BFE Book Prize

This is a biennial prize that recognises outstanding scholarship in ethnomusicology for a monograph or edited collection written in English. 

The 2024 BFE Book Prize is awarded to Hettie Malcomson (University of Southampton) for her monograph Danzón Days: Age, Race, and romance in Mexico. As there was a strong consensus in the prize panel that this book was the outright winner, they made the unusual decision not to award a Commendation Prize this year. Danzón Days is a powerful ethnography of a racialized dance culture in coastal Mexico, which focuses largely on elder amateur dancers. The book makes valuable contributions to ethnomusicology and to further fields of study, including dance studies, choreomusicology, Latin American Studies, and African Diasporic Studies. It is a mature piece of scholarship based on years of engagement with the communities and an abundance of interdisciplinary secondary literature, resulting in layered observations about social dynamics, and writing that is deeply insightful and empathic, yet also critical. The book focuses on a notably under-researched demographic group of mostly mestizo (mixed-race) people who are generally not considered to be part of the African diaspora nor of Indigenous nations. Through engaging this community over many years, Malcomson contends with a range of complex group dynamics involving race, gender, age, ability and power on multidimensional and nuanced levels. Malcomson describes the ways that dance groups create spaces where liaisons can take place, yet, crisscrossed with different levels of liberty or restriction relating to gender and marital status. Throughout the book, ethnography, social critique, and the analysis of music and dance are integrated with sharpness and eloquence. 

About the author:

Dr Hettie Malcomson is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Social Anthropology at the University of Southampton. Hettie is interested in what the ethnographic study of music tells us about social concerns. Her last project examined what Mexican danzón tells us about race, age, gender, status and ambivalence. She is currently developing a project in Mexico, funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, in which rap music tells us how disenfranchised youth experience, promote and critique the intense violence and criminality they are subject to. These projects have highlighted that we need to know more about how musicians and researchers are engaging with risk.

Huge congratulations, Hettie!

2024 Prize Committee: Anna Morcom (Chair) (UCLA), Juan Diego Diaz (University of California, Davis) and Ilana Webster-Kogen (SOAS).

Previous BFE Book Prizewinners:


The 2022 BFE Book Prize is awarded to Rachel Harris (SOAS) has been awarded the 2022 BFE Book Prize for her 2020 book Soundscapes of Uyghur Islam. This book represents a multi-sited ethnography of ‘densely layered, heterophonic and often mediated’ soundscapes with reference to Sufi Muslims who live both within and outside of the highly contested Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of northwest China. Courageous, timely and keenly observed, the author draws history, politics and religion into a richly textured ethnomusicological study about shifting gendered soundscapes of agency, subjectivity, representation and power. Following a concise historical contextualisation and accessible theoretical review, she focuses on four subjects in a highly structured fashion: 1] the performance of Hikmät; 2] the recitation of the Qur’an; 3] the circulation of artefacts and 4] the role of sonic territorialisation. The monograph is supported by elegant ethnographic vignettes and concise musical analyses, the sections on orality and literacy, and on song and dance being especially informative. In short, this is a beautifully written and deeply persuasive book. The panel agreed unanimously and independently that the submission should be awarded the BFE prize in question.

About the author:

Rachel Harris is Director of Research, School of Arts, and Professor in Ethnomusicology, Department of Music, at SOAS University of London. Her research is centred on China and Central Asia, and especially on the Uyghurs. She has conducted fieldwork in Xinjiang, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan over a period of twenty years. Rachel's work focuses on intangible cultural heritage, music and Islam, soundscapes, and state projects of territorialisation. She works in applied ways with performance and transmission projects, including concerts, workshops, and recording projects.

