It is rare that a book offers an original literary experience while extending the boundaries of experimental ethnography. The Voice in the Drum is a hybrid work of fictional ethnography that alternately reads like a historical novel, a survey of drumming traditions, a multi-layered cultural analysis, and a fieldwork diary in exploring its core theme: the overlapping relationships of melody, rhythm, and text in Islamic ritual practice. Richard Wolf grounds this text in meticulous fieldwork and erudite social analysis. Based on over twenty years of research with diverse musical communities, this is a landmark publication in the ethnomusicology of South Asia that focuses on Islamic ritual and on “sounds … seldom taken seriously as music, and practitioners [not] accorded much respect” (p. 7).

Wolf narrates a good portion of this multi-sited ethnography in the voice of a fictional protagonist, Muharram Ali, who first came to him in a dream in...

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