14: 30 – 15:20 ‘Nationalism Refigured’ Book Launch and Talk
15:30 – 16:30 Saath-Saath Concert
Speaker and Curator: Tejaswini Niranjana
Musicians: Omkarnath Havaldar, Rutuja Lad, Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy, Zen E
TALK: Music and Modernity, Culture and Nation
Tejaswini Niranjana has been studying the relationship between Indian music and modern Indian society, and her findings will be published in February 2020 in a book called ‘Musicophilia in Mumbai: Performing Subjects and the Metropolitan Unconscious’ (Duke University Press and Tulika Books).
In her book, she traces the role of Hindustani classical music as the city of Mumbai evolved, during the British colonial period and after Independence. The question she focused on is why, when Indians were becoming part of the modern world and creating their own modernity, did they continue to be obsessed with this, so-called, ‘old time’ music? To answer this question, she examined issues of nation-building and the cultural responses to colonialism. As Indians struggled for freedom, they claimed older cultural forms, such as traditional music, and re-purposed them into ‘classical’ forms. They presented these re-purposed cultural forms as ‘national’ forms connected to the new ‘Indian’ identity.
The recording of this music began at the start of the 20th century and, within a few decades, it could also be heard on the radio. While the Indian middle class created arts circles that would invite musicians to play, theatre and, with the advent of the ‘talkies’, cinema, spread the enjoyment of such music even more widely across all stratas of society. Until the 1970s and 80s, Hindustani and South Indian classical music provided the melodic base to the soundtracks of many Indian films.
THE SAATH-SAATH CONCERT
After completing her research in India, Tejaswini Niranjana wondered if, in other parts of Asia, the same connection between modernity and a reclaiming of a cultural tradition was happening. What she’s now doing in her work with Chinese musicians is to test whether some of the same propositions hold in a very different context. There are significant differences between evolution of music traditions in India and China. In what can be seen as part of an effort to escape a feudal past and modernise, Western musical forms were widely adopted in China during the 20th Century, in a way they never were in India. The melodic structures of Chinese music changed in an attempt to match the harmonic structures of Western music, for example.
In 2016, Tejaswini Niranjana curated a jamming session between Indian musicians she had brought to Shanghai for the Biennale, and their Chinese counterparts. The Saath-Saath Project she subsequently created, involves a series of cross-cultural collaborations between musicians, composers and scholars, which aim to prompt an examination of cultural practice in China and India. Instead of prior research leading the musical practice, in Saath-Saath the music is opening the way for new research possibilities. For the last three years, Indian vocalists, a pipa player, a yangqin player, a Chinese folk singer, and a Cantopop lyricist have been working together to create a new repertoire of inter-cultural music. Some of the pieces will be heard today in the concert.