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News & Topics
January 12, 2018

MOMRI at the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) in Denver, USA

By Olivier Urbain, Director of MOMRI

The 62nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) took place at the Denver

Marriot City Center from October 26 to 29, 2017.


Particularly poignant was the Charles Seeger Lecture by Dr. Scheherazade Qassim Hassan on “The Social Space of Music Traditions in Baghdad Before and After Destruction.” In her very articulate, moving and thoroughly researched presentation, Dr. Hassan explained that the US-led sanctions on Iraq (1991-2003) and the subsequent attack, invasion and occupation (2003-2017) have almost entirely destroyed Iraq’s (previously) incredibly rich and varied musical heritage. Whereas the Maqam tradition was practiced at home parties almost everywhere, it has now but disappeared from the city.


Dr. Hassan shared with us about the long years, energy and care she had put into the establishment of the “Center for Traditional Music,” which housed a music archive containing 4000 tapes, musical instruments, books and manuscripts, a photo archive, and a collection of 78 records. Except for 600 tapes in bad shape, everything was burned to ashes during the attacks. A great number of cultural treasures, such as film archives, book archives and many others were incinerated at the same time. Yet, there is still much to save, and ethnomusicologists have an urgent mission in this monumental task.


Dr. Hassan is Research Associate, Department of Music, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; Research Associate, Centre de Recherche en Ethnomusicologie at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique in Paris, and Université Paris-X Nanterre.


MOMRI Director Olivier Urbain facilitated a two-hour workshop titled “Musicking in Peacebuilding Activities: an Interactive Framework.” Dr. Urbain presented an evaluative tool made of the four components of Inner Peacebuilding, Communicative Creativity, Planetary Awareness and Preventive Peacebuilding. This was followed by the presentation of three case studies by Oliver Shao (on Kenya and South Sudan), Elaine Sandoval (on Venezuela) and Juan Rojas (who had prepared a video presentation on Colombia).





A lively discussion followed, with on the picture below, participants seeming to thoroughly enjoy a friendly verbal duel between Dr. Urbain and Dr. Svanibor Pettan (left), one of the founders of the discipline of Applied Ethnomusicology.

Dr. Pettan is the current Vice-President of ICTM, and Chair of the Study Group on Music and Minorities at the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Department of Musicology, in Slovenia.





MOMRI Associate Research Fellow Elaine Sandoval presented a paper titled “Pedagogies of Identity: Examining the Roles of El Sistema’s Alma Llanera Program Across Venezuelan Contexts” in another panel. This presentation is part of an ongoing series of research outputs by Ms. Sandoval based on her nine-month long field work in Venezuela in 2016-17.


Both representatives of MOMRI were able to benefit from the very progressive research done by SEM members, learning new insights and testing their own ideas with numerous colleagues.


Here we would like to introduce some of our colleagues who showed a special interest in the work of MOMRI.


New colleagues who will be collaborating with MOMRI on the Keywords publication project


Dr. Marcia Ostashewski (who took this selfie), Canada Research Chair in Communities and Cultures at the Centre for Sound Communities;
Associate Professor in Ethnomusicology, Cape Breton University;


Adjunct Professor in Music, University of Alberta. Marcia shares our passion for researching the potential application of music in peacebuilding activities, especially for creating sustainable communities characterized by deep inclusiveness and in the absence of discrimination and prejudice.



Ian Middleton, PhD Candidate in Musicology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, (who kindly took all the pictures at our workshop). With an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Leeds, UK, Ian is finishing his dissertation on music and trust in Colombia. He focuses on the potential application of musicking in the generation and sustaining of trusting that can lead to peaceful coexistence. His fieldwork was in Colombia, a country that has experienced one of the longest running civil conflicts. He is also a songwriter and performer on percussion, guitar and vocals.


Dr. Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg (University of Sydney), an applied ethnomusicologist and research development expert, also actively participated in our workshop. She is well known to the readers of our News & Topics, having presented a paper on “Research Excellence in Music and Peacebuilding: what is it and does it matter?” at the MOMRI Annual Report Conference in Tokyo on October 21 (see previous News & Topics here). On this picture she is delivering her extremely well-received SEM paper on Australian Aboriginal Christianity, academic secularism and decolonization of the academy, titled “Applied Ethnomusicology in Christian Indigenous Contexts: Ontologies, Frameworks and the Christianity of Ethnomusicology.” Muriel is also a member of SEM’s ethics committee.


Special Thanks to Oliver Shao and Juan Rojas who contributed case studies to our workshop


Oliver Shao, a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at Indiana University, presented on his research in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee complex, where he actively participated in the daily lives and “musicking” of various social groups. He presented a case study in our MOMRI workshop (right) on a music and “peace-building” project involving members of agro-pastoralist communities from South Sudan and Kenya. He also gave a talk about ethnomusicological responses to forced migration within the context of the “nation-state crisis” at the President’s Roundtable (sponsored by the SEM Board and chaired by Anne K. Rasmussen, College of William and Mary, the outgoing president of SEM). The roundtable’s theme was “Engaged Activism among Ethnomusicologists Responding to the Contemporary Dynamic of Migrants and Refugees” (Dr. Marcia Ostashewski, mentioned above, was also one of the panelists).


Juan Rojas, who offered a video presentation during our workshop, is a PhD candidate in Ethnomusicology at Indiana University who works with victims of the Colombian internal armed conflict. He focuses on applied and public ethnomusicology, processes of folklorization, music festivals, and traditional Colombian and Afro-Latin musics. He teaches the graduate History of Colombian Musics seminars at Universidad El Bosque in Bogotá (Colombia) and is co-editor of George List’s posthumous book Animal Tales from the Caribbean (2017).


This was the first time that MOMRI members were invited to give presentations at SEM, and we would like to offer our heartfelt gratitude to all those who have made this participation possible. MOMRI is creating a forum and a space for all those who are passionate about the “application of music in peacebuilding activities,” and we have so much to learn from ethnomusicologists. In turn, we have refreshed our determination to support SEM and other associations to the best of our abilities.






PS: it would not be a SEM experience without live music, here a workshop on traditional Japanese dancing and drumming.