Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology University of Alberta

Chapter 6: Music & Immigrant Identity

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This video has 3 parts


How do South Asian immigrants from different generations define their relationship to music? Here we examine the role of music in process of acculturation and transformation by profiling three of Edmonton’s most accomplished South Asian musicians, Vinod Bhardwaj, Ojas Joshi, and Anuj Rastogi.

Part 1: Vinod Bhardwaj never set out to become to a musician outright, but after moving to Canada from India, the opportunities to write and perform were too hard to resist.

Part 2: Ojas Joshi is a second generation South Asian with a unique relationship to music. Trained as a classical tabla player, he has found creative ways to incorporate musical traditions into modern settings.

Part 3: Anuj Rastogi’s musical identity is shaped by equally by his passion for South Asian music and his life in Edmonton. The resulting fusion sound of the music he performs is reaching a wide range of audiences.

Additional Materials

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In depth: Music & Immigrant Identity

  • Q&A

    What is identity?
    Identity refers to the ways in which people view themselves as individuals. There are many facets to identity, such as culture, gender, and ethnicity, and different people identify themselves according to different values, and often in multiple ways for each facet. Identity is personal, however individuals often identify with larger groups in which they share characteristics with other members of the group. Around the world, music is a means through which people explore and express their identities.
    What is acculturation?
    Acculturation is the process by which immigrants learn to adapt to the culture of their new country, and also the process of the new country adapting to the presence of people coming from a different culture.
    What is fusion music?
    Fusion is music that combines two or more genres to create a unique sound that doesn’t easily fit into non-fusion categories.
  • The Collection

    This video was created using the following objects from the South Asian Music and Culture in Canada Collection.

    1. Bhajan Triveni
      8 audio
      4 images

      Bhajan Triveni

      This is a commercial recording of traditional Indian folksongs, mainly from U.P., Bihar and Punjab. ...

    2. Interview with Vinod Bhardwaj
      1 video
      2 images

      Interview with Vinod Bhardwaj

      This is a recording of an interview between Regula Qureshi and Vinod Bardwaj, an engineer, but also ...

    3. Barham hi sahi
      10 audio
      3 images

      Barham hi sahi

      This is a commercial recording of music by Vinod Bhardwaj who sometimes performs and recites under t...

    4. Lotus in the Snow
      2 audio
      6 images

      Lotus in the Snow

      This is a commercial cassette of improvised music by Ben Tobiasson (guitar), Vinod Bhardwaj (vocal, ...

    1. Interview with Ojas Joshi
      2 audio
      1 images

      Interview with Ojas Joshi

      This recording is from a telephone interview conducted by Sabreena Delhon with Ojas Joshi. The inte...

    2. Indian Music Ensemble class
      1 video
      1 images

      Indian Music Ensemble class

      This is a recording of a tabla class for the University of Alberta Indian Music Ensemble. Ojas Josh...

    3. Ranajit Sengupta
      1 video
      1 images

      Ranajit Sengupta

      Following an introduction by Regula Qureshi, this recording features a lecture demonstration by youn...

    4. Anuj Rastogi and Omnesian Travels
      1 video

      Anuj Rastogi and Omnesian Travels

      This is a short documentary put together by ZeD TV that features Anuj Rastogi and Omnesian Travels, ...

    For more on this topic see the following related collection objects

    1. Omnesia
      14 audio
      6 images


      This is a commercial recording put together by Anuj Rastogi, a second generation Canadian who is int...

    2. Drum Workshop
      1 images

      Drum Workshop

      This is the poster for a tabla workshop with Zakir Hussain. It took place April 26 at the Jasper Pl...

    3. Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain in Concert
      1 images

      Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain in Concert

      This is the poster of a concert featuring Shivkumar Sharma (santur) and Zakir Hussain (tabla), and t...

    4. Sanchita Bhattacharya
      1 images

      Sanchita Bhattacharya

      The is the small poster for a performance featuring dancer Sanchita Bhattacharya. The performance w...

    5. G. S. Sachdev Bansuri (Bamboo flute) Concert
      1 images

      G. S. Sachdev Bansuri (Bamboo flute) Concert

      This is the poster for a concert put on by Edmonton Raga-Mala. It featured G. S. Sachdev (flute) wi...

    1. Kathak Gunjan
      1 images

      Kathak Gunjan

      This is the large poster for a performance by Ms. Kaveri Agashe and Ms. Manasi Tapikar, accompanied ...

    2. Where Indian music finds its own voice
      1 images

      Where Indian music finds its own voice

      This is an article (p. E5) profiling Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande (vocal) and previewing her concert that...

    3. Uday: East-West Fusion
      1 images

      Uday: East-West Fusion

      This is a poster for a concert sponsored by A & B Video and It featured Uday...

