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Sonifying the Sikh Experience: A Search for Identity

Tuesday
,
29
August
2017
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The Sikh community has faced considerable brutality and trauma as a marginalized group at the hands of oppressive regimes and misguided hatred both in India and in the diaspora. By expressing the narratives and history of the Sikh experience through the arts, broader themes of social justice emerge that speak to similar struggles in other marginalized communities. An understanding of social justice in this context helps to situate the Sikh experience, allowing culturally specific narratives to illuminate global issues of social justice as part of the human experience. How does one use the arts, specifically music, to speak to a culturally specific experience and to present themes of social justice that can then be interpreted and applied in a larger context? By looking at the use of art as activism, specifically in the case of jazz and the civil rights movement, the role of musical improvisation emerges as a means to express the struggle for justice and as an audible way to communicate that struggle to the listener. By utilizing the musical language of jazz and coupling it with Indian classical music, a sonic representation emerges that can be used to represent the Sikh struggle. This innovative musical system has been developed in my practice-based research as a performer-composer and is examined in the context of three original works Wisconsin (2012), The Last Killing installation (2014), and the Komagata Maru suite (2015). These works examine events from the Sikh experience in North America and India from the viewpoints of historical trauma, “postmemory”, and diasporic identity formation. These perspectives are used in order to mourn those experiences and use them as a means to create awareness of who the Sikh community is and what their struggles are. This work explores my own identity as a Sikh artist and serves to raise awareness of the Sikh community— it’s history and struggles— using the power of artistic expression to promote the values of justice and equality for all. About the Presenter: International multi-instrumentalist performer-composer Neelamjit Dhillon is a professional musician equally versed in both Eastern and Western traditions. His extensive training in both jazz and classical Indian music gives him a firm rooting in two distinct styles and provides a unique perspective into the universality of music. He has obtained a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies (majoring in saxophone performance) from Capilano University and has also completed a Bachelor of Education degree in Secondary Music Education from the University of British Columbia. He has obtained a Masters in tabla performance and a doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts [CalArts]. His latest album Komagata Maru, brings together his diverse musical background to mark the centenary of the Komagata Maru Incident of 1914 in which Indian nationals were barred from Canada and how that event still resonates today. Neelamjit has performed at prestigious festivals and events in locals such as Somaila, South America, Europe, Canada, India, and the United States.

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