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The Grove Dictionary of Music describes ethnomusicology as “[t]he study of social and cultural aspects of music and dance in local and global contexts.” This differs somewhat from musicology, which Grove defines as “the scholarly study of music.” While from these definitions one could conclude that ethnomusicology is a subset of musicology, the key difference is in fact that the former views music as is a cultural element and the latter as an artistic or historical object.  Ethnomusicology borrows from both anthropology and musicology in its methodology, and incorporates a wide variety of associated fields including art, religion, gender/sexuality, and political science. While not an artistic movement, the discipline has shaped the development of music, particularly the genre of world music in the United States.

Ethnomusicological Writing and Film  

What follows are my recommendations for books and films that deal with ethnomusicology related subject matter

In Griot Time : An American Guitarist in Mali by Banning Eyre (2000) Eyre, who works for the amazing NPR show AfroPop [link], is a music scholar who writes in a non-academic, accessible style. Mali is home to a diverse and fascinating music culture.

The works of Charles Keil.  Keil revolutionized the field of ethnomusicology when he wrote his first book, Urban Blues (1966), based on local research of the thriving Chicago blues scene, rather than studying the music of a distant, exotic culture. Other great works include Polka Happiness (1992) on Polka in America and Bright Balkan Morning (2002) on Romani music in Greek Macedonia.

Latcho Drom (Safe Journey) (1993) and Gadjo dilo (Crazy Stranger) (1997), written/directed by Tony Gatlif.  These two films are part of Franco-Algerian director Gatlif’s trio chronically the lives of Romani people (the third, Les princes (1983), I have not seen).  Latcho Drom is a mesmerizing documentary that has no narration, but rather shows the musical lives of the Romani people spanning from India to North African and Western Europe.  Gadjo dilo is a film that’s main character is a French music scholar studying, recording music, and trying to integrate into the culture of Romani people in Romania.


While the development of world music as a market category can be attributed to well known western musicians like Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon serving introducing American audiences to foreign artists, the first expose Americans had to this music was through field recordings made by ethnomusicologists. Today, applied ethnomusicologist (those working in a non-academic setting) work as musical activists to help get musicians’ music recorded and distributed.

A website explaining how a field recording of Central African Ba’Aka was incorporated into the music of Herbie Hancock and Madonna [link]

Smithsonian Folkways [link] A non-profit record label that promotes musicians from around the world.

World Music Network [link] Releases the “Rough Guide to ______” music CD series. Both the music books and CDs for the Rough Guides are wonderful. While I find the travel guide format a little problematic (the company originally began publishing travel books), the information in all is concise and the song picks tend to be better and more authentic than Putumayo CDs.

Ethnomusicology Blogs

Here are a few recommended blogs that are authored by ethnomusicologists or deal with ethnomusicological subject matter.

Education blogs relating to ethnomusicology courses: Ethnomusicology [link], Bakan WORLD MUSIC blog [link], 295 Group Four [link]

Blogs that introduce readers to recordings from around the world: Global Groove [link], Culture and Pleasure [link]

General topics: Sustainable Music [link], SoundRoots World Music & Global Culture [link]


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Herbie Hancock


International Film
World Music