From the Margins to the Mainstream: The Female Voice in Popular Music of Asia

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Conference at Pitt April 4-6 examines how Asian female entertainers became artistic pioneers

Award-winning vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia to perform April 5


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH—How did women become prominent performers in the popular music of Asia? What forms did their voices take? And what meanings about women did audiences derive from those musical forms?

Those questions are among many that will be explored at a public conference titled “Voices of Asian Modernities: Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Asian Popular Music” to be held April 4-6 at the University of Pittsburgh. Events will include a concert of world music and a screening of a documentary film about a Chinese-American jazz vocal quartet in addition to panel discussions. Presenters from Asia, Europe, and North America—all leading scholars in their respective fields—will provide valuable insights into the role of women in Asian culture, history, and the arts.

Women as performing artists of the 20th century foreshadowed the prominence of women as educators, entrepreneurs, politicians, and cultural leaders throughout Asia,” said conference organizer Andrew N. Weintraub, professor and chair of Pitt’s Department of Music. “By listening to women's voices, we can appreciate their personal struggles, professional achievements, and public personas.”

One of the conference highlights will be a live concert featuring award-winning recording artist Kiran Ahluwalia from 8 to 10 p.m. April 5 at Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, 650 Schenley Dr., Oakland. Performing her own musical arrangements of ghazals (sung poetry) and Punjabi folk songs, Ahluwalia will be accompanied by musicians playing guitar, bass, accordion, and tabla. She has garnered glowing praise from critics worldwide. The Los Angeles Times said “Her crystal clear voice arched superbly above rhythms that coursed through the audience ….” Born in India, raised in Canada, and now living in New York City, Ahluwalia won Canada’s Juno Award for World Music Album of the Year in 2004 and 2012. Concert tickets are $10 general admission, $8 for senior citizens, $5 for non-Pitt students, and free for Pitt students with a valid ID. Visit to purchase tickets.

Conference Sessions
Attendees at the weekend sessions will focus on the individuals, the gendered ideologies, and the popular music industries through which women’s voices came to enjoy a prominent and powerful place in Asian modern life.

Panel discussions will take place at the following venues:

April 4                        Frick Fine Arts Auditorium                                       9:15 a.m.-5:45 p.m.

April 5                        Martin Room

                                  Sennott Square, 210 S. Bouquet St., Oakland          9 a.m.-5 p.m.

April 6                        Martin Room, Sennott Square                                  9 a.m.-10:30 a.m.

All sessions are free and open to the public. Visit for a complete conference schedule.

Documentary Film
The film Kim Loo Sisters: Portrait in Four-Part Harmony will be shown at 4 p.m. April 4 at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium. Directed by Leslie Li, it is a moving memoir of four sisters who were members of a Chinese-American jazz vocal quartet popular in the first half of the 20th century. They overcame poverty and prejudice to perform first in their hometown and then around the country and finally on Broadway at a time when Chinese-American vocalists were a rarity. The film is free and open to the public.

Conference Sponsors
The conference is cohosted by Pitt’s University Center for International Studies, Global Studies Center, Asian Studies Center, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Provost, Humanities Center, Women’s Studies Program, and Department of Music with additional support from the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and Leiden University, both in Holland.

This is the second of two conferences that constitute the Voices of Asian Modernities Project, an international consortium that includes Pitt as a member. Please visit for more information.

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