Talia Bachir-Loopuyt

Music from Middle East and North Africa in France: Multiple Belongings and the Question of Visibility


The MENA region poses particular challenges for researchers working on the complex and shifting dynamics of belongings related to music and migration. While some historical and anthropological studies have highlighted the growing importance of national, ethnic and religious boundaries after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, (ethno)musicologists have rather often tended to emphasize the “bridges” between repertoires and social groups within this area and the paradigmatic space of the Mediterranean (see, for example, the most recent conference of the ICTM-Mediterranean Study Group on “Bridges and ässages”). Contemporary musical practices also reflect in multiple ways contradictory narratives of nationalism and cosmopolitism.

Without seeking to resolve these tensions, this paper aims to show the heuristic value of relocating the questions of ‘global history’ in the context of a European society such as France. Relying on various observations that I’ve made in the last 15 years on music practices from Turkey and the former Ottoman Empire in France and, more recently, on music practices from Algeria, I will address the challenges and difficulties of a multi-sited approach of music and migration from the MENA-region. If an overview proves impossible and even suspect for the field of Turkish music (Bachir-Loopuyt/Cler 2023) as well as for the one of Arabic music or music from Maghreb, I will argue that only a multi-sited, somehow ‘dispersed’ approach crossing different perspectives and scales makes it possible to become aware of the shifting dynamics of belongings driving musical practices, to take into account a multiplicity of ‘scenes’ (in diasporic spaces as well as in musical institutions and popular music networks), to grasp what does and does not circulate from one  to another. Thus, this heterogeneity also leads to explore the question of visibility, to ask what is audible for which publics and what is not and to reflect on the constitution of publics, as processes and practices of “paying attention” (Dayan 2014). It may also help to bring to light some specific features of the French context (as compared, for example, to Germany) as well as of the situation of specific repertoires and diasporic groups.


Talia Bachir-Loopuyt is lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the University of Tours, France. After her studies at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Lyon, she received her PhD at the EHESS Paris (Musicology) and HU Berlin (European Ethnology) in 2013 with a dissertation on World Music festivals in Germany. She was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Saint-Etienne with a project on music in Turkish migration and senior researcher in an FNS program on Islam in urban spaces at the University of Lausanne. Her research interests include World Music festivals, music and migration, history of knowledge (especially French-language ethnomusicology), music and religion. She is currently working on a post-doctoral project on music from North Africa and the Middle East in France. She is also leading a teaching project on mobilities of musicians from the Centre region at the University of Tours (https://dicietdailleurs.univ-tours.fr/ ). She is a member of the editorial board of Revue de Musicologie, Transposition, and Acta Musicologica, and of the scientific advisory boards of Ethnopol CMTRA and Festival Haizebegi.