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  • Tales, Tunes, and Tassa Drums: Retention and Invention in Indo-Caribbean Music by Peter Manuel
  • Francisco D. Lara
Tales, Tunes, and Tassa Drums: Retention and Invention in Indo-Caribbean Music. By Peter Manuel. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015. [xviii, 268 p. ISBN 9780252038815 (hardcover), $60; ISBN 9780252096778 (e-book), various.] Music examples, figures, notes, glossary, bibliographic references, index.

The culmination of fifteen-plus years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Caribbean, India, and the Indo-Caribbean diaspora, Peter Manuel’s Tales, Tunes, and Tassa Drums is an ambitious study of diaspora dynamics with significant implications for contemporary understandings of Indo-Caribbean identity and musical traditions, national identity in Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, and Fiji, and the concept of diaspora itself. Timely and relevant in its topic, scope, observations, and conclusions, it fills a gap in the extant literature on Indo-Caribbean musical traditions, specifically with regard to tassa drumming. It also reminds scholars of the relative value of ethnographically-based research methods, specifically description and analysis, and of the need to likewise consider traditional and neotraditional musics in the study of diaspora musics and music making. Certain to be lauded by ethnomusicologists, Indo-Caribbean, Caribbean, diaspora, and cultural studies scholars alike for its methodical and critical approach, rich documentation, insightful analysis, and significant scholarly contribution, Tales, Tunes, and Tassa Drums will find a welcome home among libraries at both research and teaching institutions.

While focusing predominantly on the Indo-Trinidadian context, Manuel cautiously ventures to provide a more encompassing, though not overgeneralizing, assessment of musical retentions, continuities, and innovations among ethnic Indian communities in the Caribbean, Fiji, and elsewhere. Descendants of indentured laborers brought from the Bhojpuri-speaking region of North India to the Caribbean and Fiji by the British and Dutch during the early and mid-nineteenth century, Indo-Caribbeans are today among the most populous ethnic groups in Trinidad, Suriname, Guyana, and Fiji. The rich and diverse musical traditions evident today in the Bhojpuri diaspora, as Manuel illuminates in this comparative study, reflect the specific social, historical, and political contexts that inform the historical trajectories of each respective community. Yet Manuel concerns himself not so much with examining the similarities and differences within the diaspora itself, but rather with assessing the relationship between the traditions commonly practiced throughout the diaspora and their contemporary counterparts in the Bhojpuri-speaking region of North India. Along the way, he draws on the comparative perspectives provided by the diasporic context to provide even further insight as to how and why certain traditions flourished, stagnated, or transformed in the diaspora.

Well-organized and written, the book consists of six chapters that collectively survey and compare contemporary North Indian Bhojpuri and Indo-Caribbean musical culture, examine the Indo-Caribbean encounter with the “great” pan-regional traditions of northern India and massmediated musics hailing from India and the Afro-Creole Caribbean, and assess the vitality and relative uniqueness of Bhojpuri-derived culture in the Indo-Caribbean diaspora. Specifically, chapter 1 orients readers to the Indo-Caribbean Bhojpuri diaspora as well as to the major issues and questions addressed in the study: namely, how scholars [End Page 530] understand and approach diaspora, syncretic popular musics, and the question of Indo-Caribbean identity as it relates to North India and the Caribbean. Chapters 2 and 3 systematically address the origins and trajectories of the oral, text-driven folk genres of Ālhā, birhā, and the Ramayan, currently practiced in the Indo-Caribbean diaspora, and the musical entities of chowtal and dantāl. In chapter 4, Manuel considers the impact of mass-mediated musics from both India and the Afro-Creole Caribbean on Indo-Caribbean musical traditions and music making post-indentureship, including the influence of film music and panregional Hindustani devotional songs on wedding songs, Kabir-pant.h music, and Ramayan singing. Perhaps most significant with regard to the overall arguments posited in this study, chapter 5 documents and analyzes tassa drumming in both India and the Indo-Caribbean diaspora, discussing its origins, present manifestations, performance styles, and social contexts. In the final chapter, Manuel considers the study’s implications for our understanding of diaspora, Indo-Caribbean music and culture (especially as they relate to Afro-Creole...


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