about the musicians and women who specialized in the entertainment music fundamental to Lucknow’s style are scarce. This paper uses contemporaneous sources to consider a group of musicians from dhari and other non-elite backgrounds who were the special friends of Wajid Ali Shah.

Wajid Ali Shah’s own memoirs, British correspondence, and Urdu narratives by contemporaneous writers provide consistent details and express nuanced viewpoints. I use these sources to consider the social and musical positions of non-elites under Wajid Ali Shah. And though the details of their lives in Lucknow faded from public memory soon after they left, their music and iterations of their stories lived on. I use material from later nineteenth and early twentieth century publications to trace the afterlife of Wajid Ali Shah’s favorites and will propose that an undercurrent of non-elite presence is fundamental but overlooked or suppressed in later accounts of mainstream music and its social contexts.

Katherine Butler Schofield
"Sepoys, Convicts, Nautch Girls and Faqirs: Subaltern Histories of Hindustani Music in the Straits Settlements"

If one considers a musical genre like the Johor ghazal, whose earliest basic ensemble included tabla, sarangi and harmonium (Hilarian), it seems obvious that North Indian performers must have travelled to and within the Malay world at least as early as the nineteenth century and had a definite impact upon local musical culture, potentially producing an exciting example of connected cultural history across the Bay of Bengal. But tracing the history of such performances is difficult due to the predominantly subaltern status of North Indians in colonial Malaya, and the lack of sources in North Indian languages for the Malay world. In this paper I will consider the evidence of the early Penang and Singapore newspapers for performances of a range of North Indian music in the Straits Settlements that shed light on the role of sepoys, convicts, nautch girls and faqirs in the transmission of Hindustani music to the Malay world before 1860.

Katherine Butler Schofield and David J Lunn
"Releasing the Music of the Archive: Opening our Ears to the Historical Ghazal"

The ghazal as Islamicate India’s preeminent literary genre has enjoyed lavish scholarly attention over the years. The ghazal as a broadly popular genre of Hindustani music that has historically been sung, enacted and danced, has received much less. Musicologists, doubting their abilities to deal with its sophisticated language, have by and large ceded the terrain of the ghazal to literary specialists. For their part, save the usual gestures to mushā‘iras, literary scholars have been all but deaf to the extensive performed lives of historical ghazal texts. Yet there is pervasive evidence that the Persian and Urdu ghazal enjoyed dual, mutually enriching existences as both poem and sung performance throughout North India and the Deccan in the 18th and 19th centuries.

How, then, do we approach the ghazal as a performed genre before the advent of recorded sound? While literary specialists may hold in their hands the object of their study, music is gone forever once the last note has died away, leaving behind, at best, fragmentary textual shades that require an Orpheus to breathe back into them an echo of their sonic vitality. And then there is that great intermedial entity the rāga to take into account, itself a magic formula for conjuring into being an aesthetic life-form saturated with rasa. What did it mean to set a ghazal, with its own set of pleasures and lyrical devices to melt the hearts of its audience, to a rāga, whose own tāsīr or effect was so tangible as to be, in some cases, supernatural?

Our central contention is that the ghazal in its historical context is best viewed as an intermedial entity that requires not only literary and music specialists to make sense of it, but art and social historians as well. Properly situated as a performed and performative object existing within a nexus of literary and musical genres and multiple, overlapping and multi-lingual repertoires, the ghazal when thus examined opens windows onto the musical, cultural, literary, social and intellectual history of early-modern India. Ultimately, recovering the historical musical object from its textual traces is a quest always already doomed to failure. Nevertheless, in this paper, we – a music historian and a literary scholar – propose a mode of reading that comes as close as we can to hearing, and invite you to think aloud together with us.

Jim Sykes
"A Malayan Indian Sonic Geography: Sound and Social Relations in Colonial Singapore"

In this paper, I explore the dialogic interplay between the emergence of Indian musical communities in Singapore and the increased circulation of musicians and musical commodities around the Bay of Bengal during the years 1920-1965. I argue that from the 1920s, Indian music scenes developed in Singapore that were not simply about the maintenance of tradition and connection to the homeland; rather, Singaporean Indians interacted with non-Indian musicians and musical sounds, incorporating English, Malay and Chinese influences into their musics, while some Indians became renowned for performing non-Indian genres. Yet it was also during this period that Singapore emerged as the focal point for a Malayan Indian sonic geography, a network constituted by touring musicians, circulating recordings and films, radio, festivals, amusement parks, and newspapers. This sonic geography afforded broader connections between Southeast Asian Indians and other Indians around the Bay of Bengal. The paper concludes by suggesting that although Singaporean Indians had to jettison their Malayan Indian identity after Singapore and Malaysia parted ways in 1965, the Malayan Indian sonic geography persists, though in ways that display the differences between Indians’ postcolonial experiences in both countries.

Meg Walker
"Transitions, Performance, and Gender: The Mardana Tawaif and the Raj" 

Studies of gender issues in 18th and 19th-century performance practice in North India have largely focused on the refined activities of the female performers we now called courtesans or tawa'ifs. Although this work has given due recognition to hereditary female artists, long marginalized or omitted from histories of music and dance, it has still produced an incomplete picture.  Iconography, travel writings, and poetry include not only female dancers and their male accompanists, but also dancing boys and male courtesans. This paper will offer an exploration of gender in music and dance that includes these performers and also considers the role of the British in the various transitions that affected dance performance practice.

Richard Williams
"Hindustani Bengal: Upper Indian Performance Cultures in Nineteenth-Century Bengali Courts" 

This paper considers how aspects of elite musical culture from the late pre-colonial period were transmitted and redacted over the nineteenth century by Bengali intellectuals and musicologists. From the 1860s a generation of vernacular musical scholarship reflected on the character and history of Hindustani music, defining a śāstric, Indian heritage. This paper will consider the longer history of this enterprise, and evaluate the place of Upper Indian elite cultures in north-east India. Drawing on approaches cultivated largely in Art History, I will consider the relevance of 'Provincial-Mughal' and regional labels in the interpretation of connections between Bengali courts and those in Hindustan. By drawing on histories of training, treatise-writing, and shared performance practices, this paper will underline the continuing prevalence of Hindustani cultures in the heart of colonial Bengal, and indicate how the popular perception of Upper India changed in the wake of 1857.