NLA 14 Nov folk fellowship_2

*Speakers: Kathryn Favell (K), Mahesh White-Radhakrishnan (M)

*Audience: (A)


*Date: 14/11/22

K:        Good evening. Welcome to the National Library of Australia. My name is Kathryn Favelle and I’m Director of Reader Services. Thank you for attending this event which is coming to you from Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. I’d like to begin by acknowledging Australia’s First Nations peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land and give my respect to elders past and present and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples watching the event tonight. This evening’s event, Quadrille Tunes Circling Round, is presented by Dr Mahesh White-Radhakrishnan, the 2022 National Folk Fellow.

The annual National Folk Fellowship is offered jointly by the National Library and the National Folk Festival. The Library holds the most significant collections of folklore and related material in Australia and this fellowship offers a unique opportunity for the recipient to explore the collection and to use their discoveries in their own artistic work. The new work is then performed at the National Folk Festival and here at the Library.

Our fellow, Dr Mahesh White-Radhakrishnan, is a singer, musician and scholar of music, language and culture based at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Their studies explore performance traditions spanning South Asia, Ireland and Australia and there’s the current focus on the Portuguese Burgher community of Sri Lanka.

In addition to being this year’s National Folk fellow, Mahesh has also been a recipient of the ABC’s Top Five Arts Media Residency for 2022, coproducer of the podcast, Music, Dance, Culture and founder of the World Folk Band, Tapestries of Sound, who we’re going to hear from tonight. Mahesh is passionate about making connections between people through creativity and research on language and music.

This presentation will explore the links between South Asia, Australia and the world through the lens of quadrille music. Please join me in welcoming Dr Mahesh White-Radhakrishnan and Tapestries of Sound to the stage.




M:       Welcome, yuma, greetings, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with you here on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country and country and land that is important to elders past, present and emerging and peoples from the Ngunnawal and Ngambri communities as well as the Ngarigo and Wiradjuri and other communities as well who passed through this land. To all the dancers and all the musicians that have come before us and that have danced the oldest dances in this country I pay my respects.

Thank you, Kathryn, for the lovely introduction and acknowledgment and thank you to the National Library for hosting me and all of us and this Folk Fellowship and this performance today.

Today’s presentations is about connections and particularly it’s looking through the lens of the quadrille or square dance. If anyone’s familiar with Bridgerton you’ll see – you’ll have seen square dances or quadrilles. If anyone did bush dancing or perhaps Irish set dancing or any of those things you’d be familiar with them. I’ve got the contents of my talk laid out in a quadrille formation here for you to see so the four corners here. So the sections I’m going to talk about, just the contents, Dikshitar’s fusions or fusion, refiguring a South Asian quadrille, the rhythms of my other island homes and through deserts, oceans, jungles, mountains, cities. So let’s find out about this.

I’m going to start with the Dikshitar’s fusion. Who is Dikshitar? Mutthuswami Dikshitar was a Carnatic composer. Carnatic music is South Indian classical music. It is a form that has antecedents that go back centuries if not millennia but also as a tradition is 200 years old in terms of - about two to 400 years old, I should say, in terms of the way that we know it today and that’s continually evolving as well.

One of the key composers who’s regarded as the trinity of Carnatic composers is Mutthuswami Dikshitar. He composed around 500 known compositions, possibly more and this includes 35 compositions out of a repertoire that’s very Indian classical sounding and has ragas and melodies and different sounds that are not familiar to western ears but there are 35 nottuswaras. Notu is the Indianisation of the English word note and swara is the Sanskrit word referring to notes or the pitches in Solfege so you have do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do and in Indian music we have saragami pardanesa, that’s also called swarams. So nottuswaras refers to that.

One of the first songs that I learnt growing up learning Carnatic music from my guru, Shramethi Lakshmi Raman is a song called Shakti Sahita Ganapatim and this I found out once when I was playing a session – playing in a session of various tunes with Alan Ramsay and a few others, I heard this tune, the same tune as Shakti Sahita Ganapatim but in 4/4 and I found out that’s it’s a Quebaqua tune called Lovastrung. Then I did a little bit of digging and found out that there is an English tune called Oats, Peas and Beans and that got me to finding out that Dikshitar had this repertoire.

Another one is one called Kamalasana Vandita Padabje and a lot of Carnatic songs are devotional so going back, Shakti Sahita Ganapatim is in praise of Ganesha, Kamalasana Vandita Padabje which is the first song that you heard – oh sorry, the second song that you just heard is a song in praise of the goddess. The word Kamala comes a lot in it, that means lotus so there’s a lot of references to the lotus in there and it’s based on a tune called Gallopade. I could spend the whole lecture talking about Gallopade but I'm not going to but it is an English tune and a pretty one as well.

