My book, Singing Across Divides, available for pre-order

I’m so excited that my project of the past decade will finally appear in print! It has truly been a labor of love.

You can pre-order by clicking the link below, and it’s supposed to be available on October 2, 2017.

Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal

Here’s the summary:

“An ethnographic study of music, performance, migration, and circulation, Singing Across Dividesexamines how forms of love and intimacy are linked to changing conceptions of political solidarity and forms of belonging, through the lens of Nepali dohori song. The book describes dohori: improvised, dialogic singing, in which a witty repartee of exchanges is based on poetic couplets with a fixed rhyme scheme, often backed by instrumental music and accompanying dance, performed between men and women, with a primary focus on romantic love. The book tells the story of dohori’s relationship with changing ideas of Nepal as a nation-state, and how different nationalist concepts of unity have incorporated marginality, in the intersectional arenas of caste, indigeneity, class, gender, and regional identity. Dohori gets at the heart of tensions around ethnic, caste, and gender difference, as it promotes potentially destabilizing musical and poetic interactions, love, sex, and marriage across these social divides.

In the aftermath of Nepal’s ten-year civil war, changing political realities, increased migration, and circulation of people, media and practices are redefining concepts of appropriate intimate relationships and their associated systems of exchange. Through multi-sited ethnography of performances, media production, circulation, reception, and the daily lives of performers and fans in Nepal and the UK, Singing Across Divides examines how people use dohori to challenge (and uphold) social categories, while also creating affective solidarities.”

Experiences informing the Maoist Opera “Returning from the Battlefield”: Photos from Khusiram Pakhrin

“Returning from the Battlefield” is an opera written by the Nepali composer of progressive and revolutionary songs, Khusiram Pakhrin. It was written for a meeting of the leadership of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist during their People’s War (1996-2006); this meeting, in 2005, proved decisive in the conclusion of the war. The opera was meant to remind leaders about the sacrifices the rank and file fighters had made for the cause of liberation from oppression. This video, released by the party soon afterwards, became famous more for the shots of leaders Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai in tears, than for the content of the opera itself. I analyzed this opera in an article I wrote called “Tears for the Revolution” (full text here), published in the book Revolution in Nepal, edited by Marie Lecomte-Tilouine (Oxford University Press, 2013).

The above video of “Returning from the Battlefield” has English subtitles, the translation produced collaboratively by Hikmat Khadka, Anne de Sales, and myself (Anna Stirr). Music and lyrics are by Khusiram Pakhrin. The performance is by Samana Pariwar and Pratirodh Pariwar at the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)’s central committee meeting in Chunbang, Rolpa, October 9, 2005. Video by CPN(M) Central Broadcasting Committee. This is the live version of the first performance of this opera, which was written for this meeting. There is also a 2008 music video version available commercially, with choreography by Arjun BC.

This photo from Khusiram Pakhrin’s collection shows artists from Samana and Pratirodh rehearsing to perform “Returning from the Battlefield” at the Chunbang meeting.

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Members of Samana and Pratirodh in Rolpa Kholagau, getting ready to perform the opera Returning from the Battlefield in 2005. Artists including Kopila, Elina, Bhim, Bandana.

In the article I wrote, I discuss conversations that Marie Lecomte-Tilouine and I had (separately) with several individuals about the effects of the battle of Khara on the Maoist fighters’ morale, and this battle’s role in the inspiration for this opera. My own further conversations with Khusiram Pakhrin suggest that, among others, the battle of Beni equally influenced his musical and lyrical expressions of the range of emotions felt in its aftermath. Some artists were present at this battle, including Khusiram Pakhrin. He took some pictures before leaving, and on the return trip.

In this photo from Khusiram Pakhrin’s collection, the PLA meets for a briefing in Rukum before the attack on Beni.

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PLA meeting in Rukum before attack on Beni.

An account of this battle’s impact on the everyday lives of Beni residents can be found here.

The following photos from Khusiram Pakhrin’s collection were taken as the Maoist People’s Liberation Army returned from the battlefield of Beni.

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Khusiram Pakhrin resting while hiding from the Royal Nepal Army in a rhododendron forest, returning from the Beni front.

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Maoists hiding in Rukum forest while returning from the Beni front.

Khusiram Pakhrin’s comment on the photo above was that “the forest was full of Maoists – you can’t tell at all but this is just a few of us on the edge. This is how we lived, with our kitchens in the forest, eating in the forest, sleeping in the forest, taking care of the wounded in the forest.”

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Maoists in Rukum, coming back from Beni. Khusiram Pakhrin in front.

One of the opera’s themes of camaraderie and the close, loving friendships developed among Maoist fighters and the cadres who supported them. These photos illustrate such ties and some of the environment in which they were established, and give us a window on Khusiram Pakhrin’s own experiences “returning from the battlefield.”

The full collection of Khusiram Pakhrin’s photos can be found here.

Anna: American with a Nepali Heart

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A translation of Tulsi Pravas’s article about me (original linked to here), which is a condensed version of the speech he gave to introduce me at the Ali Miya Prize ceremony.

