Wednesday, January 28, 2009

afghan music week at the university of alberta

An Afghan Music Week is to be held at the University of Alberta, Canada, from 9 to 14 February, hosted by the Department of Music and the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology.

The programme of concerts, lectures, film screenings, music workshops and other events focusing on the music of Afghanistan, marks a visit to the university by Distinguished Visitor, Professor John Baily (Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK). Professor Baily is an ethnomusicologist, film maker, musician, and world-renowned Afghan music expert. His visit to the University of Alberta is supported by the Office of the Vice-President (Research) through the Distinguished Visitors Fund.

Music is of course been a particularly sensitive subject in relation to Afghanistan, with various kinds of music censorship operating over some three decades, culminating in the ruthless attempts of the Taliban to ban instrumental music. In 2001 Professor Baily authored a report on Afghan music for Freemuse the international organisation that campaigns against music censorship and for the freedom of musical expression (a sort of equivalent in the music field to International PEN in the literary arena). Baily's report, entitled Can you Stop the Birds Singing? comes with a CD, three extracts from which can be heard on the relevant Freemuse page. The CD includes example of various genres, among them religious singing, including a Taliban chant.

A highlight of the Week is a concert organized in partnership with the Edmonton Raga Mala Music Society, exploring the musical connections between Afghanistan and India, and featuring musicians from the Edmonton Afghan community, John Baily on the Afghan rubab and Soumik Datta from the United Kingdom on the South Asian sarod.

The Week will be inaugurated with the presentation of a newly made rubab (the national instrument of Afghanistan) by outstanding local instrument maker Abdul Wardak, commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology for its Instruments Collection with the generous support of the University of Alberta Museums and the Friends of the University of Alberta Museums.

John Baily is Professor of Musicology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. After completing fieldwork in Herat and Kabul between 1973 and 1977, he has established himself as one of the most authoritative experts worldwide in the music and culture of Afghanistan. His monograph Music of Afghanistan: Professional musicians in the city of Herat (1988) has become a classic of ethnomusicological ethnography.

Combining his background in psychology and social anthropology with the cultural study of music, John Baily has contributed to the discipline of ethnomusicology not only a rich body of scholarship on Afghanistan, but also influential publications of a more theoretical kind, notably in the domains of music cognition, music performance and body motion, music and politics, music and migration, and ethnographic film-making. In addition to his academic profile, Professor Baily is an accomplished and very active musician and an advocate for the promotion and regeneration of Afghan music in response to almost thirty years of war in Afghanistan. He is also an experienced and prolific filmmaker. Some of his ethnographic films will be screened during the Afghan Music Week, including the award-winning Amir: An Afghan refugee musician’s life in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Professor Baily, his wife Veronica Doubleday (singer and daf player) and Afghan musicians at a concert they gave in the British Museum

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