    4. An Evening of Hindhustani Vocal Bhajan Recital
      1 images

      An Evening of Hindhustani Vocal Bhajan Recital

      This is the poster for a concert put on by Jhankaar Society for the Music and Dance of India. It fe...

    5. Vivarta Manifestations of Vishnu
      1 images

      Vivarta Manifestations of Vishnu

      This the poster for a dance presentation put on by Edmonton Raga-Mala. It featured Lata Pada's Viv...

  • Discussion

    Music and Identity
    Music we play

    Whether casually or professionally, billions of people around the world engage in music making activities in a wide variety of contexts. From singing to pass the hours at work to performing in concert halls to congregational singing in worship and everything in between, these activities represent an important facet for how we define ourselves within our communities.

    Particularly in amateur or casual musical settings, participants may not consider themselves to be musicians, however that does not change the fact the music is an important part of the activity. For example, music in religious settings serves to create a sense of social awareness and unity through sharing the process of making music that is bigger than oneself in sound and in meaning. And for those who sing while working, the rhythm of the song can help to regulate the rhythm of physical activity, such as with workers breaking apart ground or sowing fields. Communal music making brings people together and strengthens social ties and the sense of community among participants.

    Also, the music we play allows us, in part, to differentiate ourselves from the people who play different music—and also to identify with people from elsewhere who play the same. An important part of how people identify themselves is by what they are not, and music is a prominent reminder of who we identify with.

    Music we listen to

    Almost every hearing person listens to music in some capacity or another. The choices we make for the music that we listen to either as an audience member or a private listener serve to demonstrate to the people around us many aspects of our social and economic class, as well as our personalities and the ways we understand the world. While personal enjoyment is certainly an important factor in our choices, there are clear social messages to be conveyed from attending the opening night of an opera, purchasing front row seats to see the biggest rock start, or shoving one’s hands in one’s pockets while walking down the street with bass thumping out of ear buds.

    Cultures and subcultures define themselves partly through the music produced by their members. People claim allegiance to a subculture by participating in its musical activities, and can use subcultural musical activities to rebel against a dominant culture. Governments choose official national musics through which countries are represented abroad in an official context, and communities of people will grow up based on a shared love of a particular artist or genre.

    Music and Indo-Canadian Identity

    Indo-Canadian identity is expressed through music in very different ways for immigrants of different generations because their Indian heritage is learned and experienced in very different ways. The process by which Indo-Canadian identity is expressed through music can be understood in terms of three concepts: heritage, acculturation, and transformation. Music is a profound activity through which South Asian immigrants can experience and explore their South Asian heritage. Musical gatherings serve as a valuable tool in adjusting to the process of acculturation to the new country of residence. Finally, the music becomes transformed in an immigrant setting as South Asian musicians gain broader exposure to other musical cultures from around the world.

    First Generation: Vinod Bhardwaj
    For first generation immigrants like Vinod, performing South Asian music is a way of remembering and reconnecting with the South Asian heritage that he grew up with. It is a way of preserving cultural traditions that are central to his Indian identity. As a new immigrant, one of the first purpose of musical performance is to reinforce personal and community cultural identity. However, once the community becomes established, members begin to reach out to the broader multicultural Canadian community in order to demonstrate their unique identity as South Asian people, and public concerts are an excellent way to show off South Asian culture. Finally, after becoming established as a musician or poet in Canada, the artist is transformed from a South Asian artist living in Canada to a hyphenated identity such as Indo-Canadian, not only to him- or herself but to the Canadian community, and to the South Asian community living in South Asia.

    1.5 Generation: Ojas Joshi
    For South Asian Canadians who either immigrated as babies or were raised by very traditional families, South Asian heritage is taught and acquired in a very deliberate way. Young South Asians in Canada such as Ojas are raised by families who carefully guard their Indian-ness by filling their time with lessons in South Asian arts and language. These young South Asian Canadians become a medium for the global circulation of authentic South Asian music, learned in the traditional manner under a great teacher. But even as they gain a depth of experience and specialisation in South Asian classical arts, they also adapt their music and performance to mainstream Canadian contexts, performing a broad range of styles and genres in addition to traditional arts.

    Second Generation: Anuj Rastogi
    For young second generation South Asian Canadians like Anuj, Indian heritage is one facet of their identity among many. Multicultural Canadians belong to a wide variety communities based on their ethnic and cultural heritage, school groups and extracurricular clubs, sports teams, and more, and will draw different elements of their identities from each of these communities and associations. For Anuj, his Indian heritage is a starting point for the fusion music that he makes, but the sights and sounds of his productions quickly expand to create a fusion sound that is truly Canadian. He uses a musical language based in technology and media, in addition to Indian and Western traditions, and through this totally current and modern music he still connects to Indian people and music around the world.

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