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Song and Subterfuge: Caste in the Devotional Music Industry

Joel Lee- Associate Professor of Anthropology, Williams College
Mon April 17th 2023, 3:30 - 5:00pm
Event Sponsor
Department of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 50-51A (Colloquium Room) & Zoom
Anthropology logo

What role does caste play in the cultivation of voice? Aziz Warsi and Kashinath Kher—these are pseudonyms—work in parallel sectors of the devotional music industry in urban north India: Warsi in the qawwali scene at Sufi shrines, Kher as a bhajan singer in Hindu festivals. Experts in the elicitation of devotional affect in listeners, they enact a complex form of religious and aesthetic labor. Most of their audiences do not know that Warsi and Kher are also, in a sense, performing caste. To compete in an industry dominated by musicians from higher status groups, the pair 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 Lucknow, this paper follows Warsi and Kher as they critically analyze the clandestine life of caste in the soundscape.

This is a hybrid event. For Zoom information, please contact pdios54 [at] (pdios54[at]stanford[dot]edu).