The Department of Music is pleased to present 

Sounding the Indian Ocean: Musical Circulations in the Afro-Asiatic Seascape 


Two-Day Symposium (March 15th and 16th, 2019)

University of Pennsylvania

The Penn Music Department welcomes you to a two-day symposium for the volume Sounding the Indian Ocean edited by Penn music professor Jim Sykes. Music departments have traditionally separated the Indian Ocean Region into distinct areas of study - Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia - despite the profound history of connections between these regions through centuries of Indian Ocean trade and travel. Our symposium will include a keynote from Dr. Anne Rasmussen, the former president of the Society for Ethnomusicology and Professor of Music at The College of William & Mary. Some topics to be discussed include: women's music and dance in Mozambique; Sikh music in Kenya; Baloch music in Oman; musics of the African diaspora in Western India and Pakistan; Sumatran imagined musical connections with South Asia; and musics of the Tamil (South Indian) diaspora in Singapore; and more! The first day runs from 2-5 PM on Friday, March 15th; the second day runs from 10 AM to 5 PM on Saturday, March 16th.


Lectures will take place at Amado Recital Hall at Irvine Auditorium, 3401 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, and admission is free and open to the public.


Among the scheduled speakers:

Julia Byl, University of Alberta

Andrew J. Eisenberg, New York University, Abu Dhabi

Ellen Hebden, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Brian Jackson, University of Pennsylvania

Inderjit Kaur, University of Michigan

George Mürer, CUNY

Jim Sykes, University of Pennsylvania


Keynote Speaker:

Anne Rasmussen, College of Williamy & Mary



Friday, March 15


Opening Remarks (2:00-2:30 PM)

“Introduction: Area Studies, Music Studies, and the Indian Ocean Region”

Jim Sykes and Julia Byl, Co-Organizers


George Mürer, CUNY (2:30-3:15 PM)

“Baloch Musical Repertoires and Culture Production in the Post-Maritime Gulf Metropolis”

Drawing on my dissertation research and foregrounding the central themes of my forthcoming book chapter, this presentation begins with an overview of Baloch as one of several ethno-linguistic groups with pronounced patterns of historical mobility across portions of the Indian Ocean world. I examine the circuitry connecting Baloch communities in the contemporary Gulf metropolis with Balochistan, looking to musical and ritual idioms to trace key routes. I situate citizen and migrant Baloch populations alongside the kafala (imported labor) economy of the Gulf, noting a parallel kafala among Baloch, where Baloch of means in the Gulf sponsor residencies for Baloch of lower socioeconomic stature, including musicians—modern and traditional. The distinction between modern and traditional Baloch music can be set against projects for representing the past and cultural heritage strategically undertaken by Arab Gulf rulerships, in both cases with historical spheres of mobility and cross-cultural encounter at the heart of narratives of tradition and heritage. While notions of Baloch culture, identity, and tradition are in some senses inseparable from the struggle for territorial sovereignty in Balochistan, local Gulf Baloch populations—particularly in Muscat—offer another perspective on the cognitive mapping of Baloch cultural performance, evolving local idioms often in dialogue with global popular culture flows and with other populations with an established presence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean regions.


George Murer is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. His areas of concentration are music in Iran and Central Asia, Kurdistan, and the Indian Ocean world. His dissertation focuses on Baloch musical repertoires as cultivated and patronized in the Eastern Arabian Peninsula. In addition to academic writings, he actively engages in and advocates for filmmaking as a medium for ethnographic inquiry and documentation, with work on Kurdish, Baloch, Afghan, Tajik, Turkmen, Gulf Arab, and Indonesian musicians and musical cultures.


COFFEE BREAK (3:15-3:30 PM)


Inderjit Kaur, University of Michigan (3:30-4:15 PM)


“A New Home, A New Pilgrimage: Sikh Affective Soundings in the Western Indian Ocean”

At the end of the nineteenth century, Sikhs from the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent were brought to Kenya as indentured labor to work on the British Kenya-Uganda rail line from the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa to Kampala. Largely from the lower-stature artisan class in Punjab, they were able to enjoy a higher status in the British class system that placed South Asians above the local Africans, and build on their labor skills to make rapid economic progress. Their love of their sacred sounds, and the freedom to practice their religion, enabled them to congregate around sonic worship and forge a strong community. When colonial East Africa obtained independence in the mid-twentieth century, many Sikh families, concerned with their lot within emergent African nationalism in the newly formed nation states, migrated to the UK and the USA. For these twice migrant Sikhs, Kenya, rather than India, became the new home; and the original place of congregation at the rail depot, Makindu, now a famous Sikh temple in Kenya, became a site for sacred travel, replete with special meanings. In this paper, I ethnographically investigate the making of this new home and new pilgrimage site.  Engaging in in-depth conversations with “African Sikhs” in Kenya, the UK, and the USA, supplemented by internet fieldwork, and drawing on scholarly literature on home, pilgrimage, diaspora, mobility, sound, and affect, I focus on the role of sacred sound as affective connective tissue in diasporic networks, and explore the Indian Ocean as a dynamic sphere of affective flows and potentialities in meaning making and belonging.


