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Institute of Musical Research, South Asia Music and Dance Forum

20 Jan 2012
Senate House, Room G35

10.00-10.30, Coffee and registration

10.30-12.00 Video link with the Indian Musicological Society Annual Conference, Mumbai, India, celebrating the work of Dr Ashok Ranade

10.30-11.15 (16.00-16.45 Indian time), Presentations from Mumbai

Chair: Arvind Parikh
Aneesh Pradhan
Suresh Chandvankar

11.15-11.45 (16.45-17.15 Indian time) Presentations from London
Chair: Richard Widdess
Francis Silkstone (composition)
Anna Morcom (film music)
Brahma Prakash (ethnomusicology in an Indian context)

12.00-2.00, Lunch

2.00-3.30, New research in Indian performing arts
Chair: Richard Widdess
2.00-2.30   Richard David Williams (Kings College London), Participation through poetry in the Radhavallabh Sampraday: music and the divine encounter’
2.30-3.00   James Sykes (Kings College London), ‘Hearing Like a State: Sri Lanka and the Ethics of Musicology’

3.00-3.30   Menaka PP Bora (University of Oxford),Mudra, Manuscript & Music: A contemporary study of a 16th century Sanskrit manuscript from the Bodleian Library in Oxford

3.30-4.00, Tea

4.00-5.30, New research in Indian performing arts
Chair: Anna Morcom
4.00-4.30   Sangita Shrestova (University of Southern California), ‘Dancing to a Global Bollywood Beat? Between Film and Live Performance’
4.30-5.00   Stacey Prickett (University of Roehampton), ‘Ticking the boxes: Kathak, hip-hop and contemporary identities’
5.00-5.30   Brahma Prakash (Royal Holloway, University of London) 'Paradox in Performance and Paradox of Performance: Performing a Lower-caste identity in Bihar (India)'


Menaka PP Bora (University of Oxford)

Mudra, Manuscript & Music : A contemporary study of a 16th century Sanskrit manuscript from the Bodleian Library in Oxford’

This paper-performance is based on my forthcoming article in The Bodleian Library Record journal highlighting a rare Sanskrit manuscript entitled Sr?hastamukt?val?, MSS. Wilson 234, which contains an elaborate treatise on the use of hasta or hand gestures in traditional Indian performance. Authored by Subhankara Kavi, a noted scholar on Indian music and dance, this particular version was hand written by Sri Raghava Khuna Pandit in eastern India. Although there is no exact information about the date of this Indian manuscript, the local scholars have argued that it was written sometime in the middle of 16th century AD on the basis of the citations of Subhankara Kavi. This Bodleian copy manuscript was collected by Horace Hayman Wilson, a distinguished Sanskritist of his era, who was the first Boden Professor of 'Sanskreet language' at Oxford in 1832. This text was written in a combined Bengali-Assamese script belonging to West Bengal and Assam in eastern India. Both these languages are derived from Sanskrit. In the first section of this text (Folio 22-24), each page has six lines of text and in the later part (Folio 25-61) there are five lines of text. The names of the hand gestures appear from the first page onwards. There are references in related studies suggesting the use of some of these hand gestures by the Hindu monks to depict stories from the Ramay?na and Mahabh?rata through performances of a 15th century living performance tradition called Sattriya in Assam.  I hope to propose that a study of this Bodleian copy of Sr?hastamukt?val? provides ample scope for understanding the unique characteristics of the classical Assamese music and dance traditions. In the wider context, this study raises issues on how a study of manuscripts can be applied to the development of performance traditions in contemporary India.

Stacey Pricket (Roehampton University)
‘Ticking the boxes: Kathak, hip-hop and contemporary identities’
This paper examines the work of Sonia Sabri, a prominent kathak classical soloist  who also choreographs contemporary dances that push boundaries of the kathak form.  Based in Birmingham, Kathakbox is a collaborative production that integrates hip-hop (dance, beatbox and poetry) with tabla and kathak to contest the tick-box identity constructions constantly under negotiation. In addition to the performance event, Kathakbox’s outreach projects provide rich material to interrogate a range of identity constructions. New constituencies (such as Muslim women) are reached through Kathakbox’s innovative mix of styles, its use of text offering opportunities for narrative strands to be drawn from the personal stories of workshop practitioners.   Cultural geographer Claire Dwyer’s (1999, 2009) research into young Muslim British women’s negotiation of diasporic identities and Judith Hamera’s (2007) conceptualisations of dance technique as inscribing the body inform this investigation, situated within discussion of larger issues of diasporic identity and hybridity.

Sangita Shrestova (University of Southern California)
‘Dancing to a Global Bollywood Beat? Between Film and Live Performance’

Today, Bollywood dance, a colloquial term used to describe choreography inspired by song-and-dance sequences in Hindi films, is fast becoming a global phenomenon in urban centers from Sidney, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Kathmandu, to London. Driven by enthusiasm expressed by Indian and non-Indian audiences to experience choreography contained in Hindi films, Bollywood dance has now emerged as a popular, lucrative, and recognized movement category.  In Mumbai, the globally savvy film industry increasingly caters to diasporic tastes in hopes of capturing much coveted overseas markets. In the United States, staged interpretations of Bollywood film song and dance sequences dominate annual cultural shows organized by South Asian associations on college campuses. Around the world specialized schools advertise their ability to impart authentic Hindi film choreography to their students.  Through an investigation of the increasingly dominant presence of Bollywood dance, this presentation explores the symbiotic relationship between film and live performance with a particular focus on the embodied dimensions of Bollywood dance. I argue that Bollywood dance represents a rather novel site of cultural reception in which performance, audience and commercial film cross reference, challenge and influence and remediate each other in ways that challenge conventional understandings of production and consumption, embodiment and migration.

