Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal. Oxford University Press, 2017.
An ethnographic study of music, performance, migration, and circulation, Singing Across Divides examines 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.
My research interests focus on the cultural politics of intimacy in the performing arts and media worlds, with an area focus on Himalayan communities, primarily in Nepal, along with their worldwide diasporas. I look at the interactions between the spheres of politics and love, as performed, felt, and represented in music, dance, verbal art, political and religious action, and public discourse about all of these.
I use ethnographic and archival methods, as well as methods of music and dance analysis appropriate to the traditions which I am studying. I am a performer as well as a scholar of Nepali music, with formal training in Western and Hindustani classical traditions. As I am interested in performance as social action, I ground my theoretical analysis in embodied knowledge by using performance as both an artistic endeavor and, when appropriate, a research method. I thus expand my ethnographic analysis to expressive practices beyond discourse, including sound, dance, staging, costuming, and the design and presentation of musical objects, from “sound objects” to the cassette to the mp3. I am especially interested in sensory ethnography, connecting sound, language, and embodiment in the environment – social, natural, spiritual. Theoretical angles from which I approach these topics include the ethnography of communication, performance theory, perspectives on media and circulation, and debates on politics, exchange, love, and intimacy in anthropology and social theory.
“Music, Dance and Cultural Revolution Beyond China’s Borders”
This collaborative project with Tasaw Hsin-Chun Lu, Tsan-Huang Tsai, and Nomi Dave explores the influence of China’s revolutionary aesthetics on revolutionary and reactionary performance in Asia and Africa. Looking at revolutionary performance in Burma, Nepal, and Guinea, as well as Taiwan’s Cultural Renaissance, we trace the connections between politics and aesthetics as these different cultures drew on similar forms of Chinese music, dance, and ideology, in creating their own particular styles of propaganda performance. This three-year study continues from 2014-2017, and is funded by the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation.
Love and Revolution in Nepali Communist Song
In this ongoing book project, I look at how people understand forms of communism as domains of opportunity, and as frameworks for cultivating personhood, linked to particularly Nepali understandings of modernity. I ask: How has communism provided a framework to articulate hope and aspirations in Nepal? I focus on communist cultural groups and their histories from the 1960s to the present, tracing their relations with global modernization discourses of development in the public sphere, and love in the private sphere. This research has been supported by the University of Hawaii Research Council and the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies.
Folk Performance, Cultural Memory, and the Spiritual and Material Environment
Glimpses of Nepali Folk Music: The Works of Subi Shah
This translation project brings together some of Nepali musicologist, dancer, and multi-instrumentalist Subi Shah’s best known writings, all centered on the genres performed in the pangdure or maruni tradition of folk dance performance. These include multiple forms of khyali, jhyaure, chudka, and other folk songs and dances, along with the epic dance-dramas of Sorathi and Krishna Charitra, in the books Madal and Glimpses of Nepali Folk Music, published by Sajha Prakashan. In addition, Shah’s unpublished works Introduction to Nepali Tunes; Nepali Dance Dramas; and Sorathi will be included.
“Ruralising the City: Migration and Viraha in Translocal Nepal.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society special issue on Urban Emotions: Responses to the City c. 1850-1960. Eds. Elizabeth Chatterjee, Sneha Krishnan, and Meghan Robb. 27(4), 2017.
“Music and Cultural Policy in Nepal: Views from Lok Dohori.” European Bulletin of Himalayan Research 48, 2016, pp. 43-76.
“Sounding and Writing a Nepali Public Sphere: The Music and Language of Jhyaure.” Asian Music 46(1), 2015, pp. 3-38.
“Changing the Sound of Nationalism in Nepal: Deuda and the Far West.” South Asian Popular Culture 10(3), 2012, pp. 1-11.
“Singing Dialogic Space Into Being: Communist Language and Democratic Hopes at a Dohori Competition on Radio Nepal.” Studies in Nepali History and Society 15(2), 2010, pp. 297-330.