Inderjit N. Kaur is an ethnomusicologist at the University of Michigan, specializing in South Asian musical cultures. Her research interests include affect, senses, phenomenology, and transnationalism. Kaur has published in journals such as the Yearbook of Traditional Music and has articles forthcoming in MusiCultures and Civilisations, and a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Ethnomusicology. Her monograph in progress investigates the phenomenological, music-analytical, and historical aspects of the diverse musical genres and styles of Sikh sonic worship. 


Brian Jackson, University of Pennsylvania (4:15-5:00 PM)

“Music and Citizenship: Using Musical Practices to Expand Upon Concepts of Belonging”

Focusing on the African-descended populations of Western India and Southern Pakistan, in this talk I will use historiographies, documentaries, oral interviews and ethnographies to detail the extent to which Afro-South Asian musical practices, rooted in historical immigrations, serve as a challenge to existing citizen vs. 'other' dichotomies, and what such a challenge demonstrates about African-descended minority populations in the region and current relationships to their respective nations. Focusing on Sheedi and Siddi festivals such as the Sheedi Mela and festival for Bava Gor, along with musical instruments like the Malunga and musical traditions like Dhol, these will serve as examples of how dance and musical traditions reflect histories of maritime movement and can be used to contribute to improved understandings of South Asian identities.


Brian Jackson is a Ph.D. Student and Fontaine Fellow in Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.


COFFEE BREAK (5:00-5:20 PM)






PANEL #1 (10:00-12:00)

Ellen Hebden, University of Wisconsin, Madison (10:00-10:45 AM)

“Swahili Covers, Sufi Prayers, and Liberation Hymns: Women’s Mobilities in Competitive Tufo Dance Associations in Northern Mozambique”

Tufo is a genre of music and dance in Mozambique born out of movements and migrations across the Indian Ocean and along the Swahili Coast. In this paper, I examine tufo as a rapidly expanding genre among women to emphasize its growing popularity as a mode of female mobility—as members of dance societies, women travel for performances, gain community visibility, and become socially and politically mobile. Oral histories suggest that a Tanzanian trader first introduced tufo on Mozambique Island in the early 1930s, when it was a male-only dance. In the Mozambican context several changes occurred: women took over the genre, and it spread inland and further down the coast. After independence in 1975, tufo was secularized and politicized, and today, given its expansive repertoire, it is performed at any number of occasions: Islamic ceremonies, weddings, initiation celebrations, birthdays, political events, and commemorative days. While the socio-spatial movements of men have often been the focus of mobility scholarship in the Indian Ocean area, tufo reveals the ways in which women are also important figures of mobility as artists. Drawing on 14 months of ethnographic research as a member of a tufo group in coastal Pebane, Mozambique, I analyze the performance repertoire of the group Estrela Vermelha de Pebane, to show how women strategically use the particulars of sound, lyrics, rhythm, and choreography in tufo performances to pursue new forms of access to critical socio-political networks and spatial movements.


Ellen Hebden is a doctoral candidate in cultural anthropology and ethnomusicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with an MMus in ethnomusicology from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. Ellen's research examines the intersection of musical performance, sexuality, and mobility politics in post-colonial, post-socialist contexts. Her dissertation project is an ethnographic study of rural women’s mobilities in Mozambique through the lens of an expansive network of women’s competitive dance societies that perform a popular genre of music and dance called tufo.


Andrew J. Eisenberg, New York University, Abu Dhabi (10:45 AM - 12:00 PM)

“Musical Self-Fashioning in Mombasa: The Life and Career of Ustadh Zein L’Abdin Ahmed Alamoody (1932-2016)”

Scholars have often glossed Swahili taarab as an “Indian Ocean” music genre that incorporates Arab, Indian, and African as well as Latin American and other broadly Western elements. While broadly correct, this characterization, in the words of Swahili writer and scholar Said A. Khamis, “does not adequately capture the ambiguities and complexities of [taarab’s] protean nature” (Khamis 2001, 145). Rather than being this much Arab, this much Indian, and so on, Swahili taarab is more accurately described as being marked by multiple, discrete processes of transcultural borrowing and translation. The unfinalized, experimental character of taarab’s hybridity situates the genre as a space in which Swahili subjects engage creatively with ideas of what it means to be Swahili. Extending my previous work on the “Indian” sub-genre of Swahili taarab (Eisenberg, 2017), this chapter explores what I call musical self-fashioning in the life and career of the late Swahili taarab composer, poet, singer, and oudist Ustadh Zein L’Abdin Ahmed Alamoody (1932-2016), creator of Mombasa’s “Arabic” taarab style. Drawing on theoretical discussions of self-formation in the works of Bakhtin, Vygotsky, Bourdieu, and Foucault, I describe musical self-fashioning as practices that conflate the development of a personal style in music with the development of a personal understanding of self. It is just these sorts of practices, I argue, that underlay Zein L’Abdin’s engagements with Egyptian, Indian, Kuwaiti, Yemeni, and coastal East African musics over the course of his career.


