The swahili art of Indian taarab: A poetics of vocality and ethnicity on the kenyan coast

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Employing approaches from ethnomusicology and vocal anthropology, Eisenberg undertakes an interpretive-ethnographic analysis of Indian taarab, a genre of Swahili song on the Kenyan coast that features Swahili words set to Hindi film song melodies performed in a distinctly Indian style. Eisenberg argues that Swahili musicians and audiences derive pleasure and meaning from Indian taarab's paradoxical presentation of Indian sounds as Swahili expressions, and that this positions the genre as a vehicle for public reflection on Swahili ethnicity. Focusing on the voice and vocality, he explores how certain Indian taarab singers—the genre's “clowns”—engage in a reflexive critical analysis of Swahili ethnicity by playfully making audible the Indianness that resonates within the space of Swahili ethnicity (uswahili). Ultimately, the essay seeks to generate new perspectives on social identification among Kenyan coastal Muslims by taking an ethnographic ear to Indian taarab clowning and its “harlequin poetics.”

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-354
Number of pages19
JournalComparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017


  • Ethnomusicology
  • Indian Ocean
  • Poetics
  • Swahili identity
  • Vocal anthropology
  • Vocality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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