From old Ragas to new voices: Experiencing contemporary Indian Choral Music

Andre de Quadros


Most people who have not visited India would probably have a set of stereotyped images of the country, partly based on preconceptions encouraged by colonialism and largely influenced by the media. Recently, through "the increasing
reference to India as an economically underdeveloped country, the image of India as a vital, pulsating land has begun to emerge from the fog of Maharajas, snakecharmers
and the rope-trick" (Thapar, 1976, p.IS). This has served to introduce the world to the multi-faceted nature of life in India.
Indian music has faced a similar situation with most people regarding Indian music as the classical music of North India (Hindustani music) and that of the South (Camatic music). Such is the extent of the popularity of Indian classical
music that it is perhaps the first non-Western art music to have made a substantial presence on the Western concert stage. There exists, however, in India an enormous range of devotional, primitive, folk, and contemporary popular music
(including film music) as well as its art musics. In all these genres of music we find the results of the interaction with other musical languages and cultures, caused by a long history of invasion and external influences. Indeed, such is the
extent and scope of foreign invasion that it is impossible to state what is conclusively indigenous and what is not. Already by about 1000 AD, long before the onset of European colonialism, interaction with other parts of the world was well
established. Through the northwest, cultural and economic exchange took place with Central Asia and the Middle East. Through the western coast and the Persian
gulf, extensive trade with the Mediterranean and with Africa had taken place, this being also the route through which Christianity first made its appearance. The eastern coast and the northeast exported Indian religion, culture, and materials to
East Asia including China, and as far east and south as the Indonesian archipelago.
An excellent example of the result of cultural contact is the Hindustani
classical music of North India which was moulded and created through centuries
of contact with Islamic culture from Persia and elsewhere.

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