A Special Commendation goes to Juan Diego Díaz (UC Davis) for his 2021 book Africanness in Action: Essentialism and Musical Imaginations of Africa in Brazil. The book focuses on ‘tropes of Africanness’ in self-identification and musical expression in the northeastern state of Bahia in Brazil. Focusing on six musical stereotypes (namely: rhythmicity, percussiveness, embodiment, spirituality, spontaneity and collectivism), the author analyses well-chosen case studies, building evidence from both discourse and music analysis in dialogue with various essentialisms of African history and identity. Here, he demonstrates how different interlocutors navigate prescriptive dualisms associated with local ‘tropes of Africanness’ (such as erudite vs popular or Bantu vs Yoruba) to imagine their own conceptualisations of an African hearth in an American diaspora. Simply put, this is a beautifully written and profoundly impressive work which offers a critically reflexive and nuanced postcolonial representation of African music in the Black diaspora.

About the author:

Juan Diego Díaz is an ethnomusicologist with a geographic research interest in Africa and its diaspora, particularly Brazil and West Africa. He explores how African diasporic musics circulate and transform across the Atlantic and how they serve individuals and communities in identity formation. Juan Diego is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at UC Davis. Prior to UC Davis, he held posts as a lecturer at the University of Ghana and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Essex, the latter funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Many congratulations to Rachel and Juan Diego!

2022 Prize Committee: John O'Connell (Chair), Benjamin Tausig and Angela Impey.


The 2020 BFE Book Prize is awarded to Benjamin Tausig for his 2019 book Bangkok is Ringing: Sound, Protest, and Constraint (New York: OUP). Benjamin Tausig’s monograph Bangkok is Ringing is a vivid, theoretically innovative ethnographic contribution to sound studies that listens attentively to the Red Shirt social protest movement in Thailand c. 2010. Tausig sets out to examine the ‘knots of music, morality, dissent, and money that entangled Red Shirt performers and listeners’ (p. 23). With great skill and dynamism, he leads the reader through a set of sonic niches, which collectively provide a vibrant portrait of the manifold sounds of protest. Unfolding over 16 chapters of provocatively differing lengths and through cleverly varied storytelling techniques, the book is laden with new questions and innovative perspectives. It radically expands the scope of what we interrogate as music and sound, to encompass activities such as megaphone speech and song, whistling, and vending cries. Moving beyond celebratory narratives of ‘protest songs’, Tausig insists that we also hear sound as ‘constraint’ as it becomes ‘transduced, refracted, and circulated simultaneously within architectures of concrete and semantics.’ (p. 4) These architectures, Tausig argues convincingly, ‘erect barriers to what sound can do and where it can go.’ (ibid). Through the lens of an ethnography of protest, the book speaks to different audiences by offering novel understandings of musical economies. It serves as a rich and vivid historical document, and it affirms the political centrality of ethnomusicological research at a turbulent global moment. Tausig’s Bangkok is Ringing is superbly written—it turns its own pages—and admirably represents the best new writing in ethnomusicology today.

About the author:

Benjamin Tausig's research focuses on music, sound, and political protest in Bangkok, Thailand and New York City, among other places. His first monograph, Bangkok Is Ringing: Sound, Protest, and Constraint, was published in 2019 by Oxford University Press. With a particular emphasis on urban space, Tausig has given attention to sonic media in contexts of political upheaval. He has published and taught about the musical activity of military psychological operations units, on "protest music" as a genre, and on dissent and neoliberalism, among other topics. Tausig's interdisciplinary interests combine ethnomusicology, sound studies, media studies, and geography. His work has appeared in the journals Social TextCulture, Theory, & Critique (in a special issue devoted to music and neoliberalism), Twentieth-Century Music, and Positions: Asia Critique. He is currently working on a second book about the history of American soldiers in Thailand and Thai music during the Vietnam War. He is an Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University, and his website is

The Commendation goes to Angela Impey's 2018 book Song Walking: Women, Music, and Environmental Justice in an African Borderland (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). The prize panel found this to be a stylish, compelling and moving ethnography-cum ethnographic history of Maputaland women who sing, walk and play isitweletwele mouth harp, Angela Impey’s Song Walking is a beautifully composed book. As readers we were struck by its adroit theoretical and practical turns, not least the musical mapping that Impey carried out alongside her consultants. The book’s multimodal storytelling combines a fascinating sung historiography of the region with a cultural cartography that emphasizes kinetic memory in a contested and politicised environment. Singing while walking, as Impey evocatively shows, ‘is a daily performance that weaves women into a rhythm of women’s histories and relationships’ (p. 80). Through riveting embodied narratives, the book invites us to hear women’s walking songs ‘as geopolitical testimony’ (p. 195) at a time when neoliberal ‘green’ policies render their voices inaudible. Song Walking addresses key issues in today’s world, including women’s rights, environmental access and the inequities of conservation practices and rhetorics. It’s a seeringly honest account which avoids easy answers.

