Cultural Identity and Transnational Networks: Musical Learning and Performance in London's Tamil Diaspora

Lead Research Organisation: Goldsmiths College
Department Name: Music

Abstract

Context of the Research
The 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka has led to an upheaval of the Tamil population and hundreds of thousands of refugees have migrated abroad. The UK is home to nearly 200,000 Tamils, which is the the third largest diaspora population of Tamils in the world (after South India and Canada). London is the centre of Tamil cultural activity in the UK and is home to most of the diasporic Tamil community. Musical learning and performance, which primarily takes place in Tamil schools and art centres in boroughs across the capital, is a key cultural activity amongst the Tamil community and helps to forge and maintain Tamil cultural identity. Musical performances occur as a result of local and global networks, for example performances involve a local networks of community-based and second generation musicians learning in London and global networks of virtuosi musicians from India. Charities such as the Asian Music Circuit and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Centre have played a vital role in facilitating the local and global music networks that are at the heart of Tamil cultural activities in London. The research proposes to trace the transnational networks that shape Tamil cultural identity in the diaspora and to examine the social and aesthetic implications of music learning and professional performance in the diaspora. It aims not only to consider the role of music in shaping collective memory, the refugee experience and community cohesion, but also to examine the distinctive characteristics of diasporic Tamil music-making within the framework of transnational interactions. The project will focus particularly on the interactions between the Tamil diaspora living in Chennai (Tamil Nadu, India) and London, as this is the most significant route of cultural exchange influencing Tamil cultural identity in the UK. Most of the research will be conducted among London's Tamil community but a period of fieldwork in Chennai will also be required in order to fully investigate the transnational networks in the Tamil diaspora (for further details see the 'Case for Support' attachment).

Aims and Objectives
The key aims of the project are:
i. To investigate musical learning and performance in the Tamil diaspora and the role of music in forging and maintaining Tamil cultural identity and collective memory.
ii. To increase understanding of the transnational social and musical networks that help facilitate local musical activities in London's Tamil community, particularly the transnational networks developed by the AMC and intracultural diasporic organisations such as Tamil schools.
iii. To document issues relating to musical change, examining how Tamil cultural identity, collective memory and belonging is affected by new performance contexts and by the promotion of South Asian culture in the UK by the AMC.
iv. To develop theoretical models based on ethnographic research for assessing diasporic music-making and socio-musical interaction beyond nation-state boundaries.

Applications and benefits include:
i.The creation of an archive of data collected during research for deposit and educational use at the AMC. This data will include audio and video recordings of music performances and other cultural activities, and interviews with performers and students.
ii. The further development of Tamil community engagement with performance and educational programmes supported by the AMC.
iii. The dissemination of research findings through publications, seminars and workshops directed at academic and more general audiences, in addition to the production of the thesis.


Planned Impact

The proposed research project will benefit Goldsmiths, AMC and the Tamil community in London through the development of stronger links between the two partners and the local community. The project will enhance Goldsmiths' reputation as the foremost research-led university in southeast London and will contribute to the College's aim to offer research provision and intellectual leadership to the local community. It will further underpin the Department of Music's reputation as one of the top research departments in the country. The nominated student would be an excellent addition to our already large and active postgraduate research community, and it is likely to lead to useful cross-fertilisation with postgraduate students and staff engaged in other collaborative research projects with local London communities in other departments in the College.
One of AMC's aims is to connect young people and future audiences with their traditional heritage, and the proposed project will contribute to AMC's existing work through sustained engagement with the local Tamil community and by obtaining direct feedback from members of the community about education and performance opportunities. The research will strengthen AMC's research profile and its links with the higher education sector. The materials gathered during the project to be deposited in the AMC's archive, will enhance the AMC's resources, which are used for educational and promotional purposes. The project will provide theoretical analysis of music teaching methods, transnational cultural relationships and the promotion of Asian music performance, which has the potential to have an impact on the future strategies employed by AMC to support music-making amongst Asian communities in the UK and to foster cultural understanding between the UK and Asia. The project also has the potential to inform the policies of other arts organisations involved in supporting and administering cultural activities of minority communities int he UK. The dissemination of the research through a series of public workshops and seminars, in addition to the doctoral thesis, will help ensure that the potential beneficiaries of the research will extend to the local community and other non-HEI arts organisations. The project has the potential to make a contribution to the wellbeing of the UK's multicultural society by raising awareness of refugees' experiences: it will provide an opportunity for the views and opinions of members of the Tamil community to heard and for reflection on current approaches to the maintenance and development of cultural identity. More generally, it will increase understanding of the diversity within the South Asian community in the UK and the transnational dimensions of minority cultural identity.

Publications

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