News archive


War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan: The Ethnographer’s Tale
Professor John Baily, Goldsmiths
Tuesday 13 October at 5.30pm

In the 1970s John Baily conducted extensive ethnomusicological research in Afghanistan, principally in the city of Herat but also in Kabul. Then, with Taraki’s coup in 1978, came conflict, war, and the dispersal of many musicians to locations far and wide. This new publication is the culmination of Baily’s further research on Afghan music over the 35 years that followed. This took him to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, the USA, Australia and parts of Europe - London, Hamburg and Dublin. Arranged chronologically, the narrative traces the sequence of political events - from 1978, through the Soviet invasion, to the coming of the Taliban and, finally, the aftermath of the US-led invasion in 2001. He examines the effects of the ever-changing situation on the lives and works of Afghan musicians, following individual musicians in fascinating detail. At the heart of his analysis are privileged vignettes of ten musical personalities - some of friends, and some newly discovered. The result is a remarkable personal memoir by an eminent ethnomusicologist known for his deep commitment to Afghanistan, Afghan musicians and Afghan musical culture. John Baily is also an ethnographic filmmaker. Four of his films relating to his research are included on the DVD that accompanies the text.

Published by Ashgate, book details available here.

The event is free, but tickets must be booked.  To book tickets please go to


by Keith Howard, ICTM UK Liaison Officer, BFE Committee Member

Astana was the first time that the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, the UK Affiliate National Committee to the ICTM, held a ‘high tea’ at the ICTM Conference. For some years, the BFE has held ‘high teas’ at conferences of the Society for Ethnomusicology (and, it is rumoured, that at the 2016 BFE conference – announced elsewhere in this newsletter – the SEM will offer a reciprocal ice cream cart … helping to firm up (rather than freeze) our developing relationship!). It was felt that the time was right to strengthen the BFE ties to the ICTM. Holding a British ‘high tea’ in Central Asia is not easy, given the challenges of transporting scones, Cornish cream and strawberry jam across several thousand miles. Tea was easily sourced from our Kazakh hosts, but in place of scones and trimmings, we had to substitute some delicious biscuits from Fortnum and Masons. This actually had an unforseen bonus, since I am reliably informed by somebody close to the ICTM Secretariat that one biscuit tin is now in the process of being transformed into the body for a guitar. However, somewhere between Heathrow and Astana, customs (or was it a customs dog?) took a fancy to exploring the case in which the tins of biscuits were being shipped, and opened some to check that they really were British biscuits being sent to Astana, rather than anything more potent).


ICTM High Tea Party


Around 100 ICTM conference delegates attended. The event gave us the chance to underline the historical close relation between the two bodies – both ICTM and BFE were set up in London, and one of the board members of both in their early years was Maud Karpeles – and to celebrate the number of member from one organisation who attend the conferences of the second organisation. BFE announced its bi-annual book prize (for monographs published in 2014 and 2015), its upcoming one-day and annual conferences, and the journal set up and edited by the BFE, Ethnomusicology Forum, now published by Taylor and Francis. Please see the BFE website for more details (

The BFE high tea at Astana was, it is hoped, the first of many such events, as the two organisations build a closer, mutually supporting, relationship.


ICTM Astana Traditional Performance


14 Sep 2015

Last week Rachel Beckles Willson (Royal Holloway) travelled to Calais. The visit was an extension of her work with refugees in London (a non-musical concern); but it connected with her earlier research on musical missions to Palestine, as well as her current research on the oud. We asked her to write a note of her experiences to share on the BFE page.



From Rachel:

I went to Calais mainly to further my understanding of the refugee situation in Europe, but I arranged to meet up with other visitors including Ed Emery, who coordinates the SOAS Arabic Band and who recently recruited for his work in Calais through BFE. So I took my oud, an instrument that is played in many of the countries the migrants have travelled from – albeit with different music in different ways. I travelled with another oud player, Francesco Iannuzzelli; we also had a darbuka. We took our instruments into three spaces: a small camp of around 100 Syrian nationals near the centre of Calais, the space in front of the Calais Town Hall, and the so-called ‘Jungle’ outside Calais, where an estimated 4000 people are living mainly in tents. I put together 8 points about what we did, also reflecting on what ethnomusicologists might offer in such camps.

1. Some people smiled and reached out for the instruments on sight. Some were immediately able to play the oud and were joined by others singing; some may never have held an oud but tried it out. The darbuka attracted the same attention and could dramatically transform the atmosphere, triggering dancing and singing; extraordinary energy emerged at such moments. Several people asked us to give them or sell them the instruments: had we had more we could have left them there or – for a longer investment – set up a lending arrangement in situ.