“May I Elope”: Song Words, Social Status, and Honor among Female Nepali Dohori Singers. Ethnomusicology 54(2), 2010, pp. 257-280.
“Dohori in the New Nepal.” World Literature Today 82(1), 2008, pp. 30-37.
“Music Analog, Digital, and Embodied: Circulation in Rural Nepal.” In Jayson Beaster-Jones and Kariann Goldschmitt, eds. Oxford Handbook of Global Music Industries. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (under review).
“Love, Politics, and Life Between Village and City in Nepali Lok Dohori.” In Zoe Sherinian and Sarah Morelli, eds. Music, Dance, and Everyday Life in South Asia. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. (under review).
“Mediating the Migrant Experience: Dukha, Viraha, and Nostalgia in Nepali Lok Dohori Songs.” In Deepak Thapa, ed. Proceedings of the Annual Kathmandu Conference on Nepal and the Himalaya (2015). Kathmandu: Himal Books. (in press).
“Popular Music among Nepalis in Bahrain: Nightclubs, Media, Performance, and Publics.” In David Gellner and Sondra Hausner, eds. Nepalis in Diaspora. New Delhi, Oxford: Oxford University Press. (In press. Expected publication date: April 2018).
“Tears for the Revolution: Nepali Musical Nationalism, Emotion, and the Maoist Movement.” In Marie LeComte-Tilouine, ed. Revolution in Nepal. Oxford and New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 367-392.
“Class Love and the Unfinished Transformation of Social Hierarchy in Nepali Communist Songs”. In Robert Adlington, ed. Red Strains: Music and Communism Outside the Communist Bloc. (Proceedings of the British Academy). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 283-298.
“Blue Lake: Tibetan Popular Music, Place, and Fantasies of the Nation.” In Robert Barnett and Ronald Schwartz, eds. Tibetan Modernities: Notes from the Field on Cultural and Social Change (Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar of IATS). Leiden: Brill, 2008.
“Dohori on Sajha.com: Music Videos and the Politics of Memory.” In Social Sciences in a Multicultural World: Proceedings of the International Conference, 11-13 December 2006. Kathmandu: Sociological/Anthropological Society of Nepal (SASON) & Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR), 2007.
Reviews, Reports, and Multimedia Publications
Encyclopedia article. “Caste”. In Sage Encyclopedia of Ethnomusicology. (Accepted. Expected publication date unknown).
Book Review. Richard Widdess, Dapha: Sacred Singing in a South Asian City. Music, Performance, and Meaning in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013. Ethnomusicology Forum 25(1), 2016, pp. 136-138.
Book Review. Brian Diettrich, Jane Freeman Moulin, and Michael Webb, Music in Pacific Island Cultures. (Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Music and Letters 94(3), 2013, pp. 563-565.
Book Review. Raymond Ammann, Sounds of Secrets: Field Notes on Ritual Music and Musical Instruments on the Islands of Vanuatu. KlangKulturStudien 7. Zurich and Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2012. Music and Letters 94:1, 2013, pp. 198-200.
Research Report. “Migration, Gender and Nation in Nepali Dohori Performance.” Himalaya 25(1-2), 2008, pp. 43-44.
Online feature. “Damai Music.” Spiny Babbler Online Museum, 2005. [inactive]
Convergence Culture in Rural Nepal (Oxford Music, Digitization, Mediation Conference 2013)
Dialogic Songs for Intercultural Dialog? Towards post-multiculturalism in post-conflict Nepal (Oxford Humanities Research Showcase 2011)
PhD Dissertation, 2009: Exchanges of Song: Migration, Gender and Nation in Nepali Dohori Performance (Columbia University)
MA Thesis, 2005: Conflict and Confluence: Constructing and Challenging Boundaries at the Ahiri Institute for Indian Classical Music and Dance (Columbia University)