Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern
The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India
Duke University Press 2006
In Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India (Duke University Press, 2006) ) Amanda Weidman (scroll down to see her profile) explores how the colonial encounter profoundly shifted the ways South Indian Karnatic music was performed, circulated, and talked about in the twentieth century. The violin became the standard accompanying instrument largely because of the way it could imitate the voice and was seen as modernizing the musical tradition. Karnatic music began to be performed in large concert halls where music reformers expected “pin drop silence” as one would find in European symphony orchestra halls. When musicians published various forms of notation to capture music that had been traditionally passed down orally, new ideas came into being about the composer having sole authorship of a composition. The performers of the music changed as well. Before the early decades of the twentieth century, the only women who could perform South Indian music in public were devadasis, women who came from a community of hereditary musicians and dancers whose repertoire included erotic songs. In the twentieth century various legal, societal, and musical reforms led to the stigmatization of devadasis and their repertoire, while it became acceptable for high-caste Brahmin women to sing in public. Meanwhile, debates about what should be included in the canon of Karnatic music were connected to the language politics of the time, leading to a movement to put Tamil-language compositions on par with the “classical” Telugu and Sanskrit compositions that had become central to the Karnatic music canon of the twentieth century.
Amanda was kind enough to speak with me about Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern. I hope you enjoy the interview.