Julia Szivak (Birmingham City University, UK)

‘Half Moghul, Half Mowgli’ – Desi hip hop and the representation of South Asian diasporas [BACK]

Unfortunately Youtube has removed the audio from the track at around 11:00 – 14:00. You can listen to that track here

Abstract: Despite their distinct historical trajectories, South Asian diasporas around the globe face similar issues when it comes to racism and post-9/11 suspicion against immigrant communities. The war on terror and the ensuing populist political discourse have reinforced already existing racial stereotypes and accused non-white communities living in the West of being socially conservative and supportive of extremism. In turn, these processes have prompted a number of Desi (South Asian-origin) artists to raise their voice against the racial profiling that blurs the lines between terrorists and immigrants and erases histories of colonial injustice. This paper offers a musicological analysis of the work of  the transnational hip-hop crew the Swet Shop Boys, and argues that they are working towards establishing what can be seen (by extending the work of Paul Gilroy 1993 and Alpesh Patel 2015) as a “Brown Atlantic”; a space of diasporic consciousness that counters the mainstream narrative in the age of closing borders. Using a notion of the diasporic ‘third space’ as defined by Homi Bhabha (1990), this chapter explores how Desi hip hop artists confront Western representations of the South Asian diasporas in their music both on the level of lyrics and instrumentation. They challenge racial stereotypes and voice strong social criticism from a subject position that is informed by both Western and non-Western narratives, while negotiating a new, critical, Desi identity, which is simultaneously transnational and global. In the process, the genre of hip-hop, that is associated with protest against social grievances, takes up a specifically South Asian flavour that makes Desi hip hop an apt tool of social and political activism on a global scale.

Bio: Julia Szivak is undertaking her PhD research in Media and Cultural Studies at Birmingham City University, UK. Her doctoral research investigates the transnational networks of South Asian music production and diasporic return migration. Her research interests include South Asian popular culture and society, with a focus on Bollywood music and film.

1 thought on “Julia Szivak (Birmingham City University, UK)”

  1. Thanks Julia – this is really interesting and it’s going to take a long time before I get over my pleasure at the wordplay of the band’s title. It makes me smile every time I think of it. The idea that this is a sort of reverse process to those around Grime that have been discussed in other papers in this session is fascinating – with Grime, the local scene expands to the mainstream and most of the narrative is about the tension between the perceived authenticity of the local scene and the desirability of the international success. In this instance, I’m loving the way that you’re pointing to this (kind of) opposite phenomenon: creating a local musical scene with all the in-jokes and insider knowledge you’ve mentioned as a response to a broader cultural appropriation in the global market. I wonder if you think there are general principles in common between the two types of response?

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