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Spring 2020: A Voyage of Discovery

Shumaila Hemani

Discipline: Music
University of Alberta

Shumaila Hemani is an Ethnomusicologist (Ph.D., University of Alberta, 2019) and a Principal Instructor at the University of Alberta. Her research interests in music encompass marching bands in colonial India to Islamic Sufi traditions in South Asia. She examines how new musical traditions emerge as a result of acculturation and innovation and the ways colonial and post-colonial modernity reconstruct the origins of traditions and govern its sound. She is also a performer (vocalist and harmonium player) of North Indian and Pakistan musical styles of singing Sufi poetry that teach love for humanity and social justice. In her spare time, she engages in creating sound walks and sonic memories electro-acoustically.

Music has been a voyage that has led me to rediscover musical traditions I learned as a child. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, I came to North America to pursue graduate studies in Ethnomusicology because I was interested not only music of my region of origin – South Asia, but also excited to learn about cultures of the world. I accomplished this aspiration with my ethnographic fieldwork experience in Tajikistan, Pakistan, Canada and India and a broad study in Ethnomusicology that took me to distant places such as Kazakhstan, London (UK), Alberta and Nova Scotia (Canada). But what made it even more fascinating was when I met my music mentors, one who is a traditional musician whose family has been singing at a Sufi shrine in Sindh, Pakistan for nearly 300 years and another mentor in my hometown, Karachi whose ancestry would perform for the 16th century royal Mughal courts of the Emperor Akbar. How these mentors have communicated to me their histories and traditions with music transmission is what I will share with you – the students who take the course Exploring World Music: Ritual and/or Soundscapes-Music as Human Practice. I will also share with you my academic ancestry that goes back to our century’s most significant folk music collector—Moses Asch. By discussing musical traditions and lineages, we will learn about each other’s cultural heritage and how it influences our linkages with musical cultures and traditions that we will encounter in the Semester at Sea voyage.