2. The experience of live music was sometimes visibly cheering, particularly when the music was recognisable. Some requested particular songs, whether by singing them to us or by streaming them on their phones for us to learn on the spot. The same process could also trigger grief, however: memories of worlds left behind were extremely painful. Musicians may be able to contribute to the establishment of new memories: moments of sharing and exchange that could be built on further. Some took photographs and videos of us on their phones and some wanted to be videoed together with us: they were creating new private / sharable archives.

3. We joined two demonstrations by migrants held on the steps of Calais Town Hall. Providing music at these moments was a statement of solidarity from Europe that is largely absent in Calais. It made one demonstration noisier, because the darbuka not only provided extra sound, but made the chanting group more energetic. It seems to have been this that led the police to move the demonstrators off the Town Hall steps and into the square in front. This was patently an anxious territorial move. In other words, the demo was not merely a background noise: it had an impact (even if a tiny one). Greater planning and coordination could lead to music being sufficiently disruptive to cause other change. In Spring 2015 a concert organised by the SOAS Arabic Band allowed Sudanese migrants to develop the music they knew right there in a Calais venue: effectively they took over the space (

4. The music making led to conversations in which there was an opportunity to help. Many people envisage a move to the UK as a move to safety. I warned them that the UK is uniquely draconian in the EU because it operates a system of ‘indefinite detention’. Those categorised as ‘illegal’ – or merely awaiting categorization – are incarcerated in a UK-wide network of Immigration Removal Centres without any time limit. (I will not forget the hollowed-out shock on the faces of the people to whom I explained this.) So the next step is to link migrants to sources of expert advice. I met two lawyers from the UK who were setting up an advisory team to support migrants seeking asylum, so such linking is possible on the ground.

5. Being able to play or sing some popular melodies from places the people have travelled from is an initial key to making contact, to generating interest and enthusiasm. Musicians with sufficient expertise may help people remember, develop or even learn music / dance traditions from the regions they come from. The more varied and flexible one’s expertise, the more one can support. At the same time, if this expertise includes knowledge of languages, one can do much more than help affirm group identity. Migrants need help in communicating across groups on all levels: there are challenges from basic day-to-day arrangements right up to learning legal rights. Language bridging is crucial.

6. I met people who were born in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Philippines and Sudan. With more instruments and more time people in the camp can find ways of making music together across differences. (There is really very little to do.) Musicians and instruments spending time sensitively in communal areas (such as food queues) allow things to happen. Music may trigger mixing across the groups; it can also trigger immense activity from one particular group, which comes to dominate. We experienced both. Ideally, this would be a gateway to something else: connecting people to language resources, including lessons.

7. There are multiple ways of getting the voices of the migrants out in ways that may help Europe come to terms with the current situation. The examples I know are impressive, touching, and challenging. Follow these links:

Music from the migrant population of Calais

Mapping Syria from Calais

Concert / jam with Sudanese in Calais

With some thought and energy, these could be expanded. The question is perhaps how best to transform such resources into ideas that can be spread more widely and thus shift public opinion. Ed Emery is very keen to expand a musical presence in Calais and would love to hear from people wanting to be involved. Write to him on

8. Finally, there is the obvious academic task of documenting the situation and reflecting on our own role within it for the benefit of other thinkers. Playing music is one thing, but playing music with this in mind is something else. Edward W. Said argued that intellectuals should seek out ‘the intellectual meaning of a situation’, by which he meant they should recognise what is happening as ‘part of an unfolding history whose broad contours includes one’s own nation as an actor’. ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ was for him about weighing up options and making decisions about what needed saying, and then ‘intelligently representing it where it can do the most good and cause the right change’. Finding the spaces, and the musics and languages in which to be effective is challenging for all of us.



For the second year running, the BFE is delighted to announce joint winners of the prize for the best BFE student paper, which this year were delivered at the BFE/SFE Conference in Paris (2–5 July 2015). From the submissions received, the panel felt that two were particularly deserving winners. We would like to offer our congratulations to both Cassandre Balosso-Bardin and Deirdre Morgan, whose papers, though very different from one another, were nevertheless difficult to separate in terms of excellence. We would also like to extend thanks to everyone who submitted a paper this year, and encourage students to submit papers for consideration next year in 2016.

