Academic journal article Notes

Tassa Thunder: Folk Music from India to the Caribbean

Academic journal article Notes

Tassa Thunder: Folk Music from India to the Caribbean

Article excerpt

Tassa Thunder: Folk Music from India to the Caribbean. DVD. Written and directed by Peter Manuel. [New York, NY: Peter Manuel], 2010. $20.00.

Scholarship on Indo-Caribbean music has blossomed in recent decades (including Helen Myers, Music of Hindu Trinidad: Songs from the India Diaspora [Chicago: Uni - versity of Chicago Press, 1998]; Peter Manuel, East Indian Music in the West Indies: Tan-singing, Chutney, and the Making of Indo- Caribbean Culture [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000]; and Tina K. Ramnarine, Creating Their Own Space: The Development of an Indian-Caribbean Musical Tradition [Mona, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2001], among others), shedding new light on a region where musicological interest has heretofore almost exclusively centered upon Afro- and Euro- Caribbean traditions. Peter Manuel's film Tassa Thunder: Folk Music from India to the Caribbean is a welcome addition to this body of work.

Manuel is one of ethnomusicology's most prolific scholars, whose previous work has included studies of dance and music of India, the Caribbean, Latin America, and their diasporas. Manuel's filmographic style is much like his written work: concise, encyclopedic, and easy to comprehend. He achieves this in Tassa Thunder via a persistent voice-over guiding the viewer through original footage with experts in Trinidad, Suriname, and the United States, ultimately linking musics in these diasporic sites with their Bhojpuri counterparts in India via a series of compelling comparisons.

Judging by the title, one would expect that tassa, an Indo-Caribbean drumming tradition, would be the focus of the film. However, tassa is but one component of a mosaic of folk musics Manuel describes, including the song genres chutney, chowtal, birha, and Alha as well as nagara drumming and the related Ahir dance tradition. Discussion of these genres garner the most screen time, leaving only about fifteen minutes for tassa at the end. In this short amount of time, however, Manuel touches upon aspects of tassa repertoire, performance, and construction, including unique footage of some top tassa bands in Trinidad and New York performing in Hindu, Muslim, and secular contexts. …

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