Post-Racial Harmony and Just Imitation by Sharmi Basu

“Post-Racial Harmony & Just Imitation”


“Pagol Na Khee?”

For Harmonium, Voice, Tabla Box, and Electronics



May use any of the following: 1-3 Harmoniums, Tape loops, cassettes, or records with any music from the Indian Subcontinent or South Asia between 1920 – 2006, Text from any South Asian political theorists and/or poetry from Rabrindanath Tagore and/or your own text, Tanpura Box, Shruti Box, and any electronic processing as you see fit.


Must be: of South Asian descent, or invited by someone of South Asian descent.


Proposed Timeline: 5-10 minutes, harmoniums and shruti boxes should all begin drone in the key of A or D. As drone develops, bring in Tanpura box at the slowest speed. At any point, veer away from drone OR get closer to drone OR do both OR do neither, and using the proposed tools, tell your story.



On 4/3/14, I played at the Asian Art Museum for an event called “Sounding Transformation” in regards to the Yoga Exhibit. I was one of the only South Asian people in the entire ensemble, and was the only brown person performing music. One much older white woman thought it appropriate to stare at me the entire time as I played the harmonium. Toward the end of the night, the entire ensemble, made up of at least 50 people, along with the audience, which was roughly 50 more people, joined together to chant “Om Namah Sivaya”, which means, roughly, “in the name of the lord, Siva”. I could not fully participate in the chant, for whatever reason, and as I looked around the room I noticed that most of the brown people in the audience and in the choir itself, were also not chanting.


This piece is a reappropriation of an instrument and style of North Indian classical Hindustani music that has been appropriated by the West for generations, from the initial imperialism of the Indian Sub-Continent, to now. It attempts to rework and explore appropriation through a means that is both reclaiming the appropriation of my history and culture through my understanding of it, and morphing this style of music to represent my diaspora as a Bengali-American in experimental electronic music.


The first title seeks to represent my sarcastic and confusing relationship with Europeans capitalizing upon my culture, who, in the same breath, submit to and enact racist overt and subtle racist behaviors. The second title “Pagol Na Khee?” is translated from Bengali to “Are you a crazy person or what?”. I wanted to add this second title to emphasize the danger that I (and all other marginalized folks) feel every time I speak out against gendered violence, racism, sexual violence, classism, etc. There is not a lot of validation readily available within creative music communities, and so finding outside community, and internal tools and resources, is necessary for struggle, if part of that struggle is ‘truth-telling’.


The word “Pagol” refers to an unstable or psychotic man, rather than the womyn-gendered “Pagli”, but as “Pagli” is associated with witches, sex-workers, and other oppressed gendered people throughout the world historically, I chose to refer to the title as the masculine, “crazy man”. Obviously, it is less dangerous and politically damming to refer to oneself as a crazy man or person than a crazy lady, hysteric, etc.