Joint prize winner:

Cassandre Balosso-Bardin (SOAS)



From Paris to London – Learning Ethnomusicology on Both Sides of the Channel

This paper is a thoughtful and well-written investigation of bi-cultural music education in both the UK and France. Acknowledging that the perspective is not one of music education, the author vividly compares many key differences in Ethnomusicology and music learning methods, practices and syllabi at four different institutions, basing much of the argument on detailed self-reflexive experience and observation.

The conference delivery of this bespoke paper itself was excellent, and it seems difficult to imagine a paper more nicely calibrated to the 2015 joint conference and its theme of border crossing. It is well–researched and stands in real dialogue with other writing on ethnomusicology programmes (such as Krüger and Solis). The paper provoked much discussion about academic practices in the UK and in France. It is a very good resource for researchers interested in academic institutional practices.

Revival/Continuation: Paradigms of Transmission and Boundaries of Knowledge in the Norwegian Munnharpe Smithing Tradition

This very well and clearly-written paper compares the transmission paradigms of both the munnharpe playing tradition and the munnharpe smithing tradition, while attempting to understand the ‘enigmatic Norwegian playing style’ with particular reference to traditions of the region of Setesdal in Southwestern Norway.

The paper makes a solid argument about the importance of not only recordings but instrument makers – and archival film recordings of instrument makers – in the contemporary transmission of styles.
It identifies very interesting links between instruments, instrument builders, musicians, recordings, transmission and future generation. The paper is a good resource for researchers interested in Norwegian music.

Joint prize winner:

Deirdre Morgan (SOAS)



New book!
Thomas Hilder: "Sámi Musical Performance and the Politics of Indigeneity in Northern Europe"

The Sámi are Europe’s only recognized indigenous people living across regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Kola peninsula. The subjects of a history of Christianization, land dispossession, and cultural assimilation, the Sámi have through their self-organization since World War II worked towards Sámi political self-determination across the Nordic states and helped forge a global indigenous community. Accompanying this process was the emergence of a Sámi music scene, in which the revival of the distinct and formerly suppressed unaccompanied vocal tradition of joik was central. Through joiking with instrumental accompaniment, incorporating joik into forms of popular music, performing on stage and releasing recordings, Sámi musicians have played a key role in articulating a Sámi identity, strengthening Sámi languages, and reviving a nature-based cosmology.

Thomas Hilder offers the first book-length study of this diverse and dynamic music scene and its intersection with the politics of indigeneity. Based on extensive ethnographic research, Hilder provides portraits of numerous Sámi musicians, studies the significance of Sámi festivals, analyzes the emergence of a Sámi recording industry, and examines musical projects and cultural institutions that have sought to strengthen the transmission of Sámi music. Through his engaging narrative, Hilder discusses a wide range of issues—revival, sovereignty, time, environment, repatriation and cosmopolitanism—to highlight the myriad ways in which Sámi musical performance helps shape notions of national belonging, transnational activism, and processes of democracy in the Nordic peninsula.

Sámi Musical Performance and the Politics of Indigeneity in Northern Europe will not only appeal to enthusiasts of Nordic music, but, by drawing on current interdisciplinary debates, will also speak to a wider audience interested in the interplay of music and politics. Unearthing the challenges, contradictions and potentials presented by international indigenous politics, Hilder demonstrates the significance of this unique musical scene for the wider cultural and political transformations in twenty-first-century Europe and global modernity.


Dear BFE members,

Following the call for nominations for election to the BFE Committee, I would like to update you on the new membership of the Committee.

I’m delighted to announce that Ilana Webster-Kogen and Liam Barnard are joining the Committee, and that five existing committee members are extending their terms for another term, namely Hettie Malcomson, Noel Lobley, Keith Howard, Amanda Villepastour, and Byron Dueck. I very much look forward to working with all of you over the coming years.

Two committee members, Anna Morcom and Henry Stobart, have come to the end of their terms and are standing down. On behalf of the committee, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to both Anna and Henry for the invaluable contribution they have made to the BFE.

Further details of the Committee nomination process are outlined below:

-       Six proposals were received in response to the call for nominations to the BFE Committee. These six proposals - from Ilana Webster-Kogen, Hettie Malcomson, Noel Lobley, Keith Howard, Amanda Villepastour, and Byron Dueck – can be read in the pdf document attached.

-       As the six proposals received did not exceed the number of Committee places available, voting was not required and all six nominated candidates are deemed to have been elected (see Rule 7ii of the BFE constitution,

-       In addition to the six nominations, the Committee has co-opted Liam A. Barnard as the convener for the 2016 BFE annual conference at the University of Kent. Please also see the written statement from Liam A. Barnard in the document attached.

