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Faith and the Musician: 'Ustads' in Modern India

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Abstract

The evolution of Hindustani classical music has consciously taken a trajectory that mirrors the nationalist project. In this experiment of defining a national music that is ostensibly secular, the position of the 'ustads' has always been attended by difficulty. Their image and musical practices have in turn popularised the secular, syncretic notion that Hindustani music has come to acquire. But in their history and that of the 'gharanas' they represent also lies the complex history of changing and evolving musical traditions, derived from and inspired by existing strands of music, traditional and adapted, and which also reflect the shifting political contours of the times.

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... Given that most Indian musical treatises were based on Hindu ideology and written in Sanskrit and other Indian languages, Persian musical elements were appropriated in North Indian music culture despite Persian religious ideology. However, some Persian Sufi interpretations enriched dhrupad ideology making them attractive and impressive for Muslim rulers (Subramanian, 2006: 4649). Widdess describes thoughts on dhrupad singing told by hereditary musicians who observe that mainly dhrupad is sung for the sake of god and not just for entertaining the people (Widdess, 1994: 93). ...
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This paper investigates aspects of how aesthetic preferences in Hindustani vocal music are linked to style, gender, performance context, and historical circumstance. First, the distinctiveness of Hindustani vocal music is articulated through analyzing the use and application of several melodic shapes sung in different genres thus contributing to a general overview on their musical diversity. Secondly, different degrees of intensity in melodic shapes sung in music genres are discussed, because they may cause remarkable changes from one genre to another although the same melodic shapes are applied. Taking this as a point of departure, the question of which cultural and historical contexts determine voice cultures is examined.In doing so, this paper can provide some ideas about the role of cultural and historical differences that are probably of much higher importance to the identity of voice cultures than perceived musical differences.
Chapter
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As a unique global historical event, a fundamental transfer from a Muslim ‘minority’ community to a Hindu ‘majority’ community took place in the modern north Indian ‘Hindustani’ music scene in terms of the number of musicians, the type of patronage (from courts to middle classes and the modern public sphere), music practice and audiences. This process of ‘Hinduization’ was largely the result of the music reforms initiated by elitist Hindus, who aimed to make Indian music modern, national and scientific, as well as spiritual. Successively, their efforts led to the stigmatization and subsequent marginalization of Muslim musicians. By taking music as a lens, the chapter sheds light upon the relationship between ‘religion’, nation and state in the context of processes of modernization and the global circulation of ideas.
Chapter
This chapter demonstrates the modern intertwining of Hindu nationalism and north Indian music. It particularly discusses the fundamental transfer that took place in the modern ‘Hindustani’ art music scene from a Muslim ‘minority’ community to a Hindu ‘majority’ community in terms of number of musicians, patronage (from courts to middle classes and the modern public sphere), music practice and audiences. This unique global historical event was largely the result of the music reforms initiated by elitist Hindus, who aimed to make Indian music making modern, national and scientific, as well as spiritual. Partially due to the impact of British orientalist knowledge, moreover, they argued for a revival of a golden age of ‘Hindu music’ that had supposedly declined under Muslim rule. Ultimately, this ‘Hinduization’ of north Indian music, which successively was institutionalized in modern music institutions, led to the stigmatization and subsequent marginalizing of Muslim musicians (ustads) and their knowledge.
This article discusses the post-Independence trajectory of North India’s oldest extant classical music festival. Processes of modernisation and nationalisation transformed the Harballabh festival into a professionally organised concert, with little resemblance to the fair or ‘Rāg Melā’ it used to be. I demonstrate the tension between the ‘modernisation’ begun by Ashwini Kumar post-1948 and a subtle though unmistakable ‘Hinduisation’ championed by other middle-class organisers. Kumar’s attempts during the 1950s and 1960s to shape a new, disciplined audience, schooled in practices of rapt listening, were also in direct contrast to conceptions about ‘restive’ and rustic Punjabi audiences. The article raises larger questions about the cultural politics of music performance in postcolonial India by focusing on the shifting character of middle-class cultural patronage, the tussle between traditional and modern formats of music festival organisation and the complicated division of public space along secular/sacred axes.
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