Jasmine Hornabrook

Belonging Across Borders: Multiplicity and the Politics of Sonic Belonging in the Tamil Diasporic Music Scene


Belonging in and through musical sound and practice become all the more complex in diasporic music scenes that traverse multiple socio-political contexts and across multiple publics. For instance, the Tamil diasporic music economy is manifested through its transnational networks and is generated by the ‘homing desire’ (Brah 1996) and the aspiration for connection and belonging after the dispersal of mass forced and economic migration. Multilocal belonging, in the case of carnatic raga-based music and its associated Tamil devotional forms, reiterates a common inheritance and sense of relatedness that encompasses communities around the world, emphasises the permeability of boundaries and draws connections across time and space (Ramnarine 1996, 151; 2007, 9). However, this multiplicity extends to exclusions as well as inclusions, and musicians must navigate complex configurations of belonging and non-belonging along caste, gender, national, religious, ethnic and racial lines that emanate both from South Asia and the diasporic space. At a time when boundaries are hardened through communalism, it is even more important to understand the fluidity and multiplicity of sonic belonging and socio-musical exchanges, particularly when music is used for exclusionary agendas along ethnic, political and religious lines (Kalra 2015; Sykes 2018).

This paper will explore the multileveled politics of belonging at play, extending from the ‘homeland/s’ of Sri Lanka and South India, along the transnational networks to the diasporic space of contemporary Britain. In particular, the paper will focus on case studies from the Tamil diaspora in the UK that resist religious, national and gender boundaries through the syncretic production and performance of devotional musical forms to demonstrate a sense of belonging built on the negotiation of new ‘routes’ and spaces and of difference and sameness (Kim 2012, 560) across multiple localities.


Jasmine Hornabrook is an ethnomusicologist focusing on music, transnational networks and identity in South Asian diasporas. She is particularly interested in musical performance, identity and politics of belonging across nation-state borders. She completed her doctoral research at Goldsmiths, University of London, and examined music and migration in the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. Jasmine has been recently working as a Research Associate on the Leverhulme funded project ‘Migrant Memory and the Postcolonial Imagination’ in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Loughborough University, and is now a Research Fellow in Music and Music Technology at the Department of Music & Design Arts of the University of Huddersfield.