New Book Explores American Popular Music in India during British Rule

Published: February 09, 2016

New Book Explores American Popular Music in India during British Rule

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas –Jazz music, ragtime and minstrels in blackface are not just American cultural phenomena. These styles became sensations in India under the direction of African American, European and Indian performers. That is the subject of the most recent book by Dr. Bradley Shope, Assistant Professor of Music and Ethnomusicology and Director of the Center for Faculty Excellence.

Shope’s “American Popular Music in Britain's Raj” published by the Eastman Music Series of the University of Rochester Press is the first book to systematically study the character and scope of American popular music in India during the time of British rule.

His interest in the development of Jazz in India occurred during his travels when speaking with elderly individuals who recalled their experiences.

“You get an attachment with people you meet,” he said. “I wanted to give these people a voice.”

With more than 15 years as a researcher of popular music in South Asia, Shope has traveled to and lived in north India on numerous occasions to conduct ethnographic and archival research to examine black minstrel shows, ragtime, Jazz, the historical contexts of colonialism, and representations of Hollywood film music in Bombay. This research led Shope to identify key musical moments in the development of these styles between the mid-1800s and mid-1900s with a focus on Kolkata, Lucknow and Mumbai. Shope traces the movement of music between the United States, England and India to address the influence of a variety of groups and communities, including the U.S. military in Kolkata during World War II, Anglo-Indians in Lucknow in the 1930-40s, and British residents across North India during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

His most recent articles have appeared in “South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies,” “South Asian Popular Culture,” the Encyclopedia of American Folk life, and the “Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History.” He has most recently presented papers at the Conference of the Society for American Music, the International Society for Ethnomusicology Conference, the Conference on South Asia, the International Association for the Study of Popular Music United States Conference and the Society for Ethnomusicology-Southern Plains Conference.

Shope said his experiences presenting his research at conferences are helpful.

“Conferences put you in touch with a network of people from other areas of study,” he said. “It allows for information to spread to others who share your passion.”

The book was launched at the International Society for Ethnomusicology Conference in Austin on December 2015. Purchases can be made at University of Rochester Press.