Unheard melodies

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter... wrote Keats in his famous Ode on a Grecian Urn. But as cultures move, and the medium evolves, so does the music... Keeping a record of the changes, and indeed a record of the music itself is a major challenge. Languages die as their speakers shift- so many Indian languages will surely die in this century as English and Hindi take them over- and so do musical forms. It takes a lot of effort to preserve some art forms- especially the culture that is passed on primarily through oral or mimetic traditions. The revival of Bharatanatyam a century ago, and the recording of the padams and javalis in the Carnatic tradition in the last century that were fast being lost, are just scattered examples of these efforts.

But more is being done, in a major and scholarly manner by the American Institute for Indian Studies' in Gurgaon's Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology which "houses extensive collections of recorded Indian music, all meticulously documented, as well as a superb library that includes pertinent theses on Indian music. For both recording and playback, the best available equipment is used, and documentation for all recordings is maintained in a computerized database that may be used by any interested scholar. A major project of the Archive and Research Center for Ethnomusicology has been the collection of all recordings of Indian music located abroad; included is extensive video coverage of Indian performance.

This repatriates recordings available nowhere else in India and makes them centrally available for scholars everywhere. Recordings as old as the 1930s are now maintained by the Center, where they are preserved under optimal archival conditions. So outstanding are the facilities that they have served as the model for comparable ones elsewhere in Asia.

Today ARCE has 189 collections of field recordings in its archival collections totaling approximate 25000 hours. The day to day activities of ARCE consist of following an active program of acquisition, cataloguing, preservation and dissemination. The vault at ARCE is strictly climate controlled for temperature , humidity and is dust protected. There is an audio visual laboratory which is equipped for making preservation copies of incoming material as well as for the making of working copies and research copies for users. There is a listening room dedicated for the use of scholars, equipped with high quality audio and video equipment for listening and viewing of archival material.

In addition to the archives of field recordings, ARCE has extensive collections of published recordings ranging from classical music to folk and popular genres from all over India - from 78 rpm discs to CDs. There is a small but growing collection of published world music as well. The ARCE library has approximately 10,000 books, apart from journals, and collections of offprints and newspaper cuttings. The focus of the library is on the field of ethnomusicology and related disciplines, with a regional emphasis on India."

Beyond its archival efforts, ARCE publishes several books, many of which are listed on the Scholars site. Jon Higgins' Bharatanatyam, for instance. A particularly important project of theirs was Remembered Rhythms in 2005 which deal with the issue of diaspora and the music of India. Available as a set of four CDs, Remembered Rhythms contains the music of Indians in the West Indies, the Sidis of Africa in Gujarat, and the Baghdadi Jewish community.

The music performed by the Rivers of Babylon combines the religious and secular music of the Indian Jews - the Baghdadi and the Bene Israeli tradition of India, consisting folk songs, hymns for Sabbath, festivals and life cycle events, and Middle Eastern instrumental music. The language of the songs range from Hebrew to Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic Arabic and Marathi. Harking back to their Indian roots, the Rivers of Babylon include vintage songs from Indian films in their repertoire.

Chutney is a popular Indian-Caribbean music, widely performed in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as in the Caribbean Diaspora. Chutney draws upon Indian folk traditions, devotional songs and film music, as well as from calypso, soca and rap. In addition to these, D'Bhuyaa Saaj's repertoire includes local classical music, and features some of the leading stars of Chutney from Trinidad and Tobago, on their first tour of India.

The sounds of Africa and India are uniquely blended in the ecstatic Sufi ritual and devotional music of Sidi Goma. The ancestors of today's African Sidi community first settled in Gujarat centuries ago. Yet, today's Sidis still remember some of the songs, instruments and rhythms brought long ago from Africa. Combining their African roots with the multiple musics they encountered in India, the music of the Sidis is full of surprises at times familiar at times altogether new.

Check out available ARCE publications and CDs throughout the Scholars site...