-       Following this nomination process, the Committee has the full complement of 12 members, with 8 elected members and 4 co-opted members.

Barley Norton

Chair, British Forum for Ethnomusicology

Dear BFE friends, 

For various reasons, the BFE Committee has decided that the BFE’s Annual General Meeting will not be held as usual at the annual conference in Paris. Instead, an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) will be held in London just before the Paris conference on Tuesday 30 June at SOAS from 6.30pm to 7.30pm. 

The EGM will be held in room G3, just inside the main SOAS entrance on the left (

After the EGM, wine and soft drinks will be served and there will be a screening and discussion of my film Hanoi Eclipse: The Music of Dai Lam Linh ( from 7.30pm to 8.45pm, also in room G3.

We would very much like for you to participate in the EGM and actively contribute to the future of the BFE, so please save the date. Further information about the agenda and business of the EGM will follow closer to the meeting.

Please book your tickets using this Eventbrite link:

We look forward to seeing you there! 

The British Forum for Ethnomusicology

Dear BFE members, 

The British Forum for Ethnomusicology is delighted to welcome Barley Norton (Goldsmiths College) as our new Chair. Barley was co-opted on 30 June 2014 in the role of BFE Chair Elect and will take on his new role from April 2015. 

Our sincere thanks go to Amanda Villepastour, who has led the BFE for the last three years with great enthusiasm. Thank you for all your hard work, Amanda!

Laudan Nooshin  explores the ways in which musicians talk about creativity and the practices by which new music comes into being in Iranian Classical Music: The Discourses and Practice of Creativity. The book seeks to understand musical creativity as a meaningful social practice and examines how ideas about tradition, authenticity, innovation and modernity in Iranian classical music form part of a wider social discourse on creativity and national and cultural identity.


On behalf of the BFE committee, I extend my warm congratulations to Jennifer McCallum (PhD candidate, King's College, London), winner of the BFE Student Paper Prize for our 2014 annual conference at SOAS (held jointly with AAWM).

The prize committee stated:

This year there were several outstanding papers by BFE student members. For the first time, therefore, we are giving two honourable mentions in addition to the winning paper. All three papers draw on a good range of theoretical and background sources, often a challenge in short conference papers.

Here are our comments:

BFE Student Paper Prize:

Jenny McCallum (King’s College London), “Beguiling voices: rediscovering the sound of 19th-century Malay literature”

In her nicely crafted and maturely focused paper, Jenny explores the affective impact of voice-as-sound – ‘speaking, cajoling, reciting and singing’ – in 19th-century Malay literary and poetic sources. She proposes a move from orality to vocality, considering sound and embodiment in ‘noisy’ texts.

Her paper is very clear, thoughtful and well grounded in relevant theory. The discussion of metaphors and local concepts of aesthetics is particularly strong, helping us understand Jenny’s points despite having no way to hear the actual voices of the period.

This paper can clearly be worked up to publication, with some expansion and perhaps some comparative consideration of other cultures. The referees will send Jenny a few suggestions toward that end.


Honourable Mentions:

Julia Ulehla (University of British Columbia), “Musical traces of the Holy Spirit: identifying linear progression within cyclic form in an African American folk spiritual”

Julia deploys close visual analysis of an Alan Lomax-filmed performance of a Methodist church service, which includes significant bodily movements, in the South Carolina Sea Islands. Her transcriptions include novel notations of physical action in order to consider some of the mechanisms that propel linear progression within cyclical song performance. The paper is very well grounded in wider theoretical literature.

Daniel Goldberg (Yale University), “Diversity of performance timing in Balkan folk music”

Examining the so-called aksak rhythm (3+2+2/8), Daniel draws on various methods (statistical, analytical, computational) to consider the different durations of notes in a sequence of beats and their overall relation to metre in recordings by four musicians – two Balkan, two American. He considers some possible reasons for the musicians’ choices and their variations in timing. The paper's close and detailed precision and clear use and definition of terms is particularly strong.

Many thanks to the other students who submitted papers for the prize competition. The number and standard of student papers at the conference and in the competition is indicative of the strong student contingent of the BFE and, this year, of AAWM.


On behalf of the membership, I would also like to thank the Student Paper Prize Committee members, who volunteered their time over the summer months.

To all of our members and our AAWM partners this year, enjoy your vacation or fieldwork.

Amanda Villepastour

Chair, British Forum for Ethnomusicology (BFE)