Magazine of the South Asian American Digital Archive

Reinventing the Past

If you search for Arooj Aftab online, there are countless articles describing her music as soulful, dreamlike and hypnotizing. Aftab’s work is known for a revolutionary blending of ancient Sufi poetry with modern jazz. Her voice soothes and soars over modern and minimal beats with an approach firmly rooted in her culture. Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Aftab won an online scholarship in 2004 from Berklee School of Music’s online continuing education division. After taking several online courses, she applied to Berklee in Boston, Massachusetts and eventually moved to the U.S. the following year.

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The Duality of Displacement

Mahanthappa’s integrated approach toward roots and identity has made him a natural partner for SAADA. Two years ago, he wrote a piece based on a television clip featuring the Indian singer Kuldip Singh as part of SAADA’s Where We Belong: Artists in the Archive symposium on the overlooked contributions of South Asians. His second partnership endeavor involves the SAADA-commissioned Revolution Remix project, which includes a walking tour of historical places in Philadelphia where South Asian Americans made a pronounced impact on the city and the country. Mahanthappa is one of five artists asked to respond to a specific person and event on the tour with which they are paired.

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Rogue Hanuman on the Metro

Before the call center brought Indian voices into American homes; before high-profile, cross-over films like Lagaan (2001) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008); before the Pulitzer- and Booker- winning literary fictions of Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and Aravind Adiga; before the Smithsonian Institution’s “Sculpture of South Asia” (1992), “Arts of the Indian Subcontinent” (2004) and “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation” (2014) exhibits, the “Festival of India” (1985-1986) staged the introduction of India and Indians to audiences in the United States. From our contemporary vantage, the festival was risky and messy, but we have much to learn from its exhibition strategies and political aspirations.

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The Archival Spark

"I look at the footage and I think, who were these people? Their faces are so young and they look so different from the faces I remember growing up, there were smiles on them, not knowing what the future would hold." On March 8, 2019, SAADA co-founder Michelle Caswell facilitated a series of conversations with Dorothy Dhillonn (wife of the late Sharanjit Singh Dhillonn), Bibi Dhillonn and Ravi Dhillonn (the daughters of Dorothy and Sharanjit), and musician Zain Alam.

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