Andrew J. Eisenberg is Assistant Professor of Music at NYU Abu Dhabi. An ethnographer of music and sound culture focusing on urban Kenya, he has written on Islamic sound in public space, the poetics of identity in popular song, and the economics of music in the digital age. He is currently writing a book on the politics of style in Kenyan popular music.


LUNCH (hour and fifteen minutes)


PANEL #2 (1:15-2:45)

Julia Byl, University of Alberta (1:15-2:00 PM)

“Squinting at Greater India: Hindu-Buddhism and its Malcontents”

When Southeast Asianists wish to refer to pervasive elements from before the early modern era, they are likely to call them "Hindu-Buddhist." In contradistinction to Islamic practices, which reached Sumatra's shores in the early 14th-century and still actively claim a stake in the contemporary present, the term "Hindu-Buddhist" refers to almost all that comes before: it may refer to Indic deities, such as the ubiquitous “Batara Guru”; but it is just as likely to invoke indigenous ancestor practices; or to sum up the syncretic worldview that linked Hindu, Buddhist, Tantric, indigenous, and indeed, even Muslim practices. What do we make of this term? It sets on edge the teeth of scholars of India—as the wide gap between forms of Buddhism and Hinduism seems to expose a decidedly unscholarly laziness and disinterest in looking beyond the boundaries of Southeast Asia. So, too, for scholars of the Islamicate world, who may note that a linkage of India with Hindu-Buddhism downplays the trajectories of Islam, which also arrived via the subcontinent. Finally, a scholarly fixation on earlier forms of Indic religion altogether ignores the contemporary practices of Tamil Hindus or Chinese Buddhists. This paper considers the scholarly roots of this term in colonial scholarship, and within ethnomusicology, and attempts to tally the benefits of continued use of this easy shorthand against the costs of what it has inadvertently written out.


Julia Byl is Assistant Professor in ethnomusicology at the University of Alberta, where she moved in 2015 after three years as a post-doctoral fellow at King's College London. Her book, Antiphonal Histories: Resonant Pasts in the Toba Batak Musical Present was published in 2014 by Wesleyan University Press. Her research centers on the intersection between ethnography, historiography, and the archive. She pursues these issues in two spheres: in manuscript and archival work on music and power in Indian Ocean musical cultures, and in “Civic Modulations,” a research project in Dili, East Timor, on public music, the individual, and the transnational institution.


Jim Sykes, University of Pennsylvania (2:00-2:45 PM)

“Indian and Chinese Musical Relations in Singapore: The Sonic Politics of Sameness/Difference.”

India and China may be in a geopolitical battle for control of the Indian Ocean Region, but in Singapore, Indians and Chinese live and sometimes make music together. In this talk, I consider how the imagined history of cultural and religious connections across the Silk Road emerges in twenty-first century Singapore to animate Indian-Chinese musical relationships borne both of colonial histories of Indian Ocean migrant labor and postcolonial migrations due to the lure of twenty-first century global capital. I explore the presence of Chinese Taoist worshippers at Thaipusam (the largest annual Hindu celebration on the island) and the performance of Tamil Hindu drum ensembles (urumi melam) at Chinese Taoist festivals. Demonstrating how development projects tore down “organically multicultural” neighborhoods starting in the late 1970s, I argue that Singaporean state-driven discourses on multiculturalism presume a longue durée cultural separateness between Indians and Chinese that is only now being broached through state cultural interventions.


Jim Sykes is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Musical Gift: Sonic Generosity in Post-War Sri Lanka (OUP, 2018) and co-editor of Remapping Sound Studies (Duke, 2019).


COFFEE BREAK (30 minutes) (2:45-3:15 PM)


KEYNOTE (roughly 3:15pm-4:15 PM)

Keynote Speaker: Anne Rasmussen, College of Williamy & Mary

“Indian Ocean Connections: Charting Musical Iterations of Nationalism, Spirituality, and Temperance in the Arabian Gulf and Southeast Asia”


Anne K. Rasmussen is professor of ethnomusicology and Bickers Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at William & Mary where she also directs the William & Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble. Her publications encompass music of the Middle East and Islamicate worlds, with a focus on Indonesia and the Arabian Peninsula, and music and community in a multicultural United States. Recipient of two Fulbright Fellowships for research in Indonesia, and a Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center Fellowship for research in Oman, her award-winning publications include numerous articles and chapters, and three books: Women’s Voices, the Recited Qur’an, and Islamic Music in Indonesia, (California 2010); Divine Inspirations: Music and Islam in Indonesia, co-edited with David Harnish (Oxford 2011); and The Music of Multicultural America: Performance, Community, and Identity in the USA, co-edited with Kip Lornell. (Schirmer 1997, 2nd, revised, expanded edition, 2016, U. P. Mississippi).  She has been elected to the board of the Society for Ethnomusicology three times, including as president (2015-2017). Anne just returned from the Sultanate of Oman where, during the first half of January, she led an interdisciplinary study tour for 21 students and her geologist/colleague dubbed “Rock Music Oman.” And, in the second half of January, she launched a semester-long program, for the William & Mary Washington Program around the theme of Washington & the Arts.