Interview with Richard K. Wolf on his study titled “The Black Cow’s Footprint: Time, Space, and Music in the Lives of the Kotas of South India”

Excerpt from an interview with Richard K. Wolf, author of an award-winning study of Kota culture: The Black Cow’s Footprint: Time, Space, and Music in the Lives of the Kotas of South India (Permanent Black, Delhi 2005 ISBN 81-7824-126-9) and University of Illinois Press, 2006.

It was a promising start. While at the University of Illinois, Wolf met Carol Babiracki, an ethnomusicologist who had conducted fieldwork on tribal music in Chota Nagpur (north India). Her experiences inspired Wolf to explore the tribal cultures of the South. Library research led him to the Nilgiri Hills, where the most well-known musicians belonged to the Kota tribe.

“The culture of the Kota people had been explored in great detail by the anthropologist David Mandelbaum as well as by the linguist Murray Emeneau,” said Wolf, “but neither scholar had paid much attention to their music.”

Eager to learn more, Wolf secured funding from the Fulbright Program and the American Institute of Indian Studies to spend a year living among the Kota people. He planned to explore the music and rituals of the tribe, who live in a mountainous region at the intersection of Tamilnadu, Kerala, and Karnataka states. His first challenge, though, was finding a way to gain acceptance from the community so he could begin to conduct research.

“It took a while to get settled,” Wolf said. “They had never let anyone who was not a Kota live inside their village.”

After several months, however, he was able to build strong relationships with several Kota men.

“They trusted that I would follow their rules and permitted me to move in,” he said. “From there, things really took off — I was able to make recordings of people singing, telling their stories, and explaining their rituals.”

Wolf became particularly close with one family, who helped him go through his many hours of field recordings and assisted his learning of the unwritten Kota language. He participated in many of the tribe’s rituals and began to take an interest in how they made use of their village space.

“Kotas felt the quality of their village space change at different times of the year,” he said. “For example, areas where you could or could not walk, dance, or make music varied according to the month or occasion.”

That visit was the first of many Wolf would make to the Kota village, not only to continue his research but also to visit new friends. In 2005, Wolf published a book on the Kota tribe titled “The Black Cow’s Footprint: Time, Space and Music in the Lives of the Kotas of South India” (Permanent Black, 2005, and University of Illinois Press, 2006). The text analyzes how music and ritual, expressed in spatial terms, play a key role in constructing Kota identity. He is also preparing a second book, which will focus on Kota songs.

Source: Falling in love with South Asian music | Harvard Gazette
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Date Visited: Tue Mar 26 2013 22:34:46 GMT+0100 (CET)

To view a video and two slideshows taken during Shivaratri, the main annual festival celebtrated by the Kota community, click here >>