Anna: American with a Nepali Heart

Tulsi Pravas

Pokhara, 26 February 2016

Samadhan News

Equally dedicated not only to research on Nepali folk and dohori but also to singing and musical creation, Dr. Anna Stirr’s facility with the Nepali language is so impressively fluent that when she speaks it is as if she is actually speaking her own mother tongue. 

On the occasion of the 98th birth anniversary of the late poet Ali Miya, who dedicated his entire life to Nepali folk song, folk poetry, and folk music, the Ali Miya Folk Literature Academy of Pokhara will give the Ali Miya Prize 2072 to this tireless devotee, who despite her foreign name and citizenship, has become fully Nepali in her scholarly work and field of creative interest.

One who has dedicated her life to Nepali folklore, its study and research, and the promotion of Nepali folk music and folk literature, who has been committed to it throughout her life, who has experientially understood the pathos of Nepali folk song and who has perhaps even overtaken us, this is Anna Marie Stirr. As she receives the Ali Miya Prize from the Ali Miya Academy, which is dedicated to the uplift of Nepali folk song, folk music, and folk literature in general, I would first like to give Anna Marie Stirr words of congratulations, from myself and from the entire Academy – I would like to dedicate them with a pure heart, and with the good feeling that the entire world of folklore is honored and proud to dedicate this prize to her, I personally and the whole Academy are happy to express these sentiments. Also, our honored individual is celebrating her 37th birthday* this month, and on this joyful occasion we would like to wish her good health, long life, and prosperity.

It is certain that Anna Marie Stirr was not born a Nepali. 36 years ago in the Nepali year 2036, on the 27th day of the month of Phagun, and the 12th day of March 1980, the daughter of Richard Lee Stirr and Gail Marie Stirr made America her homeland, coming into the world and having her first sensory experiences there, and, I feel, her diverse body of work confirms that she was blessed with a rainbow of talents. Now, she has made her home in the country of her birth, living in Honolulu and making her living as an Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii; Anna has also worked in the Netherlands, England, Nepal, and other countries at various universities and schools, lecturing on language, music, culture, and other subjects.

With a deep interest in learning about music, folk customs, and folklore studies from an early age, she completed her Master’s level education from America’s world-famous university, Columbia University in New York, and received her PhD from the same university on the subject of the various symbolisms found in Nepali dohori songs. She is working tirelessly in her field of interest, treating her work as true religion, and because of this Dr. Anna has received academic grants from various institutions, in a list whose details are very long. And as she has only reached the 36thspring of her life, in light of the wonderful work she has done, she is now not only an individual, but has become an entire institution, and I do not feel it would be superlative to say that the work she has done would even be difficult for an entire institution to complete on its own.

Equally dedicated not only to research on Nepali folk and dohori but also to singing and musical creation, Dr. Anna Stirr’s facility with the Nepali language is so impressively fluent that when she speaks it is as if she is actually speaking her own mother tongue. With an extraordinary love for Nepali songs, music, and folk culture, Dr. Anna’s book on Nepali songs, entitled Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal is being published by Oxford University Press, and her articles about Nepali songs, music, and culture have been published in many academic journals.**

Likewise, her research articles on this subject have found good places in various books. For her studies, performance, and community service she was honored with membership in Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Kappa Lambda, and Mortar Board in 2002, and has received other honors as well; the multitalented Anna has experience spread throughout the fields of journalism, grant-making, reviews, criticism, and research direction. Her mother tongue is English yet in addition to Nepali she also has knowledge of Spanish, Hindi, French, Dutch, and Tibetan, and expanding her horizons as a multilingual researcher, she has given presentations of research in multiple places, the list of whose titles would take a long time to read.

A truly extraordinary rainbow of talents, tireless work ethic, and absorption in intensive fieldwork and research with ease are her main features, in my view. Although she is an American citizen whose mother tongue is English, the depth of interest and ongoing activities she has demonstrated on behalf of the folk song and folklore of an underdeveloped country like Nepal is exemplary and will remain so.

At a time when today’s generations are caught up in the novelties of western culture, the work she has done on Nepali songs, music, and culture and their originality, depth, and profundity is not simply that of providing information, rather, I feel, her contribution to promoting Nepali songs, music, and culture all over the world cannot be expressed in words. She has sifted through the seeds of Nepali songs, sorted the feelings of the Nepali heart found therein – happiness and sorrow, glances of joy, love and loss, meeting and parting, etc., measured their depths and heights and placed them within her heart as her own; she has embraced and enjoyed Nepali language and melodies, worked and continues to work for their uplift, and expresses her commitment to continue this work even further.

We can now find that a Nepali heart has come to beat within her. Her tireless footsteps have traveled far in pursuit of worlds of authentic songs in Nepali language. In studying and researching Nepali songs and music she has undergone many enjoyable challenges, and perhaps at some points she may have even endured some insults, yet she has been and will continue to be honored. In the coming days we have no doubt that many hidden aspects of Nepali songs and music will have the opportunity to come to light in her publications. Finally, I offer her my warm congratulations again for receiving this honor. Long live folklore!

