Research Seminar: Mahesh Radhakrishnan

Portuguese Burgher káfriinha and the “bailasphere”


"In this seminar I discuss the music of Sri Lankan Portuguese Burghers, in particular a genre of dance music known as kaffringha which in Sri Lanka Portuguese is called káfriinha. I outline the aspects of the melody and rhythm of kaffringha and make some preliminary comparisons of recent performances recorded as part of an ongoing language, music and dance documentation project (Cardoso 2017) and archival material with other historically connected forms within the Indian ocean, particularly Sri Lankan baila (also known as baila kaffringha), Afro-Sri Lankan manja, music from Daman, Goa, Melaka and Macau, a domain where interesting circulations of language and culture have recently begun to be explored and understood (Jackson 1990; Cardoso 2011). Particular points of similarity around specific tunes and other musical, will be highlighted and, in some cases, trajectories of influence will be proposed. Looking further afield this paper will touch on aspects of these musical and dance forms which are also present in other traditional creolised forms of music and dance in Mauritius, the Reunion Islands and Seychelles, which together with the forms with direct Portuguese cultural connections comprise a broad category of related genres with common musical and kinetic reference which I refer to as the “bailasphere”. This an area regarding which scholars have commented on circulating flows of influence and have called for deeper exploration (Kabir 2014:115; de Silva Jayasuriya 2017:22-23)."


Cardoso, H. C. (2011). Oral traditions of the Luso-Asian communities: Local, regional, and continental. Portuguese and Luso-Asian Legacies in Southeast Asia, 1511-2011: Culture and identity in the Luso-Asian world, tenacities & plasticities, 5, 143.


Cardoso, H. C. (2017). Documentation of Sri Lanka Portuguese. Retrieved from


de Silva Jayasuriya, S. (2017). Lost Narratives and Hybrid Identities in the Indian Ocean: Afro-Asians.

Indialogs, 4, 11-26.


Jackson, K. D. (1990). Sing without shame: oral traditions in Indo-Portuguese Creole verse: with transcription and analysis of a nineteenth-century manuscript of Ceylon Portuguese (Vol. 5): John Benjamins Publishing.


Kabir, A. J. (2014). Oceans, cities, islands: sites and routes of Afro-diasporic rhythm

cultures. Atlantic Studies, 11(1), 106-124.




Mahesh Radhakrishnan is an anthropological linguist, ethnomusicologist and a musician. He holds a PhD in Linguistics and is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Centro de Linguística da Universidade de Lisboa and Visiting Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University.

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