Singing Across Divides

Anna Marie Stirr
  • October 2017, Oxford University Press (OUP)
  • DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190631970.001.0001

Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal

What is it about?

This is a book about dohori song (conversational, often improvised sung poetry), and how its performers use it to express an "intimate politics." An ethnographic study of music, performance, migration, and circulation, Singing Across Divides examines how forms of love and intimacy are linked to changing conceptions of political solidarity and forms of belonging, through the lens of Nepali dohori song. The book describes dohori: improvised, dialogic singing, in which a witty repartee of exchanges is based on poetic couplets with a fixed rhyme scheme, often backed by instrumental music and accompanying dance, performed between men and women, with a primary focus on romantic love. The book tells the story of dohori's relationship with changing ideas of Nepal as a nation-state, and how different nationalist concepts of unity have incorporated marginality, in the intersectional arenas of caste, indigeneity, class, gender, and regional identity. Dohori gets at the heart of tensions around ethnic, caste, and gender difference, as it promotes potentially destabilizing musical and poetic interactions, love, sex, and marriage across these social divides. In the aftermath of Nepal's ten-year civil war, changing political realities, increased migration, and circulation of people, media and practices are redefining concepts of appropriate intimate relationships and their associated systems of exchange. Through multi-sited ethnography of performances, media production, circulation, reception, and the daily lives of performers and fans in Nepal and the UK, Singing Across Divides examines how people use dohori to challenge (and uphold) social categories, while also creating affective solidarities.

Why is it important?

This is the first English-language work on dohori song, and a unique ethnomusicological study of Nepal that looks at rural-urban migrants and their expressive practices across lines of caste, ethnicity, gender, region, and religion. The concept of intimate politics I use in the book is meant to counter common ideas of music's -- and especially love songs' -- apolitical nature, and argue instead that dohori love songs, and the social boundary-breaking relationships they can encourage, are themselves political as they open up new vistas for what society can be.

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