About the author:

Angela Impey is Reader in Ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London, Chair of SOAS Music and Convenor of the MA Music in Development. Her research addresses music as oral history and political testimony, and focuses on land, gender and environmental justice in southern Africa and the African Horn. Her monograph, Song Walking: Women, Music and Environmental Justice in an African Borderland (University of Chicago Press, 2018) won the 2019 Society for Ethnomusicology Marcia Herndon Book Prize for gender and sexualities, and was first runner-up for the African Studies Association's Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize. She is currently working on a co-edited volume on Music and Human Rights (Routledge Companion Series, in association with Routledge SOAS Studies in Music) and conducting research on ethno-ornithology, climate change and the soundworlds of the KhoeSan of western Namibia.

Huge congratulations to Benjamin and Angela!

2020 Prize Committee: Ioannis Tsioulakis (Chair), Britta Sweers and Jonathan Stock.


The 2018 BFE Book Prize is awarded to Noriko Manabe’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Protest Music after Fukushima. It is an ethnography of music in the antinuclear movement in Japan after the devastating nuclear disaster of 2011. Manabe examines the different kinds of spaces in which protest unfolds in Japan including, crucially, cyberspace, and she shows how musicians and protestors work around significant constraints on their activities. She writes that

Cyberspace has redefined the geographical and temporal limits of these spaces. When television stations repeatedly failed to broadcast antinuclear protests, citizens took it upon themselves to twitcast them in real time or upload videos and photos of them, creating an extensive archive. Cyberspace greatly expanded the reach of these protests, allowing people to participate in them from other places and observe them at another time in playback. … On the other hand, because of cyberspace, festivals are no longer the separate environments they once were; through Twitter, people outside of the festival site have a view into the events and performances and can criticize or attack artists, audience members, or the festival itself. … Although anonymity in cyberspace allows citizens to be more open about their political views, the disembodied nature of cyberspace also causes people to behave in a more brutal manner toward others.

In this moment of heightened and anxious scrutiny of cyberspace as a forum for both activism and manipulation, Manabe’s book offers a thoughtful ethnographic look at a specific context for music and political action, in a variety of spaces both physical and virtual.



The Commendation goes to David F. Garcia’s Listening for Africa: Freedom, Modernity, and the Logic of Black Music's African Origins. The book focuses on the 1930s through 1950s, showing how key actors deliberately linked black music and dance to ideas about ‘Africa’ and ‘nature’ as part of a strategy to ‘help realize modernity’s promises of freedom in the face of fascism and racism in Europe and the Americas, colonialism in Africa, and the nuclear threat at the start of the Cold War.’ But the unintended effect was to reinforce binaries between white and black, modern and primitive. ‘Black music and dance’ Garcia argues, ‘were not merely products of New World Negro or black Atlantic history but instead formed, from their affective materializations as movement and sound, a historical map with time and race.’


Many congratulations Noriko and David!

2018 Prize Committee: Frederick Moehn (Chair), Laudan Nooshin and Frances Wilkins.


This prestigious award was presented at the BFE Annual General Meeting during the BFE annual conference at Kent (April 2016). The BFE book committee (Trevor Wiggins, Rachel Harris, and Chloe Alaghband-Zadeh) worked long and hard during the selection process, and were impressed by the extremely high quality of many of the books. The books were written by authors from diverse institutional backgrounds on subjects spanning the breadth of the current ethnomusicological field. The BFE is grateful to all those who submitted books to this competition and looks forward to future contributions.


