News archive

BFE member Moshe Morad received an honorable mention in the 2015 Alan Merriam Prize for his monograph "Fiesta de Diez Pesos: Music and Gay Identity in Special Period Cuba".
Here is the text of the announcement: 
An honorable mention for the Merriam prize goes to Moshe Morad’s book, Fiesta de diez pesos: Music and gay identity in Special Period CubaFiesta de diez pesos is a brilliantly rich and vivid ethnography of (male) gay musical spaces and identities in Cuba, exploring underground or conveniently unnoticed worlds and the centrality of music and dance to their existence and operation. It spans an impressive range of contexts: the precarious yet irrepressible world of underground fiestas, dance parties held in changing secret locations; the national ballet, which Morad terms the ‘most obvious discreet gay space in Havana’; Santeria ritual performances, an indigenous arena that embraces space for gay and transgender performance and performers; and the ordinary domestic worlds of music and queer identification. 

 In all these contexts, Morad draws the reader into vibrant experiential accounts of the use of music and dance by gay men that open up interlocking meanings and functions of performance, performativity, gender and sexuality. Working in the period from the 1990s, the book explores the rapid economic, social and cultural changes in Cuba arising in response to the crisis following the loss of support from the Soviet Union. One such development is the opening up of the country to tourism, with the book growing from an initial visit by the author in 1994.

 Fiesta de diez pesos is both a distinguished contribution to the ethnomusicological literature on sexuality, and an outstanding example of ethnographic fieldwork that is warm, human, engaged, unpretentiously reflexive, and strikingly perceptive. It is informative and compelling, and succeeds in analysing its subjects and their musical behaviour in close detail, but without ever othering them. 



Congratulations to Hettie Malcomson (University of Southampton) whose article ‘Aficionados, Academics, and Danzón Expertise: Exploring Hierarchies in Popular Music Knowledge Production’ (Ethnomusicology, 2014) received a special mention for the Bruno Nettl Prize at the 60th annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology in Austin, Texas. The purpose of the Bruno Nettl Prize is ‘to recognize an outstanding publication contributing to or dealing with the history of the field of ethnomusicology, or with the general character, problems, and methods of ethnomusicology’.

The abstract of the article reads as follows: Amateur scholars, such as aficionados, fans, intellectuals, are rarely valued in the twenty-first-century academy, despite their often-encyclopedic knowledge. In this paper, I focus on Mexican aficionados of the popular Cuban music danzón to explore how these mostly older men manage social contexts where they are often marginalized. Drawing on Bourdieu, I examine how danzón aficionados negotiate their field of expertise by employing overlapping strategies: accumulating myriad “facts” and “truths”, creating the possibility of ignorance in others, and competing for hegemonic masculine capital. I analyse danzón aficionados’ relationships with musicians and dancers, consider power dynamics between these aficionados and academics, and draw on Léon and Romero to discuss relationships between regional and hegemonic scholarship more broadly. I argue that beyond reflexivity and criticism, collective activism is required to reconfigure value systems and symbolic economies, and to fight institutional pressures to reproduce existing power structures.

By Liam Barnard,

2015 marks the 10th Anniversary of the foundation of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and its predecessor, the AHRB. As part of the commemorations, the Anniversary Research in Film Awards were held to great fanfare in the plush surroundings of the BFI South Bank on the 12th November, where delegates from across academia and beyond were gratefully wined and dined. Out of a field of over 200 entries, BFE stalwart, SOAS Ethnomusicologist and Radio 3 broadcaster Lucy Duran’s film, ‘The Voice of Tradition” triumphed in what was probably the most prestigious of the five categories, claiming the ‘Anniversary Award for Best AHRC/AHRB-Funded Film Since 1998’. Although Lucy was not able to attend the awards ceremony in person to collect the not insubstantial glass trophy, the applause suggested that hers was a popular winner. The evening proved to underline the AHRC’s commitment to the wider field of ethnographic documentary, with Anna Sowa’s gorgeously shot film, ‘Kanraxel: The Confluence of Agnack’ taking home the title of ‘Best Research Film In the Last Year’, a double endorsement for SOAS.

Other award winners included Northumbria University Jacqueline Donache’s ‘Hazel’, picking up ‘The Doctoral Award’, the entertaining animation ‘The Adventure of the Girl with the Light Blue Hair’ earning Ronan Deazley and Bartolomeo Meletti from Create University of Glasgow ‘The Innovation Award’ for best film in the last year, and the public award of ‘Inspiration Award’ for best film inspired by Arts and Humanities Research was awarded to Myriam Rey’s ‘This Island’s Mine’.

