Shalini R. Ayyagari

  • Assistant Professor
  • On leave 2018–19


South Asia; regional music of India and Pakistan; Islam in South Asia; subaltern studies; postcolonial studies; development studies; ethnography; film studies; Bollywood film.


I have always been interested in the intersections between development and music. Before pursuing a PhD in Ethnomusicology, I worked in the field of human development—first volunteering in a maternity hospital in Hyderabad, India, and then building a primary school and designing its curriculum in a village near Kolhapur, India with a Swarthmore College Foundation Grant. These experiences inspired me to pursue a degree in Ethnomusicology in order to align my inherent interests in musical performance with past experiences in human development. 

In my current research, I specialize in the music of South Asia, and continue to explore the myriad connections between development and music. My current book manuscript, Small Voices Sing Big Songs: Music and Institutional Culture in Western Rajasthan, is a sociocultural history and musical ethnography of the Manganiyar, a community of hereditary musicians who have maintained music within a patronage system as their caste and livelihood for centuries. By reconsidering the role of traditionally considered subaltern communities like the Manganiyar in a postcolonial society, I engage with questions of discourse, tradition, and preservation in order to examine the ways Manganiyar musicians rhetoricize development and use music as a way to empower and mobilize their communities. Utilizing a variety of primary sources, I argue that, although the Manganiyars’ musical patronage system has weakened over the years, Manganiyar musicians have been extremely resilient and resourceful in creating new opportunities through development to sustain their music as a community-based profession. I have spent significant time over the past fifteen years living among the Manganiyar on the India-Pakistan border in the Thar Desert, and continue to work with this community and its musicians on various community-based projects in and outside of India.

I received my PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2009. My dissertation research was supported by a Marilyn Yarbrough Dissertation/Teaching Fellowship at Kenyon College, a Fulbright IIE fellowship, and a Graduate Opportunity Program Fellowship through UC Berkeley. After completing my PhD, I held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities at Dartmouth College, and most recently was on the faculty of American University in Washington, D.C. 

I teach, publish, and conduct research on other aspects of music as well. I have always had a keen interest in Bollywood film music and am working on a few smaller projects concerning Bollywood. I am an avid video documentarian and am currently working on a documentary film concerning borderland music-making on the India-Pakistan border. I have interests and teach courses in South Asian culture, global cinema, ethnographic film, development studies, intellectual property and music, and Islam in South Asia. In addition, I am a tabla, violin, and Balinese gamelan player.

Current Courses

Introduction to World Music

Selected Honors and Awards

Faculty Research Support Grant (American University, 2013)

Visiting Research position, Institute of Cultural Anthropology (Leiden University, 2012)

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities (Dartmouth College, 2009-11)

Charles Seeger Prize, Honorable Mention (2009)

Marilyn Yarbrough Dissertation/Teaching Fellowship (Kenyon College, 2008-9)

Thelma Adamson Prize (University of British Columbia, 2008)

Association for Recorded Sound Collections Research Grant (2006)

Fulbright Institute of International Exchange Grant (2005-06)

Swarthmore College Foundation Grant (2000-01)

Selected Publications

“Lesser-known Music from North India and Pakistan.” UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music. Guest Blog Album Review (Week 16). 2014. <>

“At Home in the Studio: The Sound of Manganiyar Music Going Popular.” In More than Bollywood: Studies in Indian Popular Music. Bradley Shope and Gregory Booth, eds. New York: Oxford University Press. 2013: 256-75.

“Spaces Betwixt and Between: Musical Borderlands and the Manganiyar Musicians of Rajasthan.” Asian Music 43(1), 2012: 3-33.

Selected Papers

“Pedagogy and Practice: Teaching Undergraduates about Asia through Music.” Annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies (Chicago, 2015).

“A Solo Voice: The Story of Rukma Bai, the Lone Female Manganiyar Muslim Musician in Rajasthan, India.” Annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology (Indianapolis, 2013).

“An Instrument on the India Pakistan Border: Reconstructing a Cultural History of the Kamaicha of the Manganiyar of Rajasthan.” Conference of the International Council for Traditional Music (Shanghai, 2013).

“Ethnomusicological Perspectives on Contemporary Indian Sound and Knowledge Production.” Listening to Asia, Center for Asian Studies Symposium (Boulder, 2013).

“Revamping Ragas: Production and Distribution of Recordings in Cultural Tourism Contexts Among the Manganiyar of Rajasthan, India.” Annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology (New Orleans, 2012).

“‘Postcards from Paradise Weren’t Meant for Me’: Community Affiliation and Advocacy Work through South Asian American Hip Hop.” Annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology (Philadelphia, 2011).

“Out of Patronage and into the Studio: Manganiyar Music and Record Production (Rajasthan, India).” Annual South Asia Conference (Madison, 2011).

“Padharo Mhare Des” (Welcome to my land): The Idea of Rajasthan as Portrayed Through Filmi Set and Song in Bollywood.” Annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology (Los Angeles, 2010).

“Visualizing Music: A Discussion on the Role of Audio-Visual Media in Ethnomusicology.” Annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology (Mexico City, 2009).

“Encountering the Performance, Performing the Encounter: Shifting Subjectivities in Fieldwork Among a Musician Community in Rajasthan, India.” Annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (San Francisco, 2008).

“Performing Tradition and Selling Seduction: The Staging of a Hereditary Musician Community from Rajasthan, India.” Annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology (Middletown, 2008).

Education & Training

  • PhD, University of California, Berkeley, 2009

Faculty Groupings

Core Faculty

Main Department Affliliation

Assistant Professor