ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Singing Syncretism: Anti-communalism and Devotion in British South Asian Music


Hornabrook Jasmine - Loughborough University, Loughborough, United Kingdom


30- Creative and social engagement with conflict: a perspective from the South Asian Diaspora


Music is frequently utilised to assert ethnonationalist identities and demarcate religious boundaries. This holds the potential to overwrite the complex and diverse realities of social, cultural and economic interactions to serve political agendas (Sykes 2018) and to uncritically assert religious identities (Kalra 2015). In contexts of conflict, such as civil war in Sri Lanka, India-Pakistan relations since Partition, communal violence in India and recent violence in the UK along religious and nationalist lines, there is potential in non-narrative artistic work to break boundaries and reconcile contested pasts (Kabir 2009). While the diaspora is a space in which conflict can be reiterated, it is also a context where diasporic experience in diverse societies can lead to the re-evaluation and resistance of such conflict, in this case, through syncretic arrangement of devotional forms in British South Asian music.

This paper will explore diasporic anti-communalism through music, particularly from the perspectives of Sri Lankan and Indian Tamil heritage musicians. I will examine implicit and explicit acts of anti-communalism in and through the production and performance of contemporary British South Asian music. In particular, I will draw on case studies of work by second-generation

women musicians from South Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu backgrounds who perform Qawwali in new contexts amid the rise of Hindu nationalist politics in South Asia and in the diaspora.