The music of minorities

As part of the Focus on Minorities programme which was established at the Institute in 1990, research projects have been and are being carried out such as The Music of the Roma in Austria (1990-1995), or The Music of Bosnians in Vienna (from 1995), or Immigrant Music Cultures in Vienna (from 2005), "Musical Identifications of young Refugees" (from 2016), "Afghan Music in Vienna" (from 2018). The results of research projects and symposia are made accessible to the public in numerous publications in the form of books or audio recordings.

The Institute’s focus on minorities is also present in its teaching and encounters great interest on the part of students, leading to many dissertations being written on various minorities.  Local cultural communities – migrant groups, indigenous ethnic groups or other minorities – are frequently studied. Close cooperation with the members of the respective minority is indispensable for all areas of work within our focus on minorities.

We are aware of the socio-political dimension of such themes.  This work promotes the dialogue between different cultures – in this case the majority culture and minority cultures in Austria. It helps to break down prejudices by passing on information, and it supports the struggle against xenophobia by using the cultural means available such as public relations work and cultural presentations.

Networking among specialist in this field at an international level has been very successful, and led in 1997 to the establishment of a dedicated study group in the world organisation of ethnomusicology, the ICTM. This Music and Minorities study group is led by Ursula Hemetek and has over 200 members from all continents. Specialist conferences are organised every other year with participants from around the world.

This focus was initiated by Prof. Ursula Hemetek, who has also coordinated the related work since 1990. She qualified as a university lecturer in Ethnomusicology with a thesis on this topic in 2001. Since 2014, Assistant Professor Marko Kölbl has also been working on the subject of the music of minorities at the Institute.  

When dealing with minority cultures, one is often concerned with threatened cultures (Roma, Bosnian...), for whom scholarly work is not only important, but urgent. With the scholarly attention a culture can counter the resignation, dying off and giving up with new creative resistance.

The collection of AV-media from field research since the 1990s among minorities in Austria constitute a valuable source for research as well as for the communities themselves. The digitalization of the recordings is an ongoing process in Archivis pro.

In 2018, Ursula Hemetek was awarded the Wittgenstein Prize for her research, particularly for her groundbreaking work in researching minorities‘ music. With the foundation of the MMRC (Music and Minorities Research Centre) at the mdw this field of research should be sustainably established. The infrastructue is provided by the University and close cooperation with the Department is planned.