Amie and the Sangeet Millennium Ensemble fuse North Indian music marked by the distinctively “exotic” sound of the long necked string instrument sitar, made famous by Ravi Shankar, with saxophone, Indian tabla drums, and often bass and Indian vocals. To hear the saxophone play the slides and oscillations so characteristic of Indian music is both familiar to jazz fans and wonderfully new. The group blends the two styles together, creating both a contemporary “new world music” sound and one that resonates with earlier fusion groups like Shakti and the work of jazz great Ornette Coleman. Meditating on the unexpected, this collective emits sounds that have been described as “elegantly vibrant”– at once mesmerizing, lyrical, and bizarre. They perform arrangements and improvisations of both traditional Indian melodies and original “new world music.”
Founded in 2006 and led by Amie Maciszewski, the Sangeet Millennium Ensemble follows the precedent set by by her guru, Sarode Maestro Aashish Khan, and his elders, in which players of diverse instruments collaborate to compose, arrange, and perform loosely structured pieces, often based on classical raags, allowing for considerable improvisation.
Alongside her work with Sangeet Millennium Ensemble, Amie has had the privilege, of collaborating with a number of expert musicians in the field of Hindustani classical and light-classical music, Karnatak (South Indian classical) music, Rajasthani folk music, Indo-Pakistan Sufi music, Persian classical music, Arabic music, jazz, and Western classical music. She has also played with performers of the North Indian classical dance form Kathak, eastern India’s Odissi, and South India’s Bharata Natyam; with Kathak-flamenco fusion; with classically-based contemporary Indian dance. In addition, she has provided live soundtrack for theatrical recitation. Amie always welcomes collaborations; for her they are a means to both broaden her musical horizons, and sharpen her artistic astuteness, as well as to share the intensity and joy of artistic creation and performance.
I am an ethnomusicologist specializing in the music cultures of South Asia. As a scholar advocating the study of world musics as an important means of promoting peace through raising awareness of and respect for the diversity of human expression, my theoretical underpinnings and action research overlap with:
- feminist studies, particularly gender and music/performance;
- issues in ethnography and fieldwork, particularly the ethnography of performance
- South Asian Studies, music and human rights, music and advocacy;
- documentary/ethnographic film, critical/cultural studies of music
I have been researching the courtesan performers of North India, collectively known as tawaif or baiji, since 1995. Much of this research is ethnographic, that is, conducted through interaction with members of this community on location in several cities and towns in North India. I have published several articles about various aspects of the lives, music, and social movements of these people in scholarly journals, anthologies, and an encyclopedia. In addition, I have made four point-of-view documentary films on North Indian courtesans. These films are owned by a number of libraries in educational and cultural institutions in North America, Europe, and India and have been selected for screening at various conferences, seminars, and several film festivals.
In collaboration with Professor Regula Qureshi, I have investigated social relations, musical production and reproduction, and agency (personal power and efficacy) among members of the abovementioned community since 2006. Since 2001, I have been combining scholarship with advocacy, which includes conducting fieldwork in India in partnership with Guria Sansthan, a grass-roots development organization that serves courtesan women musicians-dancers, and advocating for Guria’s members in North America and Europe through my writings, documentary films, teaching, and performance, referred to above.
Currently, I am examining what role the media has played in the lives of lesser-known tawaifs (North Indian courtesans, or hereditary professional women musicians and dancers). I ask, how have these women had access or lack of it to the media? I also look at the constraints—gender, class, and caste-related–that have frequently disrupted the flourishing of their careers. It is my hope that this study, both textual and audiovisual, may help to ascertain parameters by which to explore with complexity of the diva phenomenon in the Indian subcontinent and its diaspora, and, potentially, offer a transcultural connection which may lead to greater sustainability of these women’s art .
Additionally, continuing the oral history aspect of my research, I have taken steps in the delicate project of co-authoring the autobiography of my vocal guru, the eminent female Hindustani vocalist Padmabhusan Girija Devi. I have written two articles about her. The first, published in the journal Ninaad of the Kolkata Sangeet Research Academy, deals with my ethnographic involvement in the 1996-97 making of a documentary film sponsored by the Government of India on Girija Devi’s life.
