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Music, Dance, Cinema : some preliminary reflections

April 29, 2012

My work on music and performance in south India in the late nineteenth and twentieth century has brought me to an interesting crossroad, navigating which has been made possible and pleasurable by a community of cyber connoisseurs. I am referring to groups that follow you tube recordings and those who upload them for entirely different and discrete reasons but who magically make possible a relationship between those who create archives and those who use them. But before I reflect on the archive maker and archive user relationship or even on the logic of archiving and ordering, its intention and its deployment that may even de-stabilise the intention, let me think through the crossings that continually occurred between music, dance and film, crossings that  performers undertook when they experimented with multiple forms and genres and performance spaces and in the process helped generate a huge visual/aural archive that we can now access and read.

The crossings between music and drama and subsequently film caught my attention when I was researching into Tamil Isai, a music movement that advocated the use of Tamil songs in music concerts and the encouragement of Tamil compositions. both the revival of old ones to be sung in concerts and the promotion of more recent songs written by nationalist poets like Subramania Bharati to mention just one. The movement also for a while aspired to creating a classical status for Tamil music that was set up in opposition to Carnatic music that deployed for the great part a multi-lingual repertoire consisting of Telugu, Sanskrit, Kannada and Tamil songs. The opposition was of course an artificial one considering that Tamil Isai also made use of the same acoustic elements of ragam, talam and prabandham – melody, rhythm and composition. The movement produced controversies and public debates but what was striking was the way musicians and performers responded to the movement and also how film and its deployment of music intervened to underscore the nuances and layers of the musical landscape of southern India, but whose contours had got flattened out by a nationalist project of classicism. What this meant among other things was the creation of one particular order of repertoire and style and archive and the relegation of other regional/familial styles and forms to a domain that was either called loosely light classical, or folk, or popular or simply film music.

How to recuperate and retrieve these elements – form, style, repertoire and indeed even artistes is a tricky problem. It is here that i found the clips and pod casts of early films so fascinating for each of them has a story to sing and a style to be aware of and a debate to be rekindled. My intention is to study a series of such films and use them as an archive to make sense of some crucial discussion on aesthetics and style.

Keep looking at this blog periodically for more updates

Look forward to comments of course!

 

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