Another tune that I used was the Rakes of Mallow so he sang:


And so on. Another tune that he used was a tune called Lord McDonald’s Reel. It’s really interesting thinking about Dikshitar and when he lived so he was born in 1776 so 20 years after the British East India Company established its occupation of India and 20 years before the invasion of Australia so you have this really interesting point in history. And what’s really interesting about these tunes is all of them except for perhaps Oats, Peas and Beans, though that's still yet to be found, are tunes that came to Australia as well with the convicts and soldiers and people that came here as well as their descendants and I had the privilege of being able to hear some of those recordings of people playing those songs.

Lord McDonald’s Reel was performed by Bob McInnes, the fiddler and I got to hear a recording of that and it’s a really lovely recording and we are going to perform a song now that is inspired by the story of Dikshitar and takes the tune of Lord McDonald’s Reel and the song, Dikshitar, and it’s about the connections between these different cultures and how we can find those connections in collections.



Who’s familiar with Lord McDonald’s Reel in the room here? Yes, excellent. Well you all are now. The next thread, refiguring a South Asian quadrille.

When I had the chance to look through the collections and even before, actually, I kind of thought about the quadrille and there’s the folk tradition so there’s the jigs and reels and the stuff that was danced by all classes of society but for those that are familiar with Bridgerton you would know that the quadrille was danced by high society and that’s where it started. So it’s a dance that started in France and it actually came from English country dancing and then came back to England, across different parts of Europe, spread throughout the colonies so wherever European powers and power went and it was – so firstly you had things happening like Mutthuswami Dikshitar hearing these quadrille songs, these jigs and reels and turning them into his own music. But then you also had another thing going on, so you had the high society dances and quadrilles being used as a tool for diplomacy and for colonial power.

So we come to another quadrille that I came across and just around this time, the 19th century, there’s a lot of curiosity about other cultures that is manifesting in this particular colonialist exoticising, orientalist way. You have quadrilles that are composed based on the music or the imagination about a music from a particular country or drawing from the popular folk melodies from that country and sometimes those folk melodies were in turn influenced by western music which in turn was influenced at some point in time and you can kind of go back as far as you want. I want to thank Jilda Andrews for making me think about – when we think about these dances and both Shirley Andrews and Peter Ellis who have written extensively about quadrille dances have made some hints towards the fact that the way that dancing itself is not only a universal experience but that dance movements themselves and where they came from, we can’t assume that they originally – all from Europe. There were influences going back a while.

But jumping back to the Nepaulese quadrille which is the thing I'm going to talk about now, this is one of the exotic quadrilles that you have. So this is one of the quadrilles that was – that I mentioned was a tool of diplomacy and the ethnomusicologist David Irving has talked about this in a Malaysian context with reference to the Johore quadrille. Now the Nepaulese quadrille was written by a French composer based in London called Louis Jullien somewhere between 1845 and 1855 and it was dedicated to Jung Bahadur Kunwar Ranaji who was a king in Nepal. It's interesting that he’s called the Ambassador here. This is part of the power play in the divide and conquer so there was another king in Nepal at the time and he took on the role of Ambassador and part of the British trying to not only exert power but to win favour was to dedicate this quadrille to him and also host him on a visit. And he visited many places in Europe in fact.

What’s really interesting about this manuscript, and which I was fortunate to look at in the National Library’s collection and it’s here, the original or one of the originals, I should say, is that if you see over here in faint writing it says composed on Indian melodies. Now that could be anything, it could be someone’s imagination about Indian melodies or it could be that the composer used Indian melodies. So that prompted me to have a look at it and so there are five figures as in the five-figured quadrille and the third track or the third quadrille, I should say, the second figure – sorry – is – the first tune I was kind of a bit iffy about but then when I looked at the second tune so you’ve got this – and I don’t have perfect pitch but you have this:


So help if you think:


Now when I heard that I sang it to myself, I said that sounds really familiar, it sounds like the Barjens and the songs that I had heard sometimes growing up and it reminded me of Indian folk melodies. I sang it to my mum in the car, we were sitting in a driveway in Lidcombe where they live and she said the same thing, she’s like yeah, that sounds like an Indian song. So we don’t know how Jullien heard it because from his account or from his biography it doesn’t seem that he travelled to India but he definitely heard Indian music.

Inspired by this, hearing this melody and excited by the fact that it was actually based on something that sounded Indian I thought about the raga that this evokes and there’s a beautiful raga called Pahadi and it kind of sounds like this but more like:


There’s more lilts and more little microtones like:


So I thought that’s a cool raga to write a song in and to use a Nepaulese quadrille in and it had been raining for many weeks and the sunshine came through. This is in Sydney so you can imagine there’s been a lot of rain there. This is in – earlier this year, actually, it was in March or May and when the sun shone through I thought I want to dance so this is a song called Do you want to groove? Draws on the Nepaulese quadrille and it’s about wanting to dance after lots of rain and also after the last couple of years that we’ve been through of not being able to connect with each other.

