Where the River Meets the Sea: Music Tourism and the Production of Westernness

To celebrate and extend the discussions engendered by the peer-reviewed articles in Ethnomusicology Review Volume 19, the editors are pleased to offer responses to these articles by scholars working on related themes in music research. This submission by Amalia C. Mora is a response to David Cashman's "Corporately Imposed Music Cultures: An Ethnography of Cruise Ship Bands."

Photo above: Goan dancers dressing for the corridinho, a Portuguese folk dance.

Cruise ships and tour boats are fascinating modes of transportation that become attractions in and of themselves. Man is a land animal; being on or around water can feel otherworldly to human beings. My research concerns cultural heritage performance on tour boats in the small, tropical state of Goa in India. Tourists I interviewed during my research suggest that when they float downstream on a boat, they feel unfixed, unbound by the demands of everyday life. Cruise ships and boats are therefore important contexts in which to study musico-cultural production because they function as non-ordinary or extra-ordinary spaces that invite cultural change and fabrication.

David Cashman’s article addresses how the simulation of westernness, in particular through music performance, is central to the (western) cruise ship experience. Ultimately, it seems, cruise ship performances aim to present a kind of sameness that is easily recognized by, and is thus appealing to, its mostly western passengers (i.e., westernness-as-sameness). Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (1995) notes that tourist industries around the world decide how much and what kind of sameness to offer different tourist audiences that are targeted. Because, as Cashman notes, most cruise ship passengers are interested in relaxing and impressing friends, cruise ships feature activities that symbolize relaxation in the west: spas, pools, video game rooms, light rock and jazz band entertainment. However, Cashman suggests that in order to impress others, it is also important that the tourists relax in a way that “is seen by others as exotic.” While these tourists seek out and are presented with sameness, in other words, a tinge of difference is important too.

My own research makes for an interesting comparison. Just like western cruise ships, the Goan tourist industry also caters to visitors who seek varying levels of sameness and difference. However, in this case, we are dealing with alternative kinds of sameness and difference, since the Goan tourism business is largely aimed at domestic (Indian) tourists, who make up roughly 75% of visitors in Goa today.[1] Therefore, the Goan tourist industry relies on the production of westernness-as-difference. Allow me to briefly explain how this works.  Because of the influence of Portuguese colonialism (1510-1961) on Goan music, dress, religion, and language, the small Indian state is seen as “westernized” and therefore “exotic” in the national Indian imagination.  The Indian and Goan tourist and media industries capitalize on this widespread reputation by portraying Goa as a paradise populated by bikini-clad western women, wine-guzzling Goan Romeos, and skirt-wearing, mambo-dancing Goan women who are as familiar with the Catholic rosary as they are with puja.[2] In other words, tourist industries draw from notions of a non-traditional and “western” moral looseness and strive to help visitors encounter or even experience this looseness firsthand.[3]

Music has become intrinsic to the idea of Goa as a land of laid-back pleasure-seekers. This is due, in part, to the influence of western harmony and instrumentation on music in Goa (in other words, Goan hybrid music genres sonically symbolize the west). Furthermore, many Goans are literate in western notation, as Portuguese missionaries used music instruction as a method of religious conversion. This music literacy helped Goans become the most sought-after and prolific jazz band and film music musicians in Mumbai during the 20th century. As a result, Goans in general are often equated with professional entertainers, who have, until very recently in India, been regarded as morally ambiguous at best, disreputable at worst. It is thus not surprising that music functions as an important symbol of Goa’s difference in touristic contexts aimed at a domestic clientele.[4] Excursions and holiday packages marketed at Indian tourists often include day trips to beaches, churches, Portuguese forts, and old “Latin” quarters, which allow Indian tourists to experience the kind of westernness attributed to Goa as difference. One of the most well-known and popular activities for Indian tourists is a boat ride on the river Mandovi in the capital city of Panjim. During the trip, young men and women perform various Goan dances to pre-recorded music; in between these dance numbers the audience members are invited to come on the stage and dance to Bollywood hit songs. One of the three boats at the center is particularly adept at delivering this kind of difference to the passengers. Performances on this boat are dominated by western or western-influenced dance styles: the corridinho, a Portuguese folk dance; deknni, a dance form developed by the Goan Catholic elites to nostalgically reimagine their lost Hindu past; and jive, a lively adaptation of the jitterbug.

