Straight Outta Srinagar

Season 5: Between the Bats and Bulbuls: Musical Expressions from the Valley of Kashmir

The latest season of Brooklyn Raga Massive’s Uncovered/Recovered series, formerly known as the Social Justice Series, is dedicated to the rich and evolving landscapes of musical expression from the Kashmir Valley. Featuring contemporary and classical musicians, filmmakers, advocates, and scholars, the series explores how Kashmiri artists navigate limitations on free speech while preserving and innovating on the region’s multicultural traditions.

BRM acknowledges that our collective and artists have thrived because of the labor of disprivileged artisan communities in South Asia who have played significant roles in the creation, preservation, and innovation of raga-based arts. The Uncovered/Recovered series aims to platform these underrepresented voices and strengthen BRM’s commitment to decolonized art and critical activism.

The Uncovered/Recovered Series is curated by Brooklyn Raga Massive Program Lead, Amita Vempati. Amita pivoted to the world of community arts and advocacy having worked on education and human rights initiatives in South Asia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe. With training in Carnatic, Hindustani, and many other global musical traditions, she uses both political and artistic insights to examine how art can be a force for critical self-reflection and change.

Watch videos from Season 5 here.

Sonzal: Kashmiri Folk Music and Poetry by Dr. Sadaf Munshi with Mehrnam Rastegari
Apr 26
7:00pm EST
Art Cafe

Sonzal: Kashmiri Folk Music and Poetry by Dr. Sadaf Munshi with Mehrnam Rastegari

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“Take It In Blood”: Virtual Screening + Discussion with Director Rana Ghose
Apr 20
8:00pm EST

“Take It In Blood”: Virtual Screening + Discussion with Director Rana Ghose

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Augmented Virtual Screening of "Mann Faqeeri: Sufiyana Kalam of Kashmir”
Apr 18
7:30pm EST

Augmented Virtual Screening of "Mann Faqeeri: Sufiyana Kalam of Kashmir”

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“Anthem for Kashmir”: Solidarity for Free Expression in Kashmir
Apr 13
8:00pm EST

“Anthem for Kashmir”: Solidarity for Free Expression in Kashmir

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Defiant Transmission: A Virtual Concert by Ali Saffudin, Ahmer, and Straight Outta Srinagar
Apr 6
7:30pm EST

Defiant Transmission: A Virtual Concert by Ali Saffudin, Ahmer, and Straight Outta Srinagar

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Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4

Season 4: Subcontinent on the Hudson: South Asian Migrations and Musics in New York

South Asian immigration to New York has been documented since the 1800’s predating the independent countries that contemporary diasporas identify with. While grappling with international news, U.S. immigration policy, and the shared struggles of gentrification, wealth inequality, and xenophobia, it is not uncommon to see our communities struggling with their adherence to the twinned allures of capitalism and white supremacy, propagating casteism, classism, and ethnonationalism across continents. 

It is important now more than ever to also recognize where South Asian-Americans across generations have built interlinked and unique communities through their languages, food, and art. Rooted in folk, classical, and fusion traditions, music is a site of ongoing self-expression, negotiation, innovation, and community-building. 

In the face of global capitalism and ethnonationalism fracturing the South Asian-American diaspora, Brooklyn Raga Massive in partnership with DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) has curated “Subcontinent on the Hudson: South Asian Migrations and Musics in New York.” In four events, we pay homage to the variety of South Asian creative experiences in New York by foregrounding the diversity of traditions and inspirations informing our art. Above all, this series seeks to heal, unite, and contribute to the continued mobilization of diasporic communities that make their home here: we call on our audiences to be inspired – as we are – by the history, diversity, and imaginations of South Asian American communities in our home.

Finding/Funding the Creative Self: Screening of “12 Days in a Taxi”

November 9 , 2022

“12 Days in a Taxi”, a 2012 documentary by Ambarien Alqadar, tells the story of two South Asian immigrants who are aspiring filmmakers working as taxi drivers. They share the realities of finding and building community in post-9/11 New York as well as their creative processes, dreams, and challenges. This first event will invite our audiences to consider the ongoing realities of class, caste, and faith politics in the South Asian-American diaspora, particularly as it relates to realizing creative goals. It will be accompanied by a community discussion space after the screening.

DJ Cardamami: Playlist Curation Workshop

November 15, 2022

The diversity of New York has engendered neighborhood music scenes with international inspirations. DJ Cardamami (Anisa Jackson) offers a playlist curation workshop that enables performers to think about the interplay between the local and the global: How does your audience inform and respond to song choices from all over the world? How do you read the energy of an event and transform it into a playlist blending across a wide variety of genres? And how does the singular vibe of one moment in one neighborhood become refracted into a distinctly global mix?