So this is the refigured Nepaulese quadrille. I’d like to welcome Jennifer White-Radhakrishnan to join Andrew Purdam and Nitya Parker and myself.



Thank you.

The Nepaulese quadrille was performed in 1859 in Melbourne in the Theatre Royal so with every tune in this exploration there’s an Australian connection and that’s the one with that particular tune and song.

The rhythms of my other island homes so I was born in Sri Lanka, I lived there for 30 days and then went to Nigeria for a few years and then came to Australia when I was five. So I have a couple of island homes and I’ve also developed a love for Irish music and therefore Ireland as well and it’s not really a home but I feel at home there so that’s going to be the topic of the next thing and I’d like to give a shoutout to Aimee Falzon who’s done the lovely artworks that you’re seeing today. This artwork is of two dancers from the Portuguese Burger community in Sri Lanka.

I'm going to talk about the Irish Washerwoman and why I’m talking about that in the context of Sri Lanka I’ll reveal to you in one moment. But I heard many, many versions of the Irish Washerwoman and so many different variations and so I’m going to play one variation and this is by Simon McDonald in the Norm O’Connor folklore collection.


So who’s familiar with that tune? Lot of you. Okay so that’s a real 19th century ear worm and probably a 20th century ear worm as well. The player there is Simon McDonald who was born in 1907, it was passed on through his family and he would have learnt it from someone so it’s circulating in Australia in the 19th century.

Go to Sri Lanka, sorry, Simon, and I had the pleasure of joining the documentation of Sri Lanka Portuguese Language Documentation Project led by Professor Hugo Cardoso at the University of Lisbon and this was working with a community of speakers of the language, Sri Lanka Portuguese, that language is spoken by the Portuguese Burgers. It’s also spoken by our first Sri Lankans as well but in terms of active speakers you find them in the Portuguese Burger community and these are the field sites that we visited, Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa on the east coast of Sri Lanka.

Portuguese Burgers dance a unique form of dance and music accompanying it called Cafrenia which is a syncretic quadrille. Within the Cafrenia there are songs or there are tunes that are played instrumentally but there are also songs, so I’m not going to show you an example of the quadrille but you can find some on the Documentation of Sri Lanka Portuguese archive. But I'm going to play a song that’s sung to the tune of one of the Cafrenias which is called Montaayantu loteem ooru. For those who are familiar with Portuguese Montaa it’s Sri Lanka Portuguese, means mountain and ooru which is gold which is related to the Irish word oir as well but that’s another story. So this is Montaayantu loteem ooru by the late Rachel Outschoorn and accompanied by Newton Sellar on the violin.


So you heard another example – could you hear The Irish Washerwoman in there? Yeah. So either the tune itself or a relation of the tune, and that’s something for ethnomusicologists to discuss and to work out, whether we are talking about tune or tune families but there’s definitely a relationship between these tunes and that’s likely because The Irish Washerwoman as with many other quadrille tunes was travelling around.

So we come to the next song which is called Ilankai or the long title is Ilankai [unclear] 45:39. It’s a Tamil song about the beauty of Sri Lanka and – or the island of Sri Lanka. Regardless of nationalisms and borders and the way you carve things up it’s a beautiful island and this song is in the Sri Lankan popular style known as Baila which was influenced by Portuguese Burger Cafrenia. One of the interludes that we have in the song is an interlude that’s commonly used in Sri Lankan Baila songs and I heard a version of it in one of the waltzes that was played in the collections called Poor Henry’s on the Wine. So those who are familiar with that waltz might hear it at some point. So [unclear] 46:29.

This song will also have The Irish Washerwoman and you’ll know when it comes in and please join in ‘cause we’re going to get you to sing it along.



A big hand to Nitya Bernard Parker who’s about to take a seat now.


To Andrew Purdam.


And Jennifer White-Radhakrishnan.


At the folk fellowship the project resulted in an EP and this was recorded downstairs or just here in the Oral Folklore - Oral History section, I should say and I want to give a shoutout to the sound engineers, Greg Downton and Michael Watson and to Mark Piva for coordinating as well. Also a shoutout to the musicians that couldn’t make it tonight but feature on the EP and that’s Dave Carr and Philippa Murphy-Haste. When you hear them on the recording you will also be very impressed so I want a round of applause for them too.


