The Indo-Persian Musical Confluence Welcomes Attendees From Across the Globe

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The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music’s Department of Ethnomusicology held eight virtual panels and performances as part of “The Indo-Persian Musical Confluence” series November 2020 – May 2021. This attracted participants from across the globe, including Europe, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Canada and numerous regions within the United States. The symposia offered a series of grand performances, captivating workshops, and enthralling presentations by scholars and artists whose work relates to Indo-Persian musical cultures that span from the Indian subcontinent to Central Asia and Iran.

This collective exploration of the Indo-Persian musical exchange was designed to give new prominence to the contemporary musical legacy of these cultures while enhancing scholarly studies and musical collaborations.

“The series was an unprecedented focus on the vast cultural continuum of the Persianate world,” said Professor Anna Morcom of Ethnomusicology and the Mohindar Brar Sambhi Chair in Indian Music at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. “Indo-Persian culture has been studied principally as part of scholarship on India, and scholars of Persian sources in India have been transforming the history and social history of north Indian classical music and other genres. This series expanded the focus beyond India.”

Morcom teamed up with Postdoctoral Scholar Mohsen Mohammadi whose work includes Persian sources on Indo-Persian music. Morcom saw Mohammadi’s experience in this realm as a major opportunity to highlight this dynamic area of research.

Mohammadi curated the whole series, collaborating with the scholars and musicians to give attendees from across the world a remarkable line of events such as the “Indo-Persian Musical Hybrids in Afghanistan,” “Persian Poetry in Indian Music,” “Modal Negotiations,” “Indo-Persian Texts on Music,” “the Qawwali Tradition,” and “Indo-Persian Music Histories.” The series also included exceptional performances by outstanding musicians such as Ustad Naseeruddin Saami and his sons (who performed from Pakistan), Homayoun Sakhi (from Afghanistan), the Saznawaz Family (who performed from Kashmir), and more.

“With Mohammadi’s involvement and expertise,” said Morcom, “the scope of this area expanded beyond the usual topics of north India and Pakistan to include Afghanistan, central Asia, and present-day Iran itself, including Baluchistan, as well as lesser-researched regions of India, such as Kashmir and Gujarat. Mohammadi and I were also keen that the series should encompass the present day, and to rekindle interest in and bring awareness of this fabulously rich and fascinating history, which has a myriad of traces in the present day, as seen most vividly in the performances.”

Another fascinating tidbit of history that BBC Persian News featured in their coverage of the Indo-Persian Musical Confluence was the history behind the sitar and setar, which are the most common instruments in Indian and Iranian music. Although visually one can tell the difference between each instrument, the two are often confused in the Western world due to the similarity in names. Mohammadi believes that the names of both instruments are, “in fact the same as the Persian name ‘se-tar,’ which means three-stringed, and the confusion is due to the difference in the transliteration of a fraction in European languages.” The word was transcribed into English in slightly different ways during the colonial times. He also noted that this is just one of the profound interactions between Iranian and Indian music, but not a lot of attention is given to it today.

The Indo-Persian Musical Confluence was hosted and sponsored by the Center for Musical Humanities, and co-sponsored by the following partners: the Mohindar Brar Sambhhi Chair in Indian Music, the Jahangir and Eleanor Amuzegar Chair in Contemporary Iranian Studies, the Program of Iranian Studies, the Center for Near Eastern Studies, the Center for India and South Asia, and the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology.

More events are being planned in this series and we look forward to welcoming you as you join us in uncovering the many wonders of the Indo-Persian musical cultures. To learn more about the program, please visit the webpage of the Indo-Persian Musical Confluence and read the article by BBC Persian News. Many thanks to the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive for making all of the lectures and performances available in their online archive, which is found below.

Event I: Modal Negotiations (November 8, 2020)
Panelists: Taees Gheirati (UBC), Deepak Paramashivan (University of Alberta), Behzad Namazi (Ohio University).
Chair and Discussant: Ann Lucas (Boston College)
Performance: Rahul Neuman (sitar, UCLA) and Naghme Sarang (kamancheh, UCLA)

Event II: Persian Poetry in Indian Music (November 22, 2020)
Panelists: Suresh Chandvankar (Society of Indian Record Collectors, Mumbai), Anoushka Deb (University of Delhi), Syed Yaser Ali (Independent Scholar), Pushpita Mitra (JNU-India)
Chair and discussant: Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak (UCLA)
Performance: Pallabi Chakravorty (Swarthmore College)

Event III: Indo-Persian Musical Hybrids in Afghanistan (January 31, 2021)
Panelists: John Baily (Goldsmith University of London), Lorraine Sakata (UCLA), Mark Slobin (Wesleyan University)
Chair and discussant: Richard Wolf (Harvard University)
Performance: Homayun Sakhi (rubab)

Event IV: From Tajikistan to Gujarat (February 21, 2021)
Panelists: Mejgan Massoumi (Stanford University), Ariane Zevaco (CNRS, France), Jean During (CNRS, France), Brian Bond (CUNY)
Chair and moderator: George Mürer (CUNY)
Recorded performance: Music of Baluchistan by Essaq Baluch and ensemble.

Event V: Indo-Persian Musical Confluence in the Qawwali Tradition (February 28, 2021)
Panelists: Wajiha Naqvi (singer/scholar, Karachi, Pakistan), Dhruv Sangari (singer/scholar, Delhi, India), Shahwar Kibria Maqhfi (UCLA)
Chair and discussant: Peter Manuel (CUNY)
Performance: Saami Brothers Qawwal

Event VI: Indo-Persian Texts on Music (April 25, 2021)
Panelists: Yousuf Saeed (Independent Scholar and Filmmaker), Françoise ‘Nalini’ Delvoye (EPHE, Paris), Assadullah Shour (Independent Scholar), Pegah Shahbaz (University of Toronto)
Chair and Moderator: Joep Bor (Leiden University)
Performance: Saznawaz Family Ensemble, Traditional Music of Kashmir on Persian Poetry

Event VII: Indo-Persian Music Histories I (May 2, 2021)
Panelists: William Rees Hofmann (SOAS University of London), Katherine Butler Schofield (King’s College, London) and Richard Davis Williams (SOAS University of London), Ayesha Sheth (University of Pennsylvania).
Chair and Moderator: Vivek Virani (University of North Texas)
Performance: Sumeet Anand, Dhrupad performance

Event VIII: Indo-Persian Music Histories II (May 16, 2021)
Panelists: Max G. Katz (William & Mary), Allyn Miner (University of Pennsylvania), Dard Neuman (UC Santa Cruz), Richard Widdess (SOAS London)
Chair and Moderator: Bonnie Wade (UC Berkeley)
Performance: Ustad Naseeruddin Saami (Pakistan), Khayal performance