Tales, Tunes, and Tassa Drums

Tales, Tunes, and Tassa Drums: Retention and Invention in Indo-Caribbean Music

Peter Manuel
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt6wr5v8
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  • Book Info
    Tales, Tunes, and Tassa Drums
    Book Description:

    Today's popular tassa drumming emerged from the fragments of transplanted Indian music traditions half-forgotten and creatively recombined, rearticulated, and elaborated into a dynamic musical genre. A uniquely Indo-Trinidadian form, tassa drumming invites exploration of how the distinctive nature of the Indian diaspora and its relationship to its ancestral homeland influenced Indo-Caribbean music culture. Music scholar Peter Manuel traces the roots of neotraditional music genres like tassa drumming to North India and reveals the ways these genres represent survivals, departures, or innovative elaborations of transplanted music forms. Drawing on ethnographic work and a rich archive of field recordings, he contemplates the music carried to Trinidad by Bhojpuri-speaking and other immigrants, including forms that died out in India but continued to thrive in the Caribbean. His reassessment of ideas of creolization, retention, and cultural survival defies suggestions that the diaspora experience inevitably leads to the loss of the original culture, while also providing avenues to broader applications for work being done in other ethnic contexts.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09677-8
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. 1 Introduction: Global Perspectives on the Indo-Caribbean Bhojpuri Diaspora and Its Music
    (pp. 1-32)

    Indo-Trinidadian author V. S. Naipaul once wrote that he grew up conceiving of his South Asian heritage as “a trapdoor into a bottomless past” (1977, xi). On my first evening in a North Indian farm town in the Bhojpuri region, whence most Indo-Caribbeans had emigrated in the nineteenth century, I felt as if I had passed through that trapdoor and reached some shadowy netherworld where the ancestral sources of Indo-Caribbean music culture were all around me. As a local acquaintance and I walked through the town, Kachhwa Bazaar, to find an elderly singer I had met the...

  5. 2 The Trajectories of Transplants: Singing Ālhā, Birha, and the Ramayan in the Indic Caribbean
    (pp. 33-67)

    Most of the North Indian music heritage brought to the Caribbean consisted of folk styles and genres that were predominantly text-driven, in that their expressive interest lay primarily in lyric content rather than purely musical dimensions. The vitality of such genres in the Caribbean has been gravely undermined by the decline of the Bhojpuri language. And yet, the fate of these music idioms has not been one of uniform decadence, especially in the case of chowtal, the subject of chapter 3. The present chapter discusses three genres of Bhojpuri-region narrative song, exploring how diverse factors—including their presence as written...

  6. 3 Chowtal and the Dantāl: Finding Fertile Soil in the New Homelands
    (pp. 68-98)

    In chapter 2 we explored three genres—Ālhā, birha, andMānassinging—which remained vital in Indo-Caribbean culture until the mid-twentieth century, after which the rapid decline of Hindi eroded their lexical basis. Until that period, and even insofar as they survive today, these genres have resisted any form of creolization, while also being wholly independent of whatever transformations their counterparts—especially birha—have undergone in North India. As such, Indo-Caribbean birha, although in terminal decline, has constituted a remarkable example of a marginal survival, in terms of its form. This chapter discusses two other traditional entities in Indo-Caribbean music culture,...

  7. 4 Bhojpuri Diasporic Music and the Encounter with India
    (pp. 99-135)

    Thus far this volume has focused on a set of traditional music genres—such as birha, chowtal, and Ramayan singing—that have flourished within the most conservative stratum of Bhojpuri-derived Indo-Caribbean music culture. Given the tradition-oriented nature of this cultural sector, I have made little mention of sociomusical influences external to the Bhojpuri core of Indo-Caribbean society, instead stressing the continuities with ancestral or parallel practices in India and even Fiji. Such an approach should not suggest, of course, that any level of Indo-Caribbean culture can be regarded as insular, hermetically sealed, and impervious to influence from or interaction with...

  8. 5 Tassa Drumming from India to the Caribbean and Beyond
    (pp. 136-221)

    Tassa drumming is an Indo-Trinidadian art form of extraordinary originality and richness, combining technical virtuosity and innovative dynamism over a solid base of traditional repertoire and style. With more than one hundred semiprofessional groups performing on the island, tassa is heard at competitions and various other functions, and it is indispensable at Hindu weddings and the Muslim Hosay (Muharram) commemoration. Originally a transplant from North India, tassa has flourished to the extent that repeated calls have been made for it to be enshrined alongside the steel drum as a “national instrument,” and on the vernacular level it certainly merits being...

  9. 6 Concluding Perspectives
    (pp. 222-234)

    In recent decades the academic interest in syncretic popular musics has come to dominate much of the fields of cultural studies and ethnomusicology. Having contributed to this trend myself, especially with my 1988 volumePopular Musics of the Non-Western World, I at once appreciate the importance of this field while noting that many of the themes repeatedly belabored—about identity, hybridity, and resistance—have become rather commonplace and overworked. The perpetually growing interest in commercial popular musics, while of clear merit, runs the risk of marginalizing studies of traditional and neotraditional musics. The present volume has attempted to show that...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 235-250)
  11. Glossary
    (pp. 251-256)
  12. References
    (pp. 257-264)
  13. Index
    (pp. 265-268)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-270)