Shalini Ayyagari

Associate Professor of Music

Shalini Ayyagari is an ethnomusicologist who works across the fields of music in cultural contexts, South Asian Studies, critical ethnography, and development studies. Her research is motivated by a deep interest in understanding the role of music in people's everyday lives and the influence music has on them. Her first book, Musical Resilience: Performing Patronage in the Indian Thar Desert (Wesleyan University Press 2022), does just this. Based on twenty years of ethnographic fieldwork, Ayyagari provides a sociocultural history and musical ethnography of the Manganiyar, a hereditary community of caste-based musicians who live on the India-Pakistan border and have maintained music within a patronage system as their livelihood for centuries. By reconsidering the role of traditionally considered subaltern communities like the Manganiyar in a postcolonial performance context, Ayyagari chronicles the ways Manganiyar musicians have in recent years rhetoricized neoliberal development through what she calls "development imaginaries" using music as a way to empower and mobilize their community. She argues that, although Manganiyars' musical patronage system has weakened since Independence, Manganiyar musicians have been extremely resilient and resourceful in their creation of new opportunities that sustain their music as a relevant community-based profession in new performance venues, what she calls "postpatronage" contexts.

Recently, Ayyagari has been developing a number of new media-based projects. The first, supported by an American Institute for Indian Studies Senior Research Fellowship, uses transmediated technologies to enable musicians in India to tell their own stories using audio-video technology and digital media platforms. The second examines the erotic thriller anthology video series, Gandii Baat, released between 2018 and 2021 by the Indian subscription-based video platform, ALTBalaji. Described as portraying urban fantasies from rural India, I am interested in the ways sound and music are used in the series to engage with the urban/rural divide and sexual taboos in contemporary India. 

Ayyagari teaches courses at Pitt on ethnographic fieldwork, ethnographic film and filmmaking, Bollywood film, religion in South Asia, futurism, and development & sustainability.

    Education & Training

  • PhD (University of California, Berkeley)
  • BA (Swarthmore College)