Anisa Jackson is an artist, writer, DJ and curator based in New York of Pakistani and Afro-Caribbean descent.  Under the moniker DJ Cardamami, Anisa began DJing in Oslo and has played for venues and radio stations everywhere from Seattle, New York, and London to Istanbul and Mérida. They host a biweekly radio show with Playground Radio called Spicy Trax and are the co-host of Yalla Yeehaw, a party featuring Arab pop, bhangra, & other Southwest Asian, North African & South Asian sounds. 

Healing and Art in Exile: Tibetan Music Performance and Discussion by Techung

November 22, 2022

With the rise of ethnonationalist conflict and ethnocentrism in South Asia, artistic traditions are often mobilized by power-bearing institutions to promote insularity or supremacy. These centuries-old art forms transformed across time and space, however, can conversely and intentionally be used to promote solidarity and healing. In this event, New York-based Tibetan folk musician Techung will share a selection of Tibetan folk songs learned in India’s Tibetan refugee community. He will invite the audience in discussion to consider the significance of tradition outside of the homeland/in exile, music as healing, and the act of establishing a creative community in a new home.

Techung is a prominent Tibetan singer/songwriter living in exile in New York. He is best known for his performances of traditional Tibetan music, dance as well as opera. His dedication and love for performing arts and years of training has come to fruition with his becoming a master musician and composer in his own right. He is a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Folk and Traditional Arts and was recently nominated for the National Heritage Award by the National Endowment for the Arts. Whether performing traditional or contemporary songs, Techung's dual purpose has always been to revive Tibetan music in the Tibetan community and to promote the rich performing tradition of his homeland to a wider audience around the world. Techung has collaborated with world-renowned musicians such as Phillip Glass and blues master Keb Mo. Along with musicians such as Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and others, Techung has performed at the famous Carnegie Hall in New York City. 

Building Diasporic Solidarity through Art: Panel Discussion

November 29 , 2022

Our final event will be a panel discussion bridging the topics and contributions of the previous events. We will invite NYC-based South Asian and Indo Caribbean grassroots organization Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) to drive this conversation with Brooklyn Raga Massive musicians. With decades of community-building experience organizing working class, South Asian and Indo Caribbean communities in New York City, as well as experience working with local artists on community campaigns, DRUM has the perspectives needed to both educate and innovate with BRM’s musicians and audience.

Season 3: The Law of Music: Ragas, Rhythms, and Imaginations from Afghanistan

Afghanistan's numerous musical and artistic legacies defy the global public imagination crafted by military occupiers. This is due not only to the wealth of indigenous traditions throughout this diverse country but also its roles throughout global history. Within South Asia, Afghan musical traditions draw heavily from raga modalities and share many of the same classical instruments. In contemporary history, Afghan musicians and the music industry fused easily with disco, rock, and pop, situating modern Afghan music within global sonic conversations.

Since August 15th, 2021, musicians have been displaced from public view in Afghanistan. Many have resettled abroad, while others (many awaiting evacuation) have formed part of a burgeoning artistic underground sharing their art anonymously on social media. We at Brooklyn Raga Massive stand with all Afghan musicians and musical traditions and want to build on the solidarities and connections shared amongst us. Our February Social Justice Series, "The Law of Music: Ragas, Rhythms, and Imaginations from Afghanistan" draws its name from the book "Qanun-e Tarab" ("The Law of Music") by the iconic Afghan klassiki singer Ustad Sarahang. Join us as we celebrate Afghan musicians - their expertise, their inspirations, and their stories, - and learn how we can support them in artistic and political solidarity.

This series is presented in partnership with Afghans for a Better Tomorrow and Sound Central, organizers of Afghanistan's first alternative performing arts festival.

“Breaking the Silence: Music in Afghanistan: Film screening & discussion

February 4, 2022

In light of the present-day dangers to the performing arts under a new Taliban regime, it is necessary to remember and support the resilience of Afghanistan’s musicians and artistic traditions. “Breaking the Silence,” a 2002 BBC documentary, explores the intersections of contemporary political history and music in Afghanistan as remembered after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Join us afterwards for a critical discussion led by femme Afghan artists.

Placing Afghan Music in South Asian History and Raga Theory by Dr. Waheedullah Saghar

February 8, 2022

The historical connections between the areas we now know as Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan are evident in many South Asian languages, economic ties, and centuries of shared musical traditions. Afghanistan’s diverse cultural landscape hosts many musical modalities; among them, the raga informs a great deal of classical, popular, and folk traditions. Through his own research and examples of raga theory as interpreted by Afghan musicians, performer and scholar Dr. Waheedullah Saghar will guide us through the musical spaces we share. Watch the event recording here.

