The Music, Language, and Culture Workshop

EthNoise! presents Ronit Ghosh


Join us tonight for a presentation from PhD student Ronit Ghosh!

“Mapping Jazz in India and India in Jazz: Improvisations and Encounters”

Abstract: Studying jazz in early twentieth century India involves tracking its myriad routes, its multiple mediations and the discursive horizons it forged and within which it operated and still operates. Even a cursory glance at the ways in which jazz has unfolded over specific locations and across boundaries firmly establishes the status of jazz as a shifting signifier, always spilling over, adapting to and in a promiscuous proximity with local genres and practices of musicking, both subsuming and reshaping not only repertoires, but also the very cultural attitudes towards what music and music-making mean. This presentation looks at the little-attended-to moments during the mid-twentieth century when American popular music rubs sonic shoulders with a plethora of other musical and performative genres within the complex soundscape of colonial modernity in India and asks whether the “Indian” in “Indian Jazz” is just an adjective, which otherwise denotes an essentially African American musical genre. To address this question, the presentation engages with the personal archives of the Chicago jazzman Roy Butler, who was among the most important and influential figures during the late-colonial jazz age in India. Engagement with the personal archives of Butler, I hope, will bring out the ways in which Indian Jazz during the late-colonial period was less an achieved form and more a result of complex financial, racial, technological, linguistic and most importantly racial negotiations of colonial metropoles in India during the 1930s. I navigate the archive as a space of consonance and dissonance, encounters and displacements, resonances and inconsistencies, all of which, I hope, will bring out the myriad twists, turns and meanderings that have punctuated the diffusion of not only jazz but more broadly Western popular musical entertainment in India. Jazz, I try to show, resides in local histories and travels of musicians and is the result of complex cultural negotiations, always occupying a space of liminality and working often as a trope that makes visible histories of migration, appropriation, globalization and diaspora.

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