The second, which introduces Girija Devi’s teaching methods and personal philosophy and philosophy about music and its transmission, is forthcoming in another journal of the Sangeet Research Academy, Parampara. This article is the beginning of a larger research project which Sangeet Research Academy invited me to conduct during 2010-2012 in the capacity of Musician Research Associate. In this project, I conducted an ethnographic study of the teaching methods and philosophy practiced by senior Gurus at the Academy, with the goal of identifying some kind of a pedagogy of Indian classical music (albeit fluid and flexible).
My fieldwork with women and music in North India and North Indian courtesans has been supported by a Fulbright IIE grant, a Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship from the University of Alberta, an Operational Assistance grant from University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Asian Studies, and a SSHRC grant awarded to Professor Regula Qureshi, Director of the Canadian Centre of Ethnomusicology at the University of Alberta. The most recent study Guru Pedagogy at ITC-SRA, was supported by the ITC Sangeet Research Academy.
Amie has produced four films documenting her ethnographic research since 1994 on socially marginalized women musicians in North India. They are:
- “Disrupted Divas: Conflicting Pathways (Ms. Mars, Ed., co-prod., 51:00) – 2010. (Winner of MADA [Making A Difference Award], Best DocumentaryToronto/Malvern COMMFEST). Trailer: http://www.underscorerecords.com/catalog/detail/548/Disrupted-Divas-Conflicting-Pathways
- “Chandni’s Choice (Ms. Mars, Ed., co-prod., 10:00) – 2007. (Juried screenings at Asia-Texas [Austin] and Indo-American Arts Council [New York City] Film Festivals, 2007; Yellow Frames [ Delhi] Film Festival, 2009). View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFglp8_RbiU
- “Guria, Gossip, Globalization” (Ms. Mars, Ed.; 51:00) – 2004. (Special Jury Award, Dallas South Asian Film Festival, 2004; invited screenings include Columbia, Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon, Princeton Universities, U of Arizona, Arizona State U, MIT, and Wheaton College, Austin Asian Film Festival (2004); India Habitat Centre, Delhi, Center for Social Science Studies, Calcutta (2005) . Short description at: http://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/8788253
- “Our Stories, Our Songs: North Indian Women’s Musical Autobiographies” (Ms. Mars, Ed.; 45:00) – 2000. (Featured in International Women’s Day 2000 Media Festival, Austin, TX, Community Access Channel). Screened at above universities and venues, and University of Alberta.Short description at: http://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/8788253
- “Chandni Kumari’s and Aruna Devi’s Pilot Recording Project” – Muzaffarpur, Bihar, 2011 (rough cut). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6cKbVl3k-M
She has also composed and performed music for the following films:
- The Revolutionaries –Rhituparna Basu, dir. – 2012
- tracks for documentary on forgotten heroes of India’s independence movement. https://rhitubasu.wordpress.com/
- CLAY – Cutting Chai Productions/Sushma Khadepaun-Parmar, , dir. – 2012.
- soundtrack for narrative short on transcendence of personal loss embodied in Ganesha. http://winterfilmawards.com/2013-official-selections/clay/
- One Peace at a Time – Nobelity.org, prod., dir. – 2009, Austin
- track for documentary on grassroots international development movements
- Naan Wayne & Masala SXSW Trailers – Cenozoic Studios, prod., dir. – 2002-3, Austin
- soundtracks for a series of juried film festival trailers
- The Unknown – Todd Browning, dir. (1924) – 1999.
- Commissioned score co-composed by The Gypsies ensemble, performed live at Alamo Drafthouse Theater, Austin.
My theoretical and ethnographic orientation can be summed up as the following, elaborated in the list of writings below.
1. unpacking, through feminist ethnography and oral history, the historiography of socially marginalized musicians from the late colonial period through the present day , especially the diffuse community of courtesans in India, referred to as tawaif-s in the North and devadasi-s in the South;
2. identifying and examining issues of women’s rights, human rights, and sustainability in the flows of transmission and patronage of diverse musics and musicians in North India and Pakistan (particularly courtesans and their communities)– from the local to the global;
3. critical examination and interpretation of the complex relationship between gender and genre in performance practice, transmission, and literature;
4. action research and culture-brokering on behalf of the abovementioned musicians’ community through teaching, writing, performing, and ethnographic films;
5. reflexive interrogation of the use of performance practice and study as a tool for research and re-presentation–with my own Hindustani music ensemble work, private instruction, and performance practice; as well as with the above mentioned community.