Music has played a role in supporting and maintaining the thriving Ethiopian communities in North America, the largest and fastest-growing home for Ethiopians abroad. An ethnomusicologist from Harvard University, Kay Kaufman Shelemay, will discuss this cultural-social interaction in a lecture at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress.
“Music in the Ethiopian American Diaspora: A Preliminary Overview” will be presented at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6
, in Room 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.
Sponsored by the Kluge Center and the Library’s American Folklife Center, the event is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.
In the presentation, Shelemay, who holds the Chair of Modern Culture in the Kluge Center, will provide a brief sketch of musical life in the Ethiopian American diaspora. She will survey Ethiopian music from traditional secular, liturgical and popular domains.
Following the brief historical overview, Shelemay will focus the discussion on music’s role in sustaining Ethiopian communities in their new American homeland. She will link musical creativity and performance activities directly to social processes. The presentation draws on ethnomusicological observations and interviews carried out by Shelemay since the 1980s in the United States. Shelemay looks most closely at music making by Ethiopians living in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Visual and musical examples will be included.
At Harvard University, Shelemay is the G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music, the former chair of the Department of Music and a professor in the African and African American Studies Department. Shelemay specializes in the music of Africa, the Middle East and the urban United States. She received her Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Michigan.
The author of numerous articles and reviews, Shelemay’s book “Music, Ritual and Falasha History” (1986) won both the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 1987 and the Prize of the International Musicological Society in 1988. Other major publications include “A Song of Longing: An Ethiopian Journey” (1991); “Ethiopian Christian Chant: An Anthology” (1993-1997), co-authored with Peter Jeffery; and “Let Jasmine Rain Down: Song and Remembrance Among Syrian Jews,” a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. She edited the seven-volume “Garland Library of Readings in Ethnomusicology” and “Studies in Jewish Musical Traditions,” and co-edited “Pain and Its Transformations: The Interface of Biology and Culture” with Sarah Coakley, which is forthcoming from Harvard University Press in fall 2007. The second edition of her textbook “Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World” was published by W.W. Norton in 2006.
Shelemay this year holds fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Radcliffe Institute to support her book project on Ethiopian music and musicians in the United States. Shelemay is past-president of the Society for Ethnomusicology and is a congressional appointee and former chair of the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. She was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000 and was named a Walter Channing Cabot Fellow for 2001-2002 at Harvard.