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Presented By: Center for South Asian Studies

CSAS Lecture Series | How to be Heard but not Seen: On Caste Concealment in the Music Industry

Joel Lee, William's College

CSAS Lecture Series | How to be Heard but not Seen: On Caste Concealment in the Music Industry CSAS Lecture Series | How to be Heard but not Seen: On Caste Concealment in the Music Industry
CSAS Lecture Series | How to be Heard but not Seen: On Caste Concealment in the Music Industry
What role does caste play in the cultivation of voice? Mehbub Ali and Dev Kapur—these are pseudonyms—are cousins who work in parallel sectors of the religious music industry in Lucknow: Ali in the qawwali scene at Sufi shrines, Kapur as a bhajan singer in Hindu festivals. As devotional musicians, they enact a complex form of religious labor requiring technical skill, mastery of particular aesthetic codes, the enactment of devotion and the elicitation of affective states in listeners. Most of their audiences do not know that Ali and Kapur are also, in a sense, performing caste. To compete in an industry dominated by musicians from higher status groups, the cousins have adopted titles and styles that—not always successfully—obscure their Dalit origins and imply savarna status. Part of a broader ethnographic project on caste concealment in urban north India, this paper follows Ali and Kapur as they critically analyze the clandestine life of caste in the business and soundscape of devotional music.

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CSAS Lecture Series | How to be Heard but not Seen: On Caste Concealment in the Music Industry CSAS Lecture Series | How to be Heard but not Seen: On Caste Concealment in the Music Industry
CSAS Lecture Series | How to be Heard but not Seen: On Caste Concealment in the Music Industry

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