Introduction to Afghan Rhythms with Hamid Raouf Habibzadah

February 15, 2022

Syncopated and asymmetrical rhythms rendered on tabla, zarbaghali, and daf are hallmarks of Afghan classical, folk, and dance music. Tabla player Hamid Raouf Habibzadah will talk about the role of tabla in Afghan music and the basics of unique rhythmic patterns that define Afghan musical genres such as Qataghani and Attan. Participants are invited to learn along at home on percussion instruments of their choice. Watch the event recording here.

RocKabul (2018): Film screening & discussion with Director Travis Beard

February 18, 2022

As post-2001 Afghanistan was rebuilding its music industry, a new generation of musicians began to explore self-expression and reclamation through a multitude of global genres. Featuring the stories of Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band and the Kabul-based Sound Central Festival, this documentary showcases Afghan musicians ready to be in conversation with artists across the world. Join us afterwards for a Q&A with Sound Central founder and RocKabul Director Travis Beard.

Fusions and Futurisms in Afghan Music: A Panel Discussion

February 22, 2022

The music of Afghanistan - like all music - is ever-evolving. Waves of globalization couple with the imaginations of artists to create new soundscapes and conversations that resonate across politics and borders. Panelists Afghan-American DJ Omid Jam, Zohra Orchestra conductor Negin Khpalwak, and Afghanistan-based Hip Hop artists will share their relationships to both traditional Afghan and contemporary musical styles in these shifting times. Watch the event recording here.

Season 2: Skin Deep: Caste Politics and Percussion in South India

Between the worlds of classical Carnatic music and the popular kuthu folk music, there are clear distinctions in the ways that the South Asian caste system - derived from the Hindu varnā hierarchy and enforced through Hindu legal codes such as the Manusmriti - shapes access to and success across South Indian (and, indeed, all South Asian) artistic spaces. Where Brahmins and other dominator-caste groups are afforded near-exclusive ownership of classical and religious musical spaces, kalavantulu and isai vellalar (hereditary performing artists) and Dalit communities are rarely credited for birthing and preserving the unique musical practices that define South Indian artistic spaces. These politics of performance are carried over to the diaspora where predominantly dominant-caste performers in the United States engage with Carnatic repertoires created largely by dominant-caste, Hindu men.

The second season of our Social Justice Series was dedicated to identifying caste dynamics and inequalities in music, specifically as they manifest in South Indian percussion traditions. From the mridangam in Carnatic music to the parai drum in folk traditions, caste-oppressed communities possess the unique expertise needed to procure, tan, and construct drum membranes from animal hides. The systemic inequities that these drum-makers and drummers have experienced is largely overshadowed by dominant-caste performers’ appropriation from and erasure of their efforts. In this season, we center not only the ways oppressed-caste communities have contributed to Carnatic music but, significantly, the ways that their unique folk percussion traditions give rise to intersectional Dalit feminist liberation movements.

Saptapadi (1981): Film Screening & Discussion

In light of the present-day dangers to the performing arts under a new Taliban regime, it is necessary to remember and support the resilience of Afghanistan’s musicians and artistic traditions. “Breaking the Silence,” a 2002 BBC documentary, explores the intersections of contemporary political history and music in Afghanistan as remembered after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Join us afterwards for a critical discussion led by femme Afghan artists.

This Is A Music: Reclaiming An Untouchable Drum (2011): Film Screening & Discussion

This ethnomusicological documentary centers on the psychological and economic transformation of a group of parai frame drummers from a village in Tamil Nadu, South India. Through the lens of rarely filmed folk performances and the experience of an American ethnomusicologist who comes to study with them, we see a group of nine drummers trying to eke out a living while negotiating on going discrimination in their village. The Hindu caste system constructs them and their drum as polluted because they play for funerals. As they professionalize however, they reconstruct their performance as music and their identity as worldly. Woven throughout the film are dynamic and rare examples of village folk dances, funeral lament, and drumming as well as the voices of the drummers, local activists, who tell the story of the process of working for the economic and social liberation of Indian Dalits through developing the folk arts. As part of this screening, ethnomusicologist, filmmaker, and activist Dr. Zoe Sherinian (University of Oklahoma) will be present for discussion through a Q&A after the movie.

