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Emancipation or Replication from the Musical Elite? The Case of Contemporary Omani Baloch Musicians
The Baloch constitute a heterogeneous cultural group spread out over a vast territory on both sides of the border between Iran and Pakistan. Balochistan is both at the margin of the Iranian sphere and at the periphery of the two main states that define it. This land is home to an important musical heritage. These traditions, mainly upheld by the poorest sections of Balochi society, are chiefly transmitted between members of the same social sphere. The most important figures in this transmission are the ustād, the masters of Balochi music. Outside the social group of these prestigious musicians other Baloch will find it difficult to access their musical knowledge. This also holds for the diaspora of Balochi communities living in the Sultanate of Oman, most of which originate from Iran, and who have settled chiefly in Muscat. Here, they have maintained their language and traditions including music and rituals. However, traditional ustād, are not found in Oman. Some of the wealthier families thus invite these musicians from Iran or Pakistan for occasions such as weddings, private gatherings, healing rituals and popular music recordings. Omani Baloch musicians are nonetheless numerous, but many of them have turned to more modern music, where it is not uncommon to find synthesizers and electric guitars alongside traditional musical instruments. Still, a significant number of musicians continue to be interested in traditional musical repertoires. This includes a healing ritual called damāl that is common in Muscat. A damāl is performed by night and music plays an important role. A somewhat similar healing ritual (usually called gwātī) is found in Balochistan. The gwātī has been studied partly while very little is known about the damāl in Oman, or about the relation between them. My talk will present the musical repertoire of a group of musicians with whom I have been in contact since my first fieldwork (2017) in Muscat and which performs during damāl sessions. The different songs played in the course of the ritual as well as certain specificities of the ritual performance raise the question of the strategies used by the musicians to emancipate themselves from the traditional musical elite. In this presentation, I will argue that considering the Baloch perspective from Oman allows us to approach the question of margins in the light of their internal dynamics.
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