(Author Tulsi Pravas is a PhD Candidate in Nepali Folk Song).

*Nepalis often count the year in the womb so in Nepal I am sometimes presented as a year older than in the US. My birthday’s correct!

**Yes, the book is not yet published and the number of articles I’ve published is fewer than that expressed in the Nepali version of the article (and you can read some of them here).

Press from the Ali Miya Prize

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I received the Ali Miya Prize from the Ali Miya Folklore Academy (Ali Miya Lok Wangmaya Pratisthan) on February 27th, 2016 in Pokhara, Nepal.

The Rastriya Sanchar Samiti wrote this piece in English that was taken up by the Kathmandu Post, Himalayan Times, and other English dailies in Nepal as well as websites featuring Nepali news in English, like infonepal.net.

In the Nepali press, Tulsi Pravas wrote this article for Samadhan News: नेपाली मनकी अमेरिकी ‘आना’. Kantipur published “अमेरिकी आनालाई अलि मियाँ ” by Lal Prasad Sharma. EAdarsha.com published “आनालाई अलि मियाँ पुरस्कार“. Several more articles appeared in print only, before and after the prize was awarded.

On the radio, Shikhar Gajarkote of Himal FM interviewed me over the phone from Solu Khumbu. Sabeena Karki of Kantipur FM interviewed me on her program Mid-Week Music. A video she took after the interview was over is available here. Rajkumar Rayamajhi of Nepal Bani Network interviewed me for a Saturday morning broadcast that went out from all radio stations of the network throughout Nepal.

Another video is available from when I sang dohori at the Lekhnath Mahotsav on February 26th, 2016.

Thanks to all who took interest in and promoted this event! I am grateful for the recognition of my work and for the affirmation that what I do is valued among the communities whose music I am studying and performing. I am especially pleased to receive the prize in the name of Ali Miya, a man who throughout his lifetime promoted understanding and equality between castes, ethnic groups, social classes, and religions in Nepal, through his songs, poetry, and actions. While I am honored to receive this prize, I also recognize that there is much more to be done. I see this prize as a major encouragement along the way to wider acknowledgment and value of Nepal’s living folk cultures and their continued importance in society. I will carry with me the values expressed by Ali Miya, of equality, simplicity, and beauty in art as in life.

 

I’m being awarded the Ali Miya Prize!

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I am incredibly honored to announce that I will be receiving the 2016 Ali Miya Prize, on February 27, in Pokhara, Nepal. This prize is given yearly to individuals who have made notable contributions to folklore in Nepal, including folk music and folk literature. Previous recipients include Hari Devi Koirala and Prem Raja Mahat, among others. I am delighted to be included along with these luminaries of Nepali folk song.

Ali Miya was one of Nepal’s foremost folk poets and songwriters of the twentieth century. He was an ecumenical artist who composed poetry and songs in many styles, especially those from his home area of the western hills around Pokhara. A Muslim who embraced the poetic languages of all religions, he is dear to the heart of many Nepalese. You can read more about him here, which is also the post from which the above photo is drawn.

Nepalese Music at Hawaii State Library Jan 30 2016

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Nepali Folk Music from the Mountains, Hills, and Plains

Ram Kumar Singh (bansuri flute, madal drum)

Anna Stirr (bansuri flute, madal drum, vocals)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

12:00-1:00 pm

Library front lobby

Ram Kumar Singh, bansuri

Improvised solo in the Nepali folk tradition

Ram Kumar Singh, bansuri

Anna Stirr, madal

Harvest song from the Dhimal ethnic group (traditional; eastern plains)

Song for the Tihar Holiday (traditional; Kathmandu valley)

The Flute Plays, Tiriri (by Panna Kaji Shakya; Kathmandu valley)

Girlfriends’ Song (traditional; eastern hills)

Fluttering Silk Handkerchief (by Buddhi Pariyar; eastern hills)

Ram Kumar Singh, madal

Anna Stirr, bansuri and vocals

Song for the May Full Moon from the Rai ethnic group (traditional; eastern hills)

Dance song from the Tamang ethnic group (traditional; central mountains)

Black Hat (by Komal Oli; western hills)

 I Weep as I Go to the Fields (by Srijana Birahi Thapa; western hills)

Across Nine Hills (by Bima Kumari Dura; western hills)

While I was Going to Tulsipur (by Komal Oli; western plains)

Song from the Tharu ethnic group (traditional; western plains)

The Wind Blows in Ghorahi Bazaar (traditional; western plains)

Himalayan Music School Outreach

Punahou student tries the bansuri flute (Photo courtesy of East-West Center)

Punahou student tries the bansuri flute (Photo courtesy of East-West Center)

The East-West Center sponsored “Music of the Himalayas”, a series of concerts and outreach events on April 17-19, 2015. After we performed at Punahou School, kids got to try the instruments. Here I am helping one with his embouchure!