'Becoming One Again': Music and Transnationalism in London's Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora

Hornabrook, Jasmine. 2016. 'Becoming One Again': Music and Transnationalism in London's Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The Carnatic and Tamil music scene in London is the result of the migration and diasporic formation of a displaced Sri Lankan Tamil demographic. From the 'scattering' of displaced people and culture to various localities around the world, diasporic 'regatherings' – understood as 'becoming one again' - are facilitated by musical learning, performance and transnational interactions. Through the process of 'becoming one again' and the on-going connections between South Asia and the diaspora, a musical scene has emerged, which relies on various transnational networks and constructions of collective identity.

The thesis examines the transnational networks and identities in the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, focusing on musicians, music students and audiences based in London, and their connections with South Asia and other parts of the world. Drawing on detailed ethnographic research in the UK, South India and Sri Lanka, it considers how music enables deep connections to be formed within a diasporic group, both in terms of physical networks and within the imaginations of musicians. The relevance of the terms 'diaspora' and 'transnationalism' are examined in relation to the musical networks and processes in the Carnatic music scene in chapter one, before considering the historical trajectory of cultural identity, migration and the emergence of the music scene in London in chapter two. Chapter three identifies the scope of transnational networks at three different levels – the macro-level transnational networks, mid-level local manifestations of these networks and finally the micro-level interactions between individuals and within a performance. These levels ground broader globalising processes in localised ethnography. Across the multiple levels explored in the third chapter it is clear that the connections with Chennai in South India create a cultural centre and alternative homeland for displaced Sri Lankan Tamil musicians. Chapter four positions Chennai as the centre of this musical network from where aesthetics are negotiated and projected outwards into diasporic localities. Chapter five considers the London locality and the performance contexts, conventions and audiences within the city. In London, there are two clear spheres of local engagement – the diasporic and multicultural mainstream, contrasting in contexts, publics and functions. Chapters six and seven reflect on connectivity through historically situated narratives and transnational synchrony. These issues are ethnographically explored through the arangetram music graduation ceremony and through embodied experiences of transnational musical learning and performance. It is argued that transnational connectivity - with the cultural centre, other diasporic sites and the transnational carnatic music world - is maintained through ritualised practices of musical learning and performance.

The thesis highlights the ways in which connectivity is maintained through the construction of an essentialised, yet empowered, transnational cultural identity in which South Indian classical music is a key component. It aims to contribute to the study of diasporas and musical transnationalism through shifting the focus from the 'homeland' to other cultural centres, and by emphasising the importance of ritualised musical practice in attaining diasporic connectivity.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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This is the edited version of the thesis with third-party copyright material removed.


Diaspora, Music, Tamil diaspora, Transnationalism, London, Tamil Music, South Indian Music, Carnatic music, Sri Lanka, South Asia

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31 May 2016

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Date Deposited:

07 Jun 2016 13:32

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:39



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