How are belonging/s expressed musically, above all in contexts involving migration? What instances of (non-)belonging become visible and/or audible in music when people migrate or are forced to migrate? To what extent can an intersectionally conceived concept of belonging be useful in understanding musical practice in conjunction with phenomena and categorisations having to do with “migration”?

It was these questions that featured centrally in the conference “Music, Migration, Belonging/s in 21st-Century Europe”, held at the mdw on 24 and 25 November 2023. Sixteen lecturers, thirteen of them women, presented their ongoing research concerning music in relation to different migratory contexts in panels and in a round table discussion. Around sixty participants from various disciplines took part on both days, contributing to what was a successful academic exchange concerning an extremely current and politically charged thematic complex.

In her keynote, sociologist Nadia Kiwan (University of Aberdeen, UK) took the United Kingdom as an example for her discussion of the status quo in “fortress Europe” and political communities’ role and scope of action in this context. Kiwan urged that research be conducted via transnational networks: particularly for musicians who migrate, the specific location is often of secondary importance; they much rather network across national and ethnic boundaries in accordance with their musical interests.

In the key panel discussion on current challenges in musicological research associated with migration in today’s Europe, Evrim Hikmet Öğüt (Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Istanbul, Turkey) presented her current research on Syrian musicians in present-day Turkey. Syrian migrants in Turkey, she said, enjoy only few rights. They are viewed as “guests”, and it is expected that they will leave sooner or later. Öğüt reported on present-day Arab tourism to Turkey in which Syrian music groups provide musical entertainment under enormously precarious employment conditions, simultaneously playing the role of “guests” and “hosts”. Thereafter, Mojca Piškor (Academy of Music, University of Zagreb, Croatia) focused on the matter of belonging as it pertains to people who migrate to Europe along the so-called Balkan Route. With reference to two examples, namely those of the Syrian rock band Khebez Dawle and a community choir project, Piškor showed how feelings of belonging through music, though possible, are in fact but temporary and quite fragile in this extraordinary situation of existential threat. The panel concluded with a report by Talia Bachier-Loopuyt (University of Tours, France) on her various research projects concerning persons in migratory contexts in France in which she made quite poignantly clear that belonging plays a role in musical contexts both always and everywhere.

Over the further course of the programme, the topic of belonging and music was elucidated and discussed in contexts such as the “Brazilian” carnival in Portugal, German refugee camps, Greek migrant protests, the Tamil and ex-Yugoslav diasporas, Nordic hip hop, and the choral practice of Ukrainian refugees.

The conference concluded with a round table discussion entitled “Music and Belonging – Potentials, Challenges, and Preliminary Conclusions”, which was moderated by Conny Gruber (Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences). The discussion began with input by ethnomusicologist Britta Sweers (University of Bern, Switzerland) on the Albanian diaspora in Switzerland and on the concept of “diaspora” in general, followed by a presentation by ethnomusicologist Ulrike Präger (University of Louisville, USA) on the relevance of “translation” as a theoretical perspective in light of an opera project in Munich that brought together people recently arrived as refugees and people living in the region. This was followed by an intense discussion (also involving the audience) concerning the multi-layered nature of “migration” as a concept and term as well as concerning its stigmatising potential and the associated relevance of belonging/s. This round table discussion, an exchange found by those present to be enormously enriching, marked the conference’s successful conclusion.

The academic programme was rounded out by a concert at the Sargfabrik on Friday evening given by the ensemble Basma and Friends in which the Syrian-Austrian singer Basma Jabr, who is also a student at the mdw, introduced her new album Furat.

This conference took place as part of the project “Women Musicians from Syria: Performance, Networks, Belonging/s after Migration” (Austrian Science Fund [FWF], V706-G29) and was held by the Music and Minorities Research Center in cooperation with the Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology. Sincere thanks for additional financial support are extended to the City of Vienna and the Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology.

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