The Voice in the Drum Book Trailer

This is the trailer for the book, The Voice in the Drum: Music, language and emotion in Islamicate South Asia, by Richard K. Wolf. University of Illinois Press, October 2014. Based on extensive field research in India and Pakistan, this new study, written in the form of a novel, examines the ways drumming and voices interconnect over vast areas of South Asia and considers what it means for instruments to be voice-like and carry textual messages in particular contexts. This is the story of a family led by Ahmed Ali Khan, a North Indian ruler who revels in the glories of 19th century life, when many religious communities joined together harmoniously in grand processions. His journalist son Muharram Ali obsessively scours the subcontinent in pursuit of a music he naively hopes will dissolve religious and political barriers. The story charts the breakdown of this naiveté.

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Featured Field Video

sah na jāī ho re allāh, sung and performed on sarangi by Nur Muhammad and Ashakali, Hallaur, Uttar Pradesh. I traveled to eastern Uttar Pradesh with my friend and wonderful soz khan Saqlain Naqvi, in search of drumming traditions associated with Muharram observances.

Saqlain had told me that in his wife’s home village, Hallaur, Shiahs themselves drum during Muharram. This is unusual in South Asia. Upon reaching Hallaur, I encountered not only drumming but also a range of other performance forms, several of them concerned with Muharram or inflected toward Karbala related themes because of the religious makeup of the population.

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Featured Audio

A maulud is a song in the Sindhi language sung in the honor of the Prophet, Muhammad. A club of men consisting of Natha Khan, Mamand Khan, Adrehman Haji, Salai Mahmad and Shafi Mahmad sang “āge aḥmad j̆ām khe ḏej ḏinā ḏātār” (“the generous Lord has given the Prophet as a dowry”) near Jaro village, Thatta district, Sindh, Pakistan, May 30 1997. Like other poetry of the maulud, this uses marriage symbolism express love for the Prophet and includes references to the Quran and Hadith. Maulud performances generally consist of two poems knitted together, the name of the poets coming at the conclusion of each (the first of the two poems was composed by Asi Abdul Karim). One line from each poem is used as a musical refrain (thal). Maulud performers artfully break the words into individual syllables, which serve as vehicles for melodic and rhythmic exploration. The men gradually build the intensity of their performance by increasing the speed and moving into a high register.

Ethnomusicological Fieldwork

Richard K. Wolf

As a freshman at Oberlin College in 1980, Richard Wolf was an active rock music composer, lead guitarist and student of Renaissance lute and classical guitar. Then an extraordinary concert of south Indian classical (Karnatak) music at Oberlin led him to make lifechanging decisions. He traveled to south India a few years later, where he studied Karnatak vina, vocal music, mridangam and Tamil.