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Introduction to Ethnomusicology

Amlan Dasgupta

By James Kippen
Manohar Books,New Delhi, 2005, pp. i-xxvii 221, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

James Kippen’s book on the tradition of tabla in Lucknow first came out in 1988, as part of the series of books entitled Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology. Re-reading the work at this distance dimly recreates the excitement of our introduction to ethnomusicology: for many of us, it was a new kind of writing on music, that generated both admiration and resistance strongly. Kippen’s book in fact came when the first flush of passionate reaction had lessened; but earlier writing of the kind, like Regula Qureshi’s study of the qawali, I well remember, raised questions about the music we loved and listened to that took time to settle down in our minds. There was above all a feeling of unfamiliarity.This was the music that we were completely immersed in and thought to be a part of our lives; but we found that it had become part of an anthropological vision, in which the way in which the performer sat, or the gestures of the audience were as important as the content of the music itself. The coexistence of what seemed absurdly trivial with valuable items of information or insight was bewildering. Was this then an approach that had nothing to say to those whose connection with Hindustani music was marked by as strong sense of identity, an unreflecting sense of belonging?   Rereading Kippen, I find that I have not really been able to settle this quandary. The book is in many respects admirable, based on considerable research and reflection. The writer was evidently closely associated with the world he describes and a disciple of one of the great masters of Lucknow tabla, and consequently there is much of value to an Indian student of music. At the same time, one feels—selfishly perhaps, for the book was not intended exclusively for an Indian public—that there is much which is either trite or oversimplified. On the other hand, if one assumes an audience with less exclusive musical interests, the analysis of the musical content of the Lucknow style is unlikely to make much meaning.   Kippen tries in this work to reconcile the divergent pulls of writing social history and a technical analysis of Lucknow tabla. The prefatory material, with an analysis of the specific stroking techniques of the style, accompanied by diagrams of finger positions, generates an expectation of an exhaustive treatment of the style in question. This ...

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