Brahma Prakash Singh (Royal Holloway)
‘Paradox in Performance and Paradox of Performance: Performing a Lower-caste identity in Bihar (India)’
Reshma-Chuharmal is a love epic from the eastern Indian state of Bihar. It tells the story of Reshma, a daughter of a feudal landlord (or local king) who belonged to the dominant upper caste Bhumihar, and Chuharmal, a cowherd and wrestler who belonged to the lower caste Dusadh (Dalit) caste. For several decades the story has been a bone of contention between the upper-castes and the lower-castes in the south Bihar region.  The story of Reshma-Chuharmal has led several caste-riots (or caste-wars) in Bihar.  It is to be noted that in caste-based feudal society, asymmetrical love is taken as one of the biggest offences, particularly when the male belongs to dalit (untouchables) and the female belongs to the upper caste.

The story of Reshma-Chuharma is enacted in several folk genres, ranging from text to performance. It is performed as a ritual worship, as a gossip, as a legend and in ballad and theatrical forms.  Most provocatively, it is performed in Bidesia style of theatre in which Reshma is enacted by a launda (female impersonator). The story is also printed and circulated in booklets and distributed in Dalit melas (fair) as part of dalit consciousness-raising campaigns.

Scholarly tendencies have been to see such performances as part of subaltern-elite discourses or as symbolic struggles of subaltern dalits and dominant upper-castes. In traditional performance genres the dalit discourses are still in flux. Reinelt argues that when discourses are in flux, then political struggles exist at various sites of contestation (2009:201). In the context of fragmented Indian society, the point can also be put the other way round: since political struggles exist at various sites, the discourse are in flux. Both these aspects have resulted in a very paradoxical nature of dalit-identity as well as of performance.  This paper asks us to go beyond the usual subaltern-elite symbolisms in performance. On the basis of my ethnographic study of Reshma-Chuharmal I will show how Dusadh as a marginalized caste have used all possible strategies and symbols, from revolutionary to Brahminical and patriarchal to overcome their social marginality. The performance not only shows the paradoxical nature of lower-caste identity but also reveals the paradoxical nature of performance itself. Broadly, this paper attempts to study performance of a lower-caste identity on the line of performance of class (Willis 1977), ethnicity (Moerman 1974), gender (Butler 1990; Mendoza-Denton 1996) and sexual identity (Queen 1997).

James Sykes (Kings College London)
‘Hearing Like a State: Sri Lanka and the Ethics of Musicology’

This paper maps the interplay between disaster, local subjectivities and cultural practices in the eastern Sri Lankan province of Batticaloa.  Deeply affected by Sri Lanka’s long-running civil war and 2004 tsunami, roughly half of Batticaloa’s population is Tamil-speaking Hindu, while half is Tamil-speaking Muslim.  On and off for over twenty-five years, Batticaloa witnessed terrible brutality at the hands of the (northern Tamil-led) LTTE rebels and the Sri Lankan government forces, until hostilities concluded with the extermination of the LTTE leadership in 2009.  During fieldwork (2004-2008), military personnel lined the streets, tanks roamed the area, and sporadic violence still occurred in and outside Batticaloa town.  This paper focuses on a conundrum faced by Batticaloa’s musicians and musicologists in the wake of a civil war between two competing sovereigns deemed to reside elsewhere: precisely how one defines Batticaloa’s music (what ethnic/cultural languages one uses) appears to constitute calls for a particular mode of governance.  This paper examines how musicians in Batticaloa manipulate their music historical narratives for the purpose of promoting their own ‘freedom’, and questions the possibility of achieving such freedom when attempts at a “liberated aesthetics” must proceed through the languages of community that so forcefully constitute the modern.  Drawing on James C. Scott’s book Seeing Like a State, I suggest we musicologists “hear like a state” when we reduce calls for a liberated aesthetics to the communal languages necessary to the foreign sovereign powers that would (or would wish) to rule such regions – though our conundrum is the same in that we, too, seem incapable of representing a liberated aesthetics without using the very same communal languages that deny the possibility of its becoming.

Richard David Williams (Kings College London)
Participation through poetry in the Radhavallabh Sampraday: music and the divine encounter’
Though small and under-studied, the Radhavallabh Sampraday stands out among the devotional communities of Vrindavan. In the centre of Krishna worship in North India, this sect has elevated the status of the god’s consort, Radha, to the levels of a Supreme Being, rendering Krishna merely her companion. The full dynamics of this relationship, and its theological implications have largely been neglected, partly because the Samprad?y prioritises poetry and singing traditions, rather than strictly philosophical texts. This paper re-evaluates how we examine bhakti sources, drawing on translations from the eighteenth-century Braj Bhasha poet Chaca Vrindavandas, in order to demonstrate how song texts are not merely decorative accessories to worship. Examining these lyrics provides a rich sense of a ‘situational theology’, and indicates how music was understood not as a means of religious practice, but rather as a soteriological end in itself.

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