Ethnomusicology and the African diaspora

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


Thnomusicologists seldom fit comfortably within disciplinary boxes. like music making in the African diaspora, the practice of ethnomusicology seems always to push beyond academic boundaries almost as soon as they are constructed. While it is true that departments of Music are the principal academic homes for those who study music as cultural practice, many scholars choose to borrow heavily from, or even work within, anthropology, Media Studies, Performance Studies, and other areas. Even those operating under the same disciplinary label debate some deceptively complicated questions: What is the proper definition of "music"? What methods and approaches are best suited to the study of music in Africa and its diaspora? And to what extent, if at all, can musical texts be analyzed apart from the contexts of their performance? since John Blacking's (1973) influential assertion that music is "humanly organized sound," there have been countless attempts to rethink this definition and the ways in which music should best be described, analyzed, and represented in scholarly texts. The gerund musicking (Small 1998), a term that demolishes conceptions of music as a "thing" to be analyzed on a score, is particularly helpful to ethnomusicologists who study African and African diasporic communities in which music and dance are inextricably linked to a broad constellation of social practices and values. Indeed, the inseparability of music making and everyday life lends ethnomusicology a particular salience in the study of African-derived peoples. In the pages that follow, I survey some of the major issues and themes in ethnomusicology as they relate specifically to research on Africa and its diaspora. My goal is to convey a sense of how ethnomusicologists have conceptualized the African diaspora, explain some of the major theories and paradigms that have shaped their work, and provide a sampling of work by some influential Africanist, African Americanist, and Caribbeanist music scholars. My conclusion offers some lingering questions and concerns, as I discuss some of the challenges awaiting new ethnomusico.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe African Diaspora and the Disciplines
PublisherIndiana University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9780253354648
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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