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The role of gramophone as a recording device in revolutionizing the process of music production cannot be emphasized adequately. However, recent studies on the courtesan culture in India have failed to identify the accompanying rise of culture industry as one of the chief causes behind their downfall. With the invention of gramophones, musical genres like Ghazal and Thumri ceased to be the exclusive markers of clandestine yet grand performances by courtesans in princely courts and Kothas. These artists, popularly known as Tawa’ifs owing to their Islamic origin, were some of the first economically independent women of Colonial India. Initially, the privilege of participating in Tawa’if culture was bestowed upon the members of the royal family or those of an elite class. The newfound ability to capture a fragment of the Tawa’if’s sacred performance on tape not only profanized the nature of her art but also altered the intimate equations involved in the production of music. As the recording industry flourished, physical intimacy between the tawa’if and her patron was no longer a necessity resulting in their alienation from the production of art and subsequently from each other. A culture industry rose from the ashes of ‘high culture’ with the sole intention of reproducing recordings for mass consumption. This paper seeks to problematize the dichotomy of systematic restriction of these explicitly public women within the private space of a recording studio, while their art was being disseminated for the voyeuristic pleasure of the ordinary mass. I have intellectually engaged with the Frankfurt School’s theory of Culture Industry and archival evidence on Tawa’ifs to critically examine the sustenance of a capitalist enterprise feeding off the Ars Erotica of Tawa’ifbaazi.

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Sohini Chanda (India) 11209
Scientific production

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