The Voice in the Drum

Music, Language, and Emotion in Islamicate South Asia
Author: Richard K. Wolf
Discovering how drums "speak" in South Asia
Cloth – $125
Paper – $30
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Cloth: 11/17/2014
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About the Book

Based on extensive field research in India and Pakistan, this new study examines the ways drumming and voices interconnect over vast areas of South Asia and considers what it means for instruments to be voice-like and carry textual messages in particular contexts. Richard K. Wolf employs a hybrid, novelistic form of presentation, in which a fictional protagonist interacts with Wolf's field consultants, to communicate ethnographic and historical realities that transcend the local details of any one person's life.The narrative explores how the themes of South Asian Muslims and their neighbors coming together, moving apart, and relating to God and spiritual intermediaries resonate across ritual and expressive forms such as drumming and dancing. Wolf weaves in the story of a family led by Ahmed Ali Khan, a North Indian ruler who revels in the glories of 19th century life, when many religious communities joined together harmoniously in grand processions. His journalist son Muharram Ali obsessively scours the subcontinent in pursuit of a music he naively hopes will dissolve religious and political barriers. The story charts the breakdown of this naiveté.A daring narrative of music, religion and politics in late twentieth century South Asia, The Voice in the Drum delves into the social and religious principles around which Muslims, Hindus, and others bond, create distinctions, reflect upon one another, or decline to acknowledge differences.

* Supported by the Harvard University Department of Music Publication Fund

About the Author

Click here to view a free sample of the supplemental video and audio material that accompanies The Voice in the Drum. With purchase of the book comes full access to this Web resource featuring over 75 audio and video examples and performances.

Richard K. Wolf is Professor of Music and South Asian Studies at Harvard University and editor of Theorizing the Local: Music, Practice, and Experience in South Asia and Beyond.

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The Voice in the Drum, by Richard Wolf, Professor of Music and South Asian Studies at Harvard, is a completely unique development in ethnomusicology. By skillfully drawing out his research interests through the character of Muharram Ali, Wolf manages to draw the reader into a historical drama of idealism and naivete falling apart." --Leonardo Reviews

"Innovative and richly detailed." --American Ethnologist

"Emerging afresh from numerous fields of cultural anthropology, including ethnology, ethnomusicology, humanistic anthropology, linguistics, the anthropology of religion, visual anthropology, and others, The Voice in the Drum contributes new insights and creates innovative methodologies much needed in today's growing anthropological and empathic understandings of the performance of emotion in South Asian Islam."--American Anthropologist


"As can be expected from Richard K. Wolf, The Voice in the Drum is an erudite and masterful contribution to South Asian ethnomusicology. But it is more: a deep contribution to experimental writing, full of nuanced engagement with why the poetics and politics of representation is critical to contemporary music ethnography."--Steven Feld, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Music, University of New Mexico

"No one else has conducted such multi-local research on traditions like this, and he has done a masterful job of relating these otherwise disparate traditions by highlighting their affinities, especially in terms of the ways in which their performers conceive of the drums as speaking in one manner or another. The result is a remarkable and unique scholarly opus."--Peter Manuel, author of East Indian Music in the West Indies: Tan-singing, Chutney, and the Making of Indo-Caribbean Culture

Supplemental Material

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