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May 11 2022

Mirāsīs: Hidden Custodians of Hindustani Music

Room 1230 (Green Room)

Lecture by Suhail Yusuf Khan
Dr. Mohinder Sambhi Visiting Artist

Ph.D. Candidate at Wesleyan University
Visiting Assistant Professor of Music
Hartt School, University of Hartford


Mirāsīs are low caste Muslim accompanist musicians. Stigmatized by colonialists for being associated with courtesan performers, they have been discriminated against and marginalized within their own religion and society. However, adaptive and innovative strategies enabled Mirāsīs to dominate Hindustani music for much of the 20th century. This was possible in part by hiding their social identity and resisting identifying their communities as “Mirasi,” a term that has taken on a pejorative use in written documentation, such as census reports and journal articles, in both colonial and post-colonial India. As an eighth-generation Mirāsī musician himself, Suhail Yusuf Khan's paper presents a new study on the social status of Mirāsīs. He draws on ancient Indian philosophical and religious writings to propose a new theory— an alternative narrative to Mirāsīs’ subordinate role as accompanists in Hindustani music. By presenting the art of accompaniment as a dialogue between practicing musicians and a learned legacy, he repositions Mirāsīs as the custodians of Hindustani music. This role has in fact been recognized by solo instrumentalists and vocalists, many of whom apprenticed by accompanying instrumentalists. In reconnecting Mirāsīs with the heritage they carry for many Indian musicians, this theory is itself offered as a form of resistance to colonialist stigmatization. It also allows Khan to excavate unanswered questions related to caste. A respectable future for Mirāsīs is reimagined in which they celebrate their identity with the term, “Mirasitude.”

Suhail is a Ph.D. candidate at Wesleyan University and a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Hartt School, University of Hartford. He brings together expertise from a performance career that has extended over 20 years, creative ability, and academic research to find new modes of expression in Hindustānī music. His doctoral dissertation, “Bridge Overtones: Lessons from the Sarangi” is the first in-depth ethnomusicological study of the North Indian bowed instrument tradition by a hereditary sarangi player. He has been featured on more than fifteen albums and signed to Domino Records, U.K.

Part of the Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series, this event is sponsored by The Mohindar Brar Sambhi Chair in Indian Music at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, and The UCLA Center for India and South Asia (CISA).

Like most of The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music’s programs, this event is FREE! Register in advance for this event via the link below. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the event.  Seating is on a first-come, first-seated basis. Early arrival is recommended. Registrants receive priority up until 15 minutes before the event.

While Inside the Venue:

No Food or Drink allowed in the building.

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