- Singing across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal by Anna Marie Stirr
Singing across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal, by Anna Marie Stirr, is a groundbreaking ethnographic work that explores the sociocultural and political dynamics of the dohori genre of Nepal. The book presents a pioneering ethnomusicological work on dohori and is also the first scholarly work on dohori to come out of the Nepalese civil war period and subsequent state reconstruction (1996–2015). Although the author does not mention dohori in the title, the entire book focuses on this dialogic singing genre originating from rural Nepal, which gained tremendous popularity in commercial form due to migration and media circulation beginning in the late 1990s. The book primarily covers the dohori singing that cultivated rapidly after the sociopolitical development of post–civil war Nepal (2006), examining its interrelationship with Nepalese politics, social values and relationships, rurality and modernity, and intimacy in a multiethnic and multicaste society.
In her introduction, Stirr describes Nepalese dohori as "dialogic, conversational sung poetry" (3), with a primary focus on romantic love. She describes dohori in multiple situational settings, as it is performed in both conversational and competitive forms within frameworks of courtship practice, binding dohori contests, material exchange, urban restaurant performance, and the commercial music industry. Stirr explains that dohori is often accompanied by local instrumentation and dance and is performed in agricultural labor, nighttime songfest, and festival settings that "bring neighbours and strangers together" (3). Her central aim is to examine dohori as a medium that connects people—performers and audiences—and puts them on a nexus of intimate interaction regardless of gender, social group, caste, ethnicity, region, political affiliation, or religion. She calls this an "intimate politics of crossing such divides" (4). [End Page 158]
Stirr divides the book into seven chapters, each dealing with how various sociopolitical issues of Nepalese society are intertwined with dohori singing. Chapter 1 sheds light on the status and development of dohori, the music industry, and the communications sector during and after the one-party Panchayat government from 1951 to 2007. Stirr explores the 1983 state-run Nepalese-language "first national dohori competition" (37) as a turning point for dohori tradition. Subsequently, the hegemony of the state-controlled media and recording industry ended in 1990 when the Panchayat government was overthrown, bringing "liberalization" and "pluralization" to media and music (46). The 1996 civil war increased rural migration, which turned cities into fertile places for dohori to flourish.
Chapter 2 analyzes the dohori songfest in the rural setting of Lamjung village during the Nepalese national festival Dashain. Through the method of reflexive technique, Stirr scrutinizes the socially and culturally constructed gender relations and hierarchies in Nepalese society, which she calls "norms of femininity" (55) and "status hierarchies" (69). Further, in chapter 3, she illuminates the multifaceted nature of dohori that authorizes marriage between brother and sister, reframing kinship among the Tamang janajati ethnic group through binding dohori contests, and allows premarital and extramarital sex among the Gurung janajati ethnic group in the rodhi songfest. She juxtaposes the values of high-caste Hindus against these transgressive contests and songfests to situate dohori as "an agent of social change through rupturing social norms" (75). Similarly, she also explores the unique traditions of exchanging material "food and drink" (82) and the sensual exchange of "group love" (83) in dohori in the central-western hill region and across Nepal.
Stirr shifts her focus to the professional music industry and urban dohori scene in chapter 4. She explains the embodiment and representation of rustic life via sonic, gestural, and textual agency in professional dohori songs, videos, and stage performances (105–22). Similarly, she discusses the "restaurant stages [that] symbolize a generalized hill rurality" (123) in enormously expanded lok dohori restaurant businesses in cities. Further, in chapter 5, Stirr analyzes how "sistata" politeness, "poetic skills," and "dominant gendered norms...