Takako Inoue

Musical Activities among Cosmopolitan Indians: Case Studies on Asian Underground and Tyagaraja Aradhana


India has the highest number of immigrants in the world, with a rapid increase since the 1990s, after the Indian government began to promote and support the economic activities of the Indian diaspora through the implementation of economic liberalization policies in 1991. The history of mass emigration of Indians as plantation laborers is traced back to the 19th century during British colonial rule. Most of them were not able to return to India and became permanent residents in the places they migrated to. By comparison, new emigrants since the 1990s have mostly been sojourners prepared to move on to other countries, especially English-speaking countries. Both settlers and sojourners share some cosmopolitan characteristics today, while maintaining their own ethnic practices.

This paper examines two contrasting musical phenomena as case studies. One is the Asian Underground, a hybrid of hip-hop, EDM, and traditional South Asian music created primarily by English-speaking South Asians, which includes bhangra (Punjabi pop music developed in the UK) and folk-hop (bhangra with hip-hop and EDM influences). The other is Tyagaraja Aradhana, a memorial to Tyagaraja (1767–1847), the sacred composer of traditional Carnatic music, which has developed into a week-long music festival held in Tiruvaiyaru, Tamil Nadu. Today, the festival has become globalized and is celebrated wherever South Indians live. Music of the Asian Underground has been developed mainly by second and third generation immigrants, while music of Tyagaraja Aradhana has been enjoyed not only by settlers but also by sojourners. Today, South Indians living in Tokyo are mostly new immigrant sojourners. They have not created their own distinctive style of hybrid music comparable to the style of Asian Underground yet, but they do hold Tyagaraja Aradhana every year. On the other hand, in London, where both settlers and sojourners live, both are practiced. Through a close examination of these two cases, I explore the meanings of musical cosmopolitanism, syncretism, and a sense of belonging, as well as prospects for “cohabitation without precarity”.


Takako Inoue is Professor at the Department of International Culture, Faculty of International Relations, Daito Bunka University. She obtained BA in ethnomusicology from the Tokyo University of the Arts, MA in Karnatak music from the University of Delhi, and Ph.D. in Area studies from the University of Tokyo. She continues both her research and performance of Karnatak vocal music in Japan, India, and other countries. Her publications address a wide range of topics on cultural history, traditional performing arts, popular music, and gender issues of South Asia and Japan. She is a coeditor of Social Transformation and Cultural Change in South Asia: From the Perspectives of the Socio-Economic Periphery (2017). Her many publications include The Transformation of Musicology and Performing Arts in Modern India (in Japanese, 2006) and “La Réforme de la Tradition des Devadasi: Danse et Musique de les temples hindous” in Cahier de Musiques Traditionnelles, Vol. 18 (2005).