Can a South Asian Identity be Expressed Through Music?

Our 7th December webinar on whether a South Asian identity can be crafted through music elicited a fascinating discussion between TM Krishna (India), Ravibandhu Vidyapathy (Sri Lanka), Ali Sethi (Pakistan), Ahmad Sarmast (Afghanistan) and Neil Nongkynrih (India). A key point made during the webinar was about the creation of identities. How are these created? It could be argued that there is a South Asian identity in music – it may exist in the colour, the design, the melody – or lack of it – or a question of rhythm and off-beat melody. The region has always been welcoming to sounds beyond, a “welcomness of receiving”, a fluidity. There is a tradition of receiving from so many different cultures, of ragas that come from beyond. Therefore, the South Asian identity belongs to a larger spectrum that is marked by fluidity. The wind does not stop at cartographic borders, and trees on one side of a border may have roots on the opposite side. So, we must accept a multiplicity of South Asian identities. There can be no monolithic definition of South Asia. We must allow for a contestation of identities. Great art happens in a state of flux. There are multiple narratives involved. Even the idea of Peace cannot be sought “on a clean slate of happiness”. What is needed is a sense of equality, empathy, a coming together, a creative space that brings the region together. Differences should play out in the creative space in a spirit of melodic, rhythmic, poetic, musical questioning. This is an emotional experience to be grasped, accepting our “supple histories”, this “hybrid, seemingly unstable amalgam”- an almost “levitating” experience. There is no contradiction involved in this.

For the rest, we invite you to watch the video and gain your own insights which should enrich this debate further.