BFE One-day Conference 2020

Report by Stephen Wilford

Images by Casandre Balosso-Bardin

On Saturday 7 November, the BFE took its first steps into the world of online conferences with our 2020 One-day conference hosted by the University of Lincoln. With a theme of ‘Ethnomusicology and music enterprise in catastrophic times’, people’s minds were inevitably focused upon the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that this has had upon music academia and musicians around the world. And while many of the papers presented did indeed explore the changing shape of musical practices over the last year, the discussions throughout the day considered the broader musical responses to local, national and international moments of crisis.

If one positive has emerged for our discipline from the pandemic it is surely the increasingly global connections that we are forming with colleagues in other countries, and it was pleasing to see presenters from Israel, Nigeria, Switzerland, and the US, as well as the UK. As ethnomusicology faces increasing pressures here and abroad, in light of economic and political uncertainty, it appears more and more vital that we grow these networks and offer our support to ethnomusicologists and musicians around the world.

A number of themes emerged throughout the day: the power of musical production and listening during the pandemic (Kadupe Sofola, Modupe Oluwadeyi and Pauline Adeolu-Abe; Tal Vaizman; Ellan A. Lincoln-Hyde; Elise Gayraud); the increasing importance of online communication and creativity for musicians (Sarah-Jane Gibson; Lea Hagmann; Sara McGuinness); and local musical responses and reactions to moments of crisis (Jonathan Gregory; Laura Risk; Javier Rivas).

The conference finished with a fantastically engaging and thought-provoking keynote from Queen’s University Belfast’s Ioannis Tsioulakis, who explored musical labour and charted the struggles faced by Greek popular musicians from the economic ‘Greek Crisis’ to the current pandemic. Later in the evening, the BFE hosted Ioannis’s book launch for his new monograph Musicians in Crisis: Working and Playing in the Greek Popular Music Industry (Routledge, 2020).

We clearly do not currently know when we will be able to meet again for another face-to-face conference with our colleagues, and we are all undoubtedly missing the social aspect of our BFE events calendar. However, this conference showed that we can continue to host stimulating ethnomusicological conversations, and the online format enabled us to bring together in the region of seventy scholars from around the world.

I would like to finish by thanking my fellow members of the conference’s local arrangements committee, including Lonán Ó Briain (University of Nottingham) and Rob Dean (University of Lincoln) for all their hard work. Special thanks are due to Cassandre Balosso-Bardin (University of Lincoln) who proposed the conference and did the bulk of the work in organising and facilitating such a wonderful event – you have the thanks of the entire BFE! 

Steve Wilford

University of Cambridge/Wolfson College Cambridge