Music

Dissident Sounds: Mapping British Asian Music

By Ashwani Sharma

 

Sounds of migrancy

Music has a special place in the lives of migrants, a site for the continuous reinventing of an imagined home, and has played an important part in the everyday cultural and political struggles of Asians in a hostile and violent metropolitan environment. From its deep historical roots in the subcontinent, Indian music has travelled and accompanied South Asian settlers, contributing to the creation of a distinctive cultural presence in the West. While the subcontinent has remained the musical source, over the last 50 years, as the material and symbolic presence of Asians has increased, a distinctive British produced variant of Asian music has emerged. What is quite striking is how this music, while still having close connections to the subcontinent, has been mutating, constantly producing innovative forms of hybrid expressive culture, and persistently challenged the hegemony of white cultural supremacy.

 

Ravi Shanker and Co.

An important component in the historical establishment of South Asian music in Britain has been Indian classical music.

Although principally restricted to concerts and private consumption, a significant proportion of formal music training in Britain has been in the classical traditions. Indian classical music provides a unique, culturally specific, theory of music and performance that inspires and acts as a foundation to the new British Asian sounds.

 

Although classical music is seen rather problematically as an exotic, authentic, traditional Eastern cultural form, classically trained musicians have themselves been open to western and other global music, and have openly worked with European classical, jazz, contemporary and pop musicians, to produce a complex and challenging hybrid music. Major figures such as Ravi Shanker and Zakir Hussain have gained worldwide recognition not just as classical performers, but also as musicians who have constantly experimented and improvised with the parameters of Indian and western rhythms and harmonies. One of the defining features of the developments in British Asian music, especially since the 1970s, has been the fusion of classical rhythms and melodies with various forms of pop, dance and jazz musical genres and electronic production technologies.

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