Punjab-Sikh History

Since 1993, I have been studying the history of Punjab and in particular the intellectual interactions between Punjabis and Britons under colonial rule. On the basis of my research in Indian and Pakistani Punjab as well as the British Library in London, I wrote Moral Languages from Colonial Punjab (2008), a comparative socio-intellectual history of the Singh Sabha (Sikh), Arya Samaj (Hindu) and Ahmadiyah (Muslim) voluntary reform movements in the context of what may be called a Punjabi Enlightenment. Afterwards, I became interested in the history of Sikh devotional music and, since a few years, when I have the time, I am working on a historical novel, The Sikh Music Pavilion.  Over the years, I also created and guided tours for Dutch groups to Indian Punjab.  

Bhai Jawala Singh at Dera Sahib gurdwara in Lahore, 1935.

Arnold Bake, flyer lecture-recitals, University of Hawaii, 1936.

Percy Grainger with Duke Ellington at the piano, New York, 1935.

Music, Nationalism and Empire in Global History


From a comparative global historical perspective, I am interested in what I call 'the study of music in imperial culture', i.e. parallels in non-Western national music formation, intellectual interactions in music between Europe and the rest of the world, the emergence of the discipline of ethnomusicology, and so on.

In Music and Empire in Britain and India (2013), I discussed music as a key dimension of (national) identity formation as well as transnational networks and transcultural communication between colonizer and colonized. On the whole, I explored the ways in which rational, moral and aesthetic motives underlying the institutionalisation and modernisation of 'classical' music converged and diverged in Britain and India out of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. In addition, I traced subversive internationalist counter-movements that challenged nationalist musical establishments, as well as the openness of some Britons and Indians to the possibility of learning from each other. Some of the book's main protagonists are: the maverick British modernist composers Cyril Scott, Percy Grainger and John Foulds; the Dutch pioneer in South Asian ethnomusicology Arnold Bake; and the Indian internationalists Ananda Coomaraswamy and Rabindranath Tagore. It also includes a chapter on the modern canonisation and institutionalisation of Sikh devotional music.  

Afterwards, I wrote Arnold Bake: A Life with South Asian Music (2018), the long overdue biography of Arnold Bake (1899-1963), who spent almost seventeen years in the Indian subcontinent studying (folk) music and making numerous irreplaceable recordings, films and photographs of South Asian musicians and dancers. Moreover, he was the first Dutch music scholar who actually studied with local teachers and he performed the songs of Rabindranath Tagore and South Asian folk songs during hundreds of (lecture-) recitals in India, Europe and the United States. From 1948 onward, he was the first to teach Indian music in a Western University at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.