Two dancers pose dressed for a deknni performance.

A jive performance in Goa.

It is important to note that the absence of live musicians helps to frame tour boat performances as “dance numbers.” This is significant because ever since 19th century nationalist reform movements, lower-class female professional performers, in particular dancers, have been associated with prostitution or, at the very least, a disreputable licentiousness (Bakhle 2005; Bor 2013; Chakravorty 2008; Morcom 2014; Weidman 2006). Indeed, many men from more socially conservative areas in India take the boat tours because they assume that the dancers are prostitutes, and as a result, dancers are often sexually harassed and propositioned for sex. Ultimately, these dancers and the styles they perform establish a climate of social and moral freedom that helps to satisfy the desire for (western) difference that many Indian tourists seek in Goa.

A dancer peers through a curtain at the audience.

While Goan tour boat performances thus emphasize westernness, this difference is domesticated within a context of national Indianness.  A number of young non-Goan Indian tourists I spoke to mentioned that many Indians fantasize about moving to Goa one day; the Indianness of the tour boats is important because it helps young tourists to imagine themselves—slightly, but not completely transformed—in the Goan environment within an Indian frame of reference. The audience dances that take place in between the professional ones are part of this process of imagining; tourists are able to dance publicly to a type of music (Bollywood music) that represents Indianness and western sensuality at the same time. While at first sight, the tour boat shows merely combine entertainment with heritage performance, they thus freely alternate and effectively integrate notions of westernness and Indianness. I therefore propose that this form of cultural production is characterized by a relatively fluid Indo-Westernness.

Events that take place on the water—in this case music tourism performances on cruise ships and on river boats—carry a special kind of symbolic weight. On the sea or the river, human beings are momentarily removed from the everyday reality most people experience. In literature, the sea tends to be portrayed as a liminal geography, a space where the norms that dictate life on land don’t hold. Port towns are often depicted as places where strangers come and go, bringing with them behaviors from “home” that may be considered abnormal elsewhere. Now codified as national music genres, fado and tango were originally conceptualized to be as amoral as the port town brothel cultures within which they developed and flourished. It is fitting that a context defined by its relationship to water would invite cultural fluidity, movement, abnormality, and change. The kind of post-modernism or post-tourism that, for better or worse, thrives on the fabrication of sameness and difference. And so too do the pocket books of those with high stakes in the tourist industry.



Bakhle, Janaki. 2005. Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 

Bor, Joep. 2010. Hindustani Music from the Thirteenth to Twentieth Centuries. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers & Distributors.

Chakravorty, Pallabi. 2008. Bells of Change: Kathak Dance, Women and Modern India. New York: Seagull Books.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. 1990. “Theorizing Heritage.” Ethnomusicology 39:367-380.

Mankekar, Purnima. 1999. Screening Culture, Viewing Politics: An Ethnography of Television, Womanhood, and Nation in Postcolonial India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 

Morcom, Anna. 2014. Illicit Worlds of Indian Dance: Cultures of Exclusion. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Saldanha, Arun. 2007. Psychedelic White: Goa Trance and the Viscosity of Race. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Srivastava, Sanjay. 2007. Passionate Modernity: Sexuality, Class and Consumption in India. New Delhi: Routledge. 

Weidman, Amanda. 2006. Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India. Calcutta: Seagull Books.

[1] Statistics provided by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation.

[2] Puja is the Hindu practice of honoring and providing offerings to the Gods.

[3] See Mankekar (1999) and Srivastava (2007) for a discussion on westerness as “non-traditional.”

[4] In contrast, Goa trance functions as an important symbol of sameness for western tourists. See Saldanha (2007).


Amalia Clarice Mora is a PhD candidate in UCLA’s Department of Ethnomusicology, as well as a writer and classical singer. Her dissertation research examines the intersections of touristic desire, class, and gender within the context of music heritage tourism in India. She has performed as a featured vocalist at the Barcelona Festival of Song and on film soundtracks, and her writing on the relationship between gender and race has been published on the online journal, The Feminist Wire.


"Sounding Board" is intended as a space for scholars to publish thoughts and observations about their current work. These postings are not peer reviewed and do not reflect the opinion of Ethnomusicology Review. We support the expression of controversial opinions, and welcome civil discussion about them. We do not, however, tolerate overt discrimination based on race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, and reserve the right to remove posts that we feel might offend our readers.