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Apr 19 2023

The Wood of the Flute: Kashmiris, Music, and the Poetics of Migration

Room B544

Lecture by Thomas Hodgson
Assistant Professor, Department of Musicology and Music Industry
The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music

For many Kashmiris in Britain and Pakistan, the shehnai (a kind of double-reed shawm) is a powerful symbol of a ‘home from home’. It is often heard and patronized in musical performances that mark important life-cycle events - births, marriages, deaths - within the family, the wider kinship network (biraderi), and at the ‘urs rituals of local Sufi saints. In this talk, I examine how the patronage of the shehnai in these settings affords memories of home, both through the instrument’s materiality and its aurality, especially as its sounds become intertwined with the poetics of the nineteenth-century Sufi, Mian Muhammad Bakhsh. By following the social and economic relationships that develop around this instrument’s production and use, we will see how the circulation of money within poetic recitations injects local memories into performances, connecting instrument makers, to performers, to the Kashmiri diaspora. It is this combination, of sonic ephemerality and instrumental physicality, I suggest, that makes the shehnai such a powerful and instrumental symbol of a home from home.

Thomas Hodgson’s current scholarship centers on the ethnomusicology of algorithms and artificial intelligence, with a particular focus on how new digital technologies flow outwards from music streaming companies ‘downstream’ to local ethnographic sites of musical creativity in the Global South. At the core of this project is the conjunction of ethnographic and digital methods, addressing ethical questions of representation, power, and control, especially as these technologies are deployed and experienced in places quite distant from where they were designed in the Global North.

He is currently finishing a book about Kashmiris, music, and migration. Journeys of Love: Kashmiris, Music, and the Poetics of Migration explores questions of memory and exchange among musicians in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and the Kashmiri diaspora. One of the central themes of the book is the question of how musicians create value and meaning in environments that are being rapidly and radically transformed by migration, changing flows of money, and new technologies. His research has been published in Popular Music, Les Cahiers d’Ethnomusicologie, Sound Studies, and Performing Islam, as well as a number of edited volumes.

Outside academia, Thomas co-founded the music technology platform Tigmus (This is Good Music). The company, which came to represent over 900 venues and 4000 artists, made use of data from streaming and social media platforms such as Spotify, YouTube, and Facebook to tell artists optimally where and when they should perform, making the gig-booking process more efficient and also equitable for musicians seeking to make a living from music. He is also a practicing musician and composer, playing the trumpet, keys, and various other instruments (dulcimers, qanuns, saws, axes, spoons…) in Stornoway, an indie folk band with three UK top-20 albums. Thomas recently collaborated with composer Edward Nesbit to produce an album in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The album – Aenigmata – was shortlisted for the 2019 RMA Tippett Medal.

Part of the Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series, this event is sponsored by The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music Department of Ethnomusicology, with support from the Dean of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

This is a hybrid in-person and Zoom lecture. For the in-person lecture, please register via the blue Eventbrite button below; for Zoom, please register here: REGISTER VIA ZOOM


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 above. 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.


Self-service parking is available at UCLA’s Parking Structure #2 for events in Schoenberg Music Building and the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center. Costs range from $1 for 20 minutes to $20 all day. Learn more about campus parking.


The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music is eager to provide a variety of accommodations and services for access and communications. If you would like to request accommodations, please do so 10 days in advance of the event by emailing ADA@schoolofmusic.ucla.edu or calling (310) 825-0174.


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The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music acknowledges the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples as the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar (the Los Angeles basin and So. Channel Islands). As a land grant institution, we pay our respects to the Honuukvetam (Ancestors), ‘Ahiihirom (Elders) and ‘Eyoohiinkem (our relatives/relations) past, present and emerging.