The success of ethnographic documentary films with exotic locations and the resultant first class cinematography in this competition should bring some comfort to those of us who work and train as ethnomusicologists, worried by the squeeze in funding for research into the Arts and Humanities in general. Hopefully this interest in supporting ethnographic inquiry will guarantee the place of ethnomusicology in the pantheon of AHRC funding commitments beyond the near future.

All in all, a fantastic evening of quality film, quality networking, and a genuinely friendly party atmosphere was had by all. Let’s raise a glass to the next ten years and indeed, beyond…

Congratulations to Noel Lobley who began a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Virginia. Also, many congratulations to Noel for being invited to give the RAI Curl Lecture 2015. Great achievement Noel! 






Congratulations to Fiorella Montero Diaz who in September took up a position as Lecturer in Music at Keele University. Many congratulations! 




Hindi films and film songs have dominated Indian public culture, and have made their presence felt strongly in many global contexts. While the existence of songs in Hindi films is commonly dismissed as ‘purely commercial’, this book demonstrates that in terms of the production process, musical style, and commercial life, the parent film powerfully shapes and defines the film songs and their success. Analyzing Hindi film songs in cinematic context, Anna Morcom reveals that they are situational, dramatic sequences, inherently visual and multi-media in their style and conception - pop songs conjoined with cinema. 

This book is uniquely grounded in a wealth of ethnographic material from the Hindi film and music industries as well as detailed musical and visual analysis of Hindi film songs, song sequences, and films. Its findings lead to highly novel ways of viewing Hindi film songs, their key role in Hindi cinema, and how this affects their wider life in India and across the globe. With a new preface updating the reader on recent developments, this book will remain indispensable to scholars seeking to understand Hindi film songs, Hindi cinema, and Indian popular music more broadly. The book caters for both music specialists as well as a wider audience.

11 Oct 2015

BFE Fieldwork Grants

The British Forum for Ethnomusicology (BFE) is pleased to announce the launch of a fieldwork grant scheme.


Purpose of the Grants

The BFE Fieldwork Grants are intended to support doctoral candidates conducting ethnomusicological field research in the UK and abroad through making a contribution towards the costs of travel and subsistence. Up to 3 grants collectively totalling up to £1500 will be awarded for the 2016 scheme.



The BFE Fieldwork Grants scheme is open to all students enrolled on a PhD programme at a university in the UK who are conducting ethnomusicological research. Applicants must also be a student member of the BFE at the time of application for the scheme. Only one application per person is permitted and fieldwork must start during 2016.



The criteria of evaluation are: the quality, originality and significance of the research and its potential contribution to ethnomusicological knowledge, theory and debate; the feasibility and importance of the fieldwork for achieving the stated research aims and outcomes; the need of the applicant, i.e. the likelihood of the applicant being unable to obtain fieldwork funding from other sources. There is no preference for particular geographical areas or topics.


Application Procedure

To make an application, the following should be submitted:

  1. A letter addressing the grant criteria. The letter should also provide a clear indication of: the fieldwork schedule; the expected costs; the amount of funding requested from the BFE scheme; and other sources of research funding received and/or applied for. The letter must not exceed 2 pages in length.
  2. A short CV, not exceeding 1 page in length.
  3. A short reference letter, not exceeding 1 page in length, in support of the application from the applicant’s PhD supervisor.

Applications must be sent in electronic form by email to Barley Norton, Chair of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology at: Supervisors may wish to send their reference letter by email directly to the Chair.


Application Deadline and Decision Notification

Applications must be submitted by email by the end of Friday 11 December 2015. Applications will be evaluated by a BFE panel and applicants will be informed of the outcome of the awards by Monday 18 January 2016. The decision of the panel is final, and the BFE regrets that it is unable to provide feedback on applications and decisions made by the panel. 


Payment of Grants for Successful Applications

Successful applicants must liaise with the BFE Treasurer ( before grants are disbursed. Payment will be made via bank transfer.


Post-Award Reports

Successful applicants are requested to submit a short fieldwork report – up to 500 words in length, accompanied by other media materials if appropriate – within 3 months after the completion of the fieldwork. Fieldwork reports are likely to be made public on the BFE website, social media etc. Grant awardees may also be requested to do a short presentation about their fieldwork at BFE meetings such as the AGM. Any publications resulting from the fieldwork should acknowledge receipt of a BFE Fieldwork Grant.

Edited by Jim Samson, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK and Nicoletta Demetriou, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, UK (Ashgate, October 2015) 


Music in Cyprus draws its authors from both sides of the divided island to give a rounded picture of musical culture from the beginning of the British colonial period (1878-1960) until today. The book crosses conventional scholarly divides between musicology and ethnomusicology in order to achieve a panorama of music, culture and politics. It is the first book to consider the different kinds of music found in Cyprus, and the first one to include Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot, and international scholars.

For more information click here.


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.


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)