Winner of the BFE Book Prize 2016: Nooshin, Laudan. Iranian Classical Music. The Discourses and Practice of Creativity. Ashgate Press, 2015.

Iranian Classical Music is the product of a long journey by the author from her PhD to recent research, revisited in the light of post-colonial theory, and interrogates many aspects of theory through the lens of the study of musicians and their practices. It aims to understand musical creativity as meaningful social practice, to find an approach through Iranian creative practice that overcomes the composition/improvisation dualism and undoes the logic of alterity. As well as the detailed engagement and analysis of Iranian music, this monograph is located within a theoretical discourse that includes issues relevant to all ethnomusicological research, including a critique of binaries (ethno/musicology, West/East, folk/art, us/them, individual/collective), connections between musical and linguistic cognitive processes, music/linguistic grammars, the motor/body creative impetus, and defining terminology when moving between languages. The structure of the book is clear and logical and the notational examples are fully supported with an included CD. The writing style is very clear, dealing with complex issues and explaining them, showing great awareness of issues of language and communication with a wide readership.


Laudan Nooshin is Reader in Ethnomusicology in the Music Department at City University London, UK. Her research interests include creative processes in Iranian music; music and youth culture in Iran; music and gender; neo/post-colonialism and Orientalism; and music in Iranian cinema. Recent publications include Iranian Classical Music: The Discourses and Practice of Creativity (Ashgate Press, 2015), the edited volumes Music and the Play of Power in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia (2009, Ashgate Press) and The Ethnomusicology of Western Art Music (2013, Routledge), as well as book chapters and journal articles in Iranian StudiesEthnomusicology Forum and the Journal of the Royal Musical Association. Laudan is currently on the Editorial Boards of the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication (Brill) and Ethnomusicology Forum (Routledge). She is also a Council Member of the Royal Musical Association. From 2006–9 she was a member of the International Advisory Panel of the Journal of the Royal Musical Association and between 2007–11 was co-Editor of Ethnomusicology Forum


Commendation Book Prize 2016: Villepastour, Amanda. The Yorùbá God of Drumming. Transatlantic Perspectives on the Wood that Talks. University Press of Mississippi, 2015. 


The Yorùbá God of Drumming is a multifaceted book with an emphasis on collaboration, deeply immersed in Yorùbá studies. It shows meticulous attention to detail and is densely referenced, with a strong sense of passion for the subject. It supports writing from practitioners whose voices might otherwise not be heard, including them as the authors rather than informants, showing impressive editorial skill in making this a coherent book while retaining a diversity of experience and communication styles.


Amanda Villepastour trained as a composer at University of Western Australia then forged her first career as a keyboardist and songwriter with artists including Boy George, the Gang of Four, and Billy Bragg. Since completing her PhD in ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London (2006), about sacred drumming in Nigeria and Cuba, she served as a founding curator at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona. Villepastour is now a teacher/researcher in the School of Music, Cardiff University, Wales, and is the author of Ancient Text Messages of the Yorùbá Bàtá Drum (Ashgate 2010).




Congratulations Laudan and Amanda!


1st winner of the BFE Book Prize (2014):

Novak, David. Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

Japanoise, Novak, David, 1st winner of the BFE Book Prize (2014):


This prestigious award was presented at the BFE Annual General Meeting during the BFE annual conference at SOAS (July 2014). The BFE book committee (Martin Stokes, Simon Mills, and Hettie Malcomson) worked long and hard during the selection process, and were impressed by the extremely high quality of many of the books. In total, 17 monographs and 9 edited volumes were received, totalling 26 books, published in 2012 or 2013. The books were written by authors from diverse institutional backgrounds on subjects spanning the breadth of the current ethnomusicological field. Over half of these books were published by UK presses, with entries also with Chinese, German and US publishers. The BFE is grateful to all those who submitted books to this competition and looks forward to future contributions.  It especially wishes to thank the three judges who reviewed the submissions: Martin Stokes (Kings College London), Simon Mills (Durham University), and Hettie Malcomson, chair (Southampton University).