Sounds from the Other Side

Afro–South Asian Collaborations in Black Popular Music

2020
Author:

Elliott H. Powell

Sounds from the Other Side

A sixty-year history of Afro–South Asian musical collaborations

From Beyoncé’s South Asian music–inspired Super Bowl Halftime performance to jazz artists like John and Alice Coltrane’s use of Indian song structures and spirituality in their work, African American musicians have frequently engaged South Asian cultural productions in the development of Black music culture. Sounds from the Other Side traces such engagements through an interdisciplinary analysis of the political implications of African American musicians’ South Asian influence since the 1960s.

Elliott H. Powell’s book is like the music he investigates: intelligent, intimate, and offering new possibilities for intercultural engagement. His analyses transcend appropriation narratives to unearth the nuances of power in Afro–South Asian exchanges. Importantly, Powell demonstrates the fallacy of placing white, heteronormative paradigms onto people of color and instead illuminates a diverse and innovative history of aesthetic and political collaboration.

T. Carlis Roberts, University of California, Berkeley

From Beyoncé’s South Asian music–inspired Super Bowl Halftime performance, to jazz artists like John and Alice Coltrane’s use of Indian song structures and spirituality in their work, to Jay-Z and Missy Elliott’s high-profile collaborations with diasporic South Asian artists such as the Panjabi MC and MIA, African American musicians have frequently engaged South Asian cultural productions in the development of Black music culture. Sounds from the Other Side traces such engagements through an interdisciplinary analysis of the political implications of African American musicians’ South Asian influence since the 1960s.

Elliott H. Powell asks, what happens when we consider Black musicians’ South Asian sonic explorations as distinct from those of their white counterparts? He looks to Black musical genres of jazz, funk, and hip hop and examines the work of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Rick James, OutKast, Timbaland, Beyoncé, and others, showing how Afro–South Asian music in the United States is a dynamic, complex, and contradictory cultural site where comparative racialization, transformative gender and queer politics, and coalition politics intertwine. Powell situates this cultural history within larger global and domestic sociohistorical junctures that link African American and South Asian diasporic communities in the United States.

The long historical arc of Afro–South Asian music in Sounds from the Other Side interprets such music-making activities as highly political endeavors, offering an essential conversation about cross-cultural musical exchanges between racially marginalized musicians.
Sounds from the Other Side

Elliott H. Powell is associate professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota.

Sounds from the Other Side

Elliott H. Powell’s book is like the music he investigates: intelligent, intimate, and offering new possibilities for intercultural engagement. His analyses transcend appropriation narratives to unearth the nuances of power in Afro–South Asian exchanges. Importantly, Powell demonstrates the fallacy of placing white, heteronormative paradigms onto people of color and instead illuminates a diverse and innovative history of aesthetic and political collaboration.

T. Carlis Roberts, University of California, Berkeley

Sounds from the Other Side is a crucial intervention in the scholarship of Afro–South Asian cultural and political connections—an original, sophisticated, and multi-layered account of African American musicians’ creative engagements with South Asian musics, musicians, and spiritualties. Elliott H. Powell demonstrates that varied soundings and imaginings of South Asia have provided musicians as divergent as Miles Davis, Rick James, and Beyoncé with a terrain for conjuring new forms of radical Black being—a terrain in which Blackness, South Asianness, queerness, and liberatory politics are articulated together and coconstituted.

Vivek Bald, author of Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America

Sounds from the Other Side

Contents

Introduction

1. A Desi Love Supreme: John Coltrane, James Baldwin, and the Life Side of Afro–South Asian Music

2. Corner Politics: The Queer and South Asian Coalitional Black Politics of Miles Davis

3. Punks, Freaks, OutKasts, and ATLiens: The Afro–South Asian Imaginings of Rick James and Andre 3000

4. Recovering Addict(ive): The Afro–South Asian Sexual Politics of Truth Hurts’ “Addictive”

5. Do(ing) Something Different: Cross-Cultural Collaboration in the Work of Timbaland and Raje Shwari

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index