25 January 2012

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This week our presenter will be Niyati Dhokai, who will present the paper she gave at the International COuncil for Traditional Music conference this summer in St. John's, Newfoundland. The title of the presentation is:

Situating Indigenous Sounds in Modern Soundscapes: Examining Gujarati Identity in India through “Sugam Sangeet"

"When India became independent in 1947, the region that would later become the state of Gujarat was part of a large territory called ‘The Bombay Presidency.” As Gujaratis attempted to delineate a distinct identity in their newly found country and advocate for statehood, they utilized a genre called “sugam sangeet” (literally translates to music that is likeable) in their social activism. This new genre became popularized during an era of pan-Indian nationalism, confined to educated elites, and was used by college radio stations in Ahmedabad during the 1950s to define Gujarati regionalism through “indigenous” sounds, songs, and musicians. Although the term “indigenous” is somewhat contentious in describing regional sounds that are produced by a diverse range of individuals, including tribal peoples, rural populations, and urban, middle class music-makers, it continues to be used in the discourse on “traditional” Gujarati music, which has largely been regarded as folk and devotional music by music scholars. As recent, broader changes in the country have resulted in shifting cultural environments, the idea of Gujarati music continues to provide a milieu of a Gujarati culture that is quickly modernizing.

My paper examines how regional music is being affected by the populist, pan-Indian culture that has emerged as a result of changes in Indian socio-economic practices since 1991. I inquire how the decreased use of Gujarati language in urban, Gujarati centres affects the transmission of Gujarati musics to a generation that has been educated in Hindi and English-medium schools. I also question how a pan-(North) Indian Bollywood aesthetic has affected regionalized sounds that are being re-recorded for an audience that is primarily socialized towards “Indian” sounds by a popular culture-inspired media. Finally, I study the use of “sugam sangeet” by Gujarati musicians as a tool for advocating Gujarati culture in the current popular music soundscape".

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