Sitarist, teaching artist, ethnomusicologist
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 above mentioned 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.