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Shalini Ayyagari

Assistant Professor
Department of Performing Arts

  • Shalini Ayyagari is an ethnomusicologist who specializes in the music of South Asia. To date, her research has explored the connections between South Asian regional music, Subaltern Studies and postcolonialism, Borderland Studies, and Bollywood film music. Her current book project, Small Voices Sing Big Songs: Music and Institutional Culture in Rajasthan, India, is a sociocultural history and musical ethnography of the Manganiyar, a community of hereditary musicians who have maintained music within a patronage system as their caste and livelihood for centuries. She draws on Subaltern Studies and Development Studies to show how musicians in a postcolonial society have mobilized discourses of tradition and preservation, along with their own ideas of development, to use music as a way to empower their communities. Having spent over thirty months living among the Manganiyar on the India-Pakistan border, and utilizing a variety of primary sources, she argues that, although their musical patronage system has weakened over the past thirty years, Manganiyar musicians have been extremely resilient and resourceful in creating new opportunities to sustain their music as a community-based profession. She is also currently working on a project which examines the Thar Desert region as a site for borderlands music-making on the India-Pakistan border, and is specifically looking into the role of Sindhi Sufi music in the creation of place in this region. She has interests in Development Studies, intellectual property and music, Islam, and Critical Organoloy. In addition, she is a tabla and Balinese Gamelan player.
  • Degrees

    PhD, Ethnomusicology, UC Berkeley
    MA, Ethnomusicology, UC Berkeley
    BA, Music, Swarthmore College
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AU Expert

Area of Expertise: Music of South Asia (India and Pakistan), Bollywood film music, South Asian American diasporic music

Additional Information: Shalini Ayyagari worked closely with a group of Manganiyar — a Muslim caste literally translated as beggar — that live in the borderland between India and Pakistan who traditionally play classical and folk music for Hindu life-cycle observances and holiday celebrations. Ayyagari documents the cultural shift in the Manganiyar’s lives and music as these largely illiterate villagers transition to a life of means influenced by cultural interactions with foreign tourists and their own travel as performers. For her Fulbright IIE–funded dissertation research on the Manganiyar community, she filmed over 200 hundred hours of footage and is currently developing a full-length documentary.

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