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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“An Undeniable Presence”: Racial Justice Work Among South Asian American Musicians
by Govind, Arathi, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2019, 168; 22618571
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation concerns four well known South Asian American musicians based in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area: Vijay Iyer, Sunny Jain, Rekha Malhotra (DJ Rekha), and Rupa Marya. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted from 2016-2017, supported by a Margery Lowens Dissertation Fellowship from the Society for American Music and a grant from the Center for Race and Gender at UC Berkeley. My work, which included conducting interviews, archival research, and attending numerous concerts, rallies, and protests, investigates how the four central artists use their work in music as a means to further aims of achieving racial equity. Ultimately, I argue that contemporary racialization of brown people, particularly in the post-9/11 and Trump Era United States, has led to increased involvement in racial justice advocacy work among South Asian American musicians.

In the first chapter of my dissertation, I use Howard Becker’s theory on art worlds and Benedict Anderson’s idea of imagined communities as starting points to show how political solidarities, as defined by Sally Scholz, create and constitute activist networks among these musicians. Each of the central chapters concerns one of the artists, highlighting how their musical practice advances racial justice causes. My chapter on Iyer shows how he uses his privileged status to re-orient his primarily White audiences’ attention toward structural racism in public concerts, interviews, and lectures. My chapter on Sunny Jain highlights how his seemingly utopic musical and political ideals emanate from the religious Jain concept of anekantavada (“pluralism”). In the third chapter, on Malhotra (DJ Rekha), I show how Basement Bhangra, a party she organized monthly from 1997-2017, served as a space to fundraise and organize for progressive political causes. Finally, I look at Rupa Marya’s simultaneous careers as a physician and musician as extensions of her work as a healer and anti-capitalist. Throughout the chapters, I examine how these artists’ left-leaning music networks overlap, maintaining that these connections have as much to do with their politics as their shared cultural heritage.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Roberts, T. Carlis
Commitee: Omi, Michael, Brinner, Benjamin
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: Music
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 81/5(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Music, Asian American Studies, Ethnic studies
Keywords: Asian American Music, Interracial music, Political solidarity, South Asian, South Asian Americans, Marya, Rupa, Jain, Sunny, Racial justice, Anderson, Benedict
Publication Number: 22618571
ISBN: 9781392428122
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