Thinking of them. So this is a photo from that session and this is the EP that’s resulted called Circling Beyond the Square and you can find copies of it in and if you’ve got one of these or picked up one of these on the way in – did anyone pick one up? No? That’s okay, you’ll pick one up on the way out and there is a big – what do you call it? A big sheet of it as well. There's a QR code here so you can take a photo of it and go straight to our bandcamp site. Now we don’t – for tonight and we’re not sure for how long but for a very limited period of time we’ve taken the price bar completely off this ‘cause we want as many of you to download it as you want and especially for those that are listening online from India and Sri Lanka and other parts of the world, this is there for you to download as well. You can put any price that you want on it. The recommended price for people here in Australia but also in US and Canada and anyone tuning in is 10 Australian dollars but you can give more or less as you please.

This lovely artwork is prepared by Aimee Falzon and you can see that it actually features notation, dance notation to a quadrille called Rigaudon as well as different elements so you’ve got Mutthuswami Dikshitar at the bottom and then you’ve got little animals around that tell the story of the circulation of the quadrille.

So we come to our final tune and I know I haven’t left much time for questions but hopefully you don’t mind hanging around for a few minutes just to – for that but this is the final tune and it’s a thread that will take a little bit of time to explain but I’ll try and do it as quickly as possible.

Ten years ago I actually applied for a folk fellowship which I didn’t get but it was for a project looking at the Afghan cameleers and I decided to go ahead anyway and do this project and with Tapestries of Sound we recorded our first album which is called Unsung Yarns and that explores the story of the Afghan cameleers. When I got this project, because I'm looking at South Asia and Australia more broadly, I thought I do want to look into the Afghan cameleers and their legacy and – but only through the lens of quadrilles and it so happened that there is a tune that Ted Egan played called ‘Colour Colour’ and it’s a song and it’s also played as a tune and it’s apparently from Afghanistan, the words, there’s words to it that I’m still trying to figure out where they’re from so if anyone is interested in joining me on that venture to find out the words and what they mean let me know.

But in the meantime the tune is beautiful and so we’ve taken that tune and we’ve refigured it with respect to the traditions around the world in a style of Klezmer and southern New Orleans jazz and it’s called Tunes Circling so this is Tunes Circling to the tune of Colour Colour and yeah, we also want to acknowledge that musics in the world have a history of inequality and oppression that we need to acknowledge as we play it and as we celebrate the tunes. So this’ll be our last tune for tonight.



Thank you to Adam Maples for the sounds. That’s his name so you can remember that he’s a really good sound engineer. Big thanks to Jane Edmon who’s not here but really massively helped us produce these flyers like helped to organise these and also looked after us just before we came and it’s her birthday today as well which is why she’s not here. Also want to give a shoutout to Marty Lowenstein. Is Marty Lowenstein here? Congratulations. Marty Lowenstein, can you please stand? This is the 2023 National Folk Fellow. Round of applause.


It’s really lovely to have you here. Over to you.

K:        Thank you, Mahesh, and thank you Tapestries of Sound. Mahesh was with us early in the year and my memory of that experience was the joy that you brought into the office every single day. I’d run into Mahesh in the corridors, how’s it going? Oh it’s wonderful, I'm having the best time and I think tonight we got to experience that joy through the music and through the discoveries that Mahesh made in the collection.

We will wrap up tonight now. I know there are people here who would like to ask questions of Mahesh at the end of the event but thank you all so much for coming. Thank you to the National Folk Festival for supporting the Folk Fellowship with us and thank you – please join me in thanking Mahesh and Tapestries of Sound one more time. Thank you so much.


End of recording

Dr Mahesh White-Radhakrishnan presents their 2022 National Folk Fellowship research that looks at the specific music used for quadrilles in Australia which have historical, thematic or musical links to South Asia and the Indian Ocean

This presentation and showcase of new songs by Dr White-Radhakrishnan will explore mind-blowing links between South Asia, Australia and the world through the lens of quadrille music, including fiddle tunes in Indian classical music, the emergence of syncretic quadrilles in the Indian Ocean and South Asian folk melodies in an 'exotic' quadrille. Drawing on the National Library’s folk music and oral history collection, one can find unique echoes of these tunes within the Australian folk tradition.

Dr Mahesh White-Radhakrishnan is the 2022 National Folk Fellow, jointly supported by the National Folk Festival and the National Library of Australia.

About Dr Mahesh White-Radhakrishnan

Dr Mahesh White-Radhakrishnan is a singer and musician and scholar of music, language and culture based at Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Their studies explore performance traditions spanning South Asia, Ireland and Australia with a current focus on the Portuguese Burgher community of Sri Lanka. In addition to being the 2022 National Folk Fellow (Australia) they are a recipient of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Top 5 (Arts) Media Residency for 2022, co-producer of the podcast Music!Dance!Culture! and founder of the world-folk band Tapestries of Sound. Dr White-Radhakrishnan is passionate about making connections between people through creativity and research on language and music.