Home | Talks | Women of the Records An Archive of Indian Music Initiative

Women of the Records An Archive of Indian Music Initiative


Oct 23 | 6 p.m.

Runs till: Oct 23


Bangalore International Centre

Bangalore International Centre (BIC), No. 7, 4th Main Rd, Stage 2, Domlur 560071

Event Description

The session would be an interspersed panel discussion on women in music along with actual singing as also playing of vintage gramophone records from the book. This event is based on the book “Women of the Records” authored by Vikram Sampath and has music mastered by Michael Graves. The Producers are Ricky Kej and Vikram Sampath. The book will be released by Kiran Mazumdar Shaw.

The advent of the gramophone to India in 1902 marked a path-breaking milestone in the annals of Indian classical music.  The Gramophone Company in London set its recording experts out on ‘expeditions’ across the world to record voices from different cultures and backgrounds. Interestingly in these early decades of recording, all over India it was women who embraced the challenge and went ahead and recorded, overcoming a lot of social and aesthetic taboos that plagued this nascent technology. These women largely belonged to the courtesan community of tawaifs and devadasis, in North and South India respectively. A majority of the male musicians kept away from recording. It is indeed a tribute to the grit, ingenuity, farsightedness, and creative genius of these women that they went ahead and recorded despite numerous shortcomings, thereby becoming pioneers of the music industry in the country.

Despite the pioneering role played by these women, their stories have largely been forgotten, thanks to the prudery of an entire generation of social reformers, Christian missionaries, the British Government and elite Indians, who consigned them to the bins of history by banning them as common prostitutes. The Anti-Nautch campaign that was waged against them in the twentieth-century has obliterated their life-stories and also their contributions to the art form. This book is a work of historical reconstruction—literally gathering fragments from the bin of history and putting them together to create a semblance of a largely distorted jigsaw puzzle.

This book features the indefatigable stories of the women and their adapting to recording technology, featuring 25 such inspiring women from 1902 to 1947. The book comes with a CD of digitized and mastered tracks of these artists. The 78 RPMs of these women have been sourced by the Archive of Indian Music (AIM) from the most pitiable conditions in flea markets and shanties across India

The artists from across India whose songs feature in the CD are—Gauhar Jaan of Calcutta, Janki Bai of Allahabad, Zohra Bai of Agra, Malka Jaan of Agra, Salem Godavari, Bangalore Nagarathnamma, Coimbatore Thayi, Kali, Jaan of Delhi, Veena Dhanammal, Madurai Shanmukhavadivu, Bai Sundarabai of Pune, Husna Jaan of Banaras, Mehboob Jaan of Solapur, Indu Bala, Angur Bala, K.B. Sundarambal, Miss Gohar of Parsi Theatre, MS Subbulakshmi, ML Vasanthakumari, Siddheshwari Devi, Begum Akhtar, Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdikar and Hirabai Barodekar.


Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
Entrepreneur and Philantrophist

Vikram Sampath
Author and Historian

Ricky Kej
Musician and Producer

Michael Graves
Mastering Engineer

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