Sound Masala: Gastromusicology and Popular Music in South India

Franke Institute, Regenstein Library, Room S-118

Music and the culinary arts frequently intersect in cross-cultural human sensory experience. Language about music often relies on gastronomic analogies to elucidate aesthetic concepts and creative processes. Songs reference food culture in narratives and poetry. Musical events are also culinary events, from life cycle occasions like weddings and funerals, to rituals of faith, entertainment, and labor in everyday life. Tastes in music and cuisine regularly serve to reinforce social boundaries. Finally, professional musicians, like chefs, take great pride in the bodily skills, imagination, professional lineages, and hard work that represent hallmarks of exceptionality in their craft. Gastromusicology extends research on musical embodiment, medical ethnomusicology, cultural history, and the anthropology of food to examine how expressive uses of sound and sustenance mutually inform, structure, and nourish one another. There is no better place to begin than South Asia, where the quality of an artistic experience depends on the ability to create and appreciate the rasa—literally juice, flavor or taste—of a performance. This talk offers preliminary thoughts on the use of culinary metaphors like masala—distinctive spice blends—to express cosmopolitan sensibilities and cultural intimacy through sound.