SOAS University of London

Sumangala Damodaran speaks about the IPTA and radical music.

2 July 2019
Sumangala Damodaran

Sumangala Damodaran visited SSAI from Ambedkar University, Delhi, this week to give a lecture demonstration on the IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) that developed through the nation’s transitional period in politics and culture. She sang songs and reflected on eight decades of radical music, since the 1940s, exploring the myriad meanings of popular and indigenous genres of the IPTA musical tradition across India. She questions the underlying assumption of the historic progressive movement as losing direction by shifting the gaze from texts to the power of music, artistic expression and its creative assimilation. Her work began with archiving and documenting the relatively marginal music and singing entering the fold of the IPTA as alternative voices of nationalism. Drawing a rich cultural canvas of plurality, the progressives acquired the ‘radical impulses’ defined by the very nature of their work, mode of questioning and answering the topical political issues of the time. As we moved through the political timeline of anti-colonial struggles, global forces of emancipation from class and race, the post-colonial trauma of India’s Partition, decades of food insecurity, excesses of India’s Emergency and the rising tide of majoritarianism, cultural radicalism assumed newer proportions and appeal. This long-drawn process of the radical as accumulated knowledge inherits from the intensive past -- pre-Partition community songs, post-independent cultural icons such as Salil Chowdhury, Hemanga Biswas, Bhupen Hazarika and continues to innovate with current crowd pullers like Madan Gopal Singh and Shubha Mudgal. Damodaran ties the Indian experience with global influences such as Paul Robeson on Assamese song and teases out contemporary India’s youthful desire to embrace Dalit voices for pops like Danger Chamar. Other insights of the emancipatory popular and the radical can be gleaned from Sumangala’s book The Radical Impulse: Music in the Tradition of the IPTA: Tulika Books, Delhi 2017.