the democracy of sound project: number two (the women of india)


Annapurna Devi (Date Unknown)

This is the second installment of the Democracy of Sound Project – an initiative begun by The Hum, as an attempt to use music as a means to combat the rise of racism and xenophobia, as well discrimination and bigotry of any kind – be that based on gender, culture, sexual orientation, social and economic position, or any other distinction. The project is a response to the terrifying spike in Right-Wing ideologies which currently cast a cloud across the globe. Much of this – particularity in the cases of the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit result, is a direct consequence of the promotion of fear, with the strategic use of racism and xenophobia, by the political class. This hatred is being sewn. It is the product of lies. It is anti-democratic – a means to divide us, and a vehicle for the worst among us to reach their aims – political authoritarianism, and economic supremacy. The project is an attempt to activate collective steps toward undermining this global rise in bigotry, and to see it for what it is. It is an effort in Direct Democracy – to recognize, offer space to, and promote the voices the Right-Wing seeks to silence or oppress – people of non-European cultural, ethnic, or religious background, heritage, or origin, women, queer people, and anyone else who might find themselves in their cross hairs.

The project is built from a very simple idea. Democracy is founded on mutual respect for the value of each member of a society. At its core, it is the belief that each individual has equal rights, and an equal value of voice and agency, when participating in decisions which effect the whole. Fear and hatred are mechanisms used to suppress the expression of free will or voice within a population – they deny the mutual respect and understanding that is necessary for democracy to function. We live in a global society. Whether apparent or not, we are all connected. The access that one person has to democracy, regardless of where they may be – within our own society or culture, or beyond it, effects the integrity of each respective democratic operation within which we participate. It is an application without borders. Though difficult to observe, the promotion of fear, racism, and xenophobia within one social body, toward the people of another, undermines access to democracy within both.

Because music acknowledges no borders – it travels freely, is a way for people to express themselves and speak to others, and has a long history of undermining racist and xenophobic operations, the Democracy of Sound Project departs from a simple belief in its political potential – in its ability to promote the core values at the heart of democracy – mutual respect and understanding. It is an offering of the wonders of the human spirit during these dark times – an optimistic effort to balm the negativity and anger we all feel. Rather than simply fight, it is an effort to build and rebuild the foundations from which democracy grows.

Every week, for the duration Trump’s presidency, and longer if necessary, I will post at least one piece of music – a video or sound file, made by someone, or a group of people from a culture, background, social position, religion, gender, or sexual orientation other than my own – which is effectively the same as that of the current president of the United States. Through music, I will champion the voices which Trump fears and hates, and wants others to fear and hate in his quest to destroy democracy – a simple attempt to offer access to them, and chip away at his ground. As I struggle to flood the world with song, with voices that deserve to be heard and understood, those equal to each of our own, I hope that each of you will share these posts, and make more of your own. That you will help and join me in this fight – that you make this project your own.

I explored the ideas at the root of the project at length in its first installment. If this is your first encounter with the effort, I hope you will take the time to read it. Within its second gesture, I thought I would hit two birds with a single stone – women, to whom Donald Trump offers a constant stream of disrespect, and India – a culture of profound depth and history – one which has contributed endlessly to each of our own, yet most often remains out of reach and view.

Regular readers of this site will know of my overwhelming love for Indian Classical Music. It is one of my life’s great passions. It’s traditions have roots which date back thousands of years. There are few musics on the planet that do not owe it a debt.

India has a long and complicated history when it comes to gender equality. Truthfully, it has an abysmal track record  – particularity in our own era.  In recent years, Western papers (and equally Indian publications) have been filled with horrible crimes perpetrated by men against women – attacks, rape, acid throwing, and the burning of wives. Countless writers and academics have attempted to understand it. Some point the finger at the rise of ultra Right-Wing Hindu nationalism (Hindutva), others indicate the precedent of vile acts toward women within the The Vedas, some note the large imbalance of the ratio of sexes (there are more men than women) – highlighting the Bare Branches phenomenon. Others pay an increasing amount of attention to India’s caste system – having elements which sustain both economic and gender inequity. Like the writers and academics who have approached these issues, I don’t have the full answer. India is a deeply complex culture, and a society of astounding scale. Generalities would be foolish and irresponsible. In all cases, these acts are deplorable beyond belief, and almost always to stem from conservatism – be that in consequence or application.

Part of the central hope of the Democracy of Sound Project, is to move some of the focus away from the perpetrators of vile acts and sentiments – to combat the horrible with the wonderful. While it is crucial to defend their victims, dwelling on the constructs of victimhood can sometimes be dangerous and further Right-Wing aims. It is important to promote and celebrate what exists beyond their reach – to acknowledge and highlight an alternative. Though India has an often dismal track record with gender equity, it is foolish to only focus on the worst. It equally has a remarkable history in elevating the feminine voice. It is a country and culture filled with brilliant women – writers, doctors, historians, scientists, intellectuals, feminists, mothers, daughters, and beyond. Perhaps nowhere is this more striking than in the county’s incredible traditions of music.

Indian Classical music, arguably more than any other musical tradition on the planet, celebrates and promotes the voices of women. Both of its primary traditions – the Hindustani and Carnatic, swell with their sounds – masters of their form, equal to any man. Though men seem to have been historically given more opportunity to tour and record, it must be remembered that these musics are usually deeply devout. Those who practice them, rarely have interest in money or fame. Indian Classical music operates on a higher plane. Though their names are sometimes less known, women have equal opportunity for the deepest honors and respect.

I thought I would take this opportunity to share some of my favorite female voices within the Indian Classical traditions. They in no way indicate the scope of the whole. Drawing on the old and new, these videos and songs are simply a sampling, chosen as an extension of my own taste (and constrained by what is available in the public domain). They are offered as celebration – an acknowledgment of these wonderful voices – and a hope to draw you into the incredible culture from which they grow.

-Bradford Bailey


Annapurna Devi – Raga Kaushiki

N Rajam –  Raga Mishra Khamaj

Sharan Rani Raga Todi

E. Gayatri & Dr. Balamuralikrishna – Brahma Kadigina Paadamu (1/2)

E. Gayatri & Dr. Balamuralikrishna – Brahma Kadigina Paadamu (2/2)


The Great Hirabai Badodekar

 Jayanthi Kumaresh & Zakir Hussain – Jugalbandi 




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