Sebastian & Sons By T.M. Krishna: Reading Group

T.M. Krishna investigates the history of the mridangam (a two-headed drum played in Carnatic music of southern India) and meets the invisible keepers of highly-nuanced mridangam making traditions. While several artists have been credited with the evolution of the instrument, none of them had knowledge of a fundamental aspect of the making: hide. The quality of the hide and how it is cured, cut, stretched, bound and braided impacts the tone, timbre and sound of the instrument. This requires a highly tuned ear and an ability to translate abstract ideas expressed by musicians into the corporeal reality of a mridangam. Sebastian & Sons explores the world of these artists, many of them from Dalit Christian communities, their history, lore and lived experience to arrive at a more organic and holistic understanding of the mridangam. 

Due to the length of the book, we encourage you to focus on the Chapter “The Madras Makers.” For those who are unable to read the book, we recommend this short film on mridangam makers in Bangalore “Adi Tala” by Adithyaa Sadashiv. To further understand the history of Chennai as described in the book, T.M. Krishna has also produced a YouTube series called “The Artiste” on Tamil traditional artists in Chennai. View“Sebastian & Sons” on Goodreads here.

Sakthi Vibrations (2019): Film Screening & Discussion

Set in the Sakthi Folk Cultural Centre in Southern India, this documentary follows the story of how two radical, Indian, Catholic nuns use the Tamil folk arts to develop self-esteem and economic skills in young poor Dalit women (former outcastes or untouchables). The film reveals how Sakthi reclaims the degraded parai frame drum and dance to re-humanize and empower these young women through the physical embodiment of confidence in performance and reclaimed cultural identity in a complex campaign against gender, class, and caste oppression. Watch “Sakthi Vibrations” trailer here. Support Sakthi Folk Arts Centre here.

Season 1: Tawaif: Gender, Power, and South Asian Arts

The first season of the Social Justice Series was dedicated to the contributions and influences of tawaifs: often reductively defined as courtesans, tawaifs are female-identifying entertainers who served as community authorities on art and adaab (etiquette). They were also teachers, innovators, and revolutionaries who lent their talents to India’s first gramophone recordings and movies as well as countless musical, dance, and literary compositions. Due to British-styled social reformism and the erasure of non-dominant-caste women’s artistic contributions in both post-colonial India and Pakistan, however, the profession of tawaif became stigmatized with matrilineal tawaif communities nearing extinction today.

Through this series, we at BRM have been fortunate to connect with more subject experts who work directly with tawaifs and other matrilineal performer communities. They have reinforced to us that our discussion is not just about history but also the real and present social conditions that impact contemporary artists' lives. Moreover, they have reminded us how we within BRM are obligated to reflect on how our present privilege restricts our understanding of the lived experiences matrilineal femme performers.

Pakeezah (1972): Film screening & discussion

We opened the series with a timeless Bollywood classic and an invitation to consider how tawaifs are understood in the post-colonial Indian imagination. Pakeezah tells the story of a tawaif living in Lucknow at the turn of the 20th century. Considered the masterpiece of director Kamal Amrohi, the movie features a gorgeous Hindustani-inspired soundtrack and the legendary actress Meena Kumari. Rent/Buy “Pakeezah” on Youtube

The Other Song (2009): Film Screening & Discussion

In contrast to the dramatized Bollywood narratives in Pakeezah, this documentary by director and author of Tawaifnama, Saba Dewan, explores the contemporary history and musical traditions of matrilineal tawaif communities in Varanasi, Lucknow, and Muzaffarpur, India. Watch “The Other Song” here.

Tawaifnama by Saba Dewan (2017): Reading Group

An elaboration on Dewan’s “The Other Song,” Tawaifnama is a beautifully written and detailed ethnography on tawaif communities in Varanasi, Lucknow, and Muzzafarpur, India. Given the length of the book, participants are encouraged to focus on the chapters “Ibtida,” “Dharmman Bibi,” “Pyaari Bai: Radio Singer,” “The Law,” and “Kab Tak Mere Maula.” View Tawaifnama on GoodReads here.

Disrupted Divas:  Film Screening & Talkback with Director Amie Maciszewski

This ethnographic documentary looks at tawaifs in three communities in North India and features important interviews with local advocates and contemporary artists as well as offering solutions for non-exploitative patronage. View the trailer here.

+ Resources

Due to the embedded and still very present nature of casteism in both South Asian and diaspora artistic communities, we strongly encourage all participants in our events to self-educate on the origins of and continuing legacies of the caste system. 

  • The Annihilation of Caste” by B.R. Ambedkar (1936) is cited as the foremost text and critical reading for all interested in Dalit liberation movements
  • Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (2020) which explores the South Asian caste system in discussion with racism in the United States
  • Equality Labs is a U.S.-based organization responsible for leading anti-caste advocacy in America (including in the technology sector and education). Their report Caste in the United States is a necessary expose on the ways South Asian casteism is transferred to and preserved within the American diaspora.