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Performing Translation: Indian Jewish Devotional Song and Minority Identity on the Move

This research on Bene Israel (Marathi Jewish) devotional music from the 19th through 21st centuries explores dialogue between the Bene Israel and other social groups, and suggests new ways for thinking about cultural translation in musical contexts. The first half of the presentation is on Bene Israel kirtans (devotional songs with storytelling) performed in the decades immediately following the founding of the first Jewish kirtan organization in 1880 and attempts to address how and why a Hindu temple genre was translated for Jewish purposes. It was no easy task to generate a sense of Jewish ‘authenticity’ through Hindu song, but the socio-political climate of late nineteenth-century India made this a project worth pursuing. The second half of the presentation addresses the re-gendering of kirtan and other Marathi Jewish song forms during their revival in late 20th-century Bombay and Israel. From the 1880s through the 1920s, Bene Israel men published dozens of Marathi Jewish kirtans, plays, songbooks, and ritual instruction books, but Marathi performing arts publishing waned as interest in Zionism increased in the 1920s. Women filled that lacuna by maintaining kirtan and other Bene Israel songs in the oral tradition. In the 1960s, as Indian Jewish people became increasingly dissatisfied with their marginal status in India and Israel, Bene Israel women proudly sang Marathi Jewish songs to convince people that being Indian made them no less Jewish and that being Jewish made them no less Indian.
Anna Schultz is Assistant Professor of Music at Stanford University, having received the Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Illinois in 2004. Her book, Singing a Hindu Nation, was published by Oxford University press in 2013. Schultz’s other publications are on South Asian popular song, Marathi and Indo-Caribbean devotional music, American country music, nationalism, the aesthetics of suffering, new media, recording technology, patronage, liveness, and diaspora.



Tuesday, March 4, 2014. 12:00 PM


Encina Hall West, Room 208


Center for South Asia




Free and open to the public.