University of Pittsburgh

Gavin Steingo

Assistant Professor
PhD, University of Pennsylvania, 2010
209 Music Building
steingo [at] pitt [dot] edu


African Music (particularly southern Africa); Music of the African Diaspora; Postcolonialism; Music, Labor, and Value; Music and Materiality; Anthropology of the Senses


In my work as an ethnomusicologist, I seek to understand musical practices and processes on a global level but from the perspective of the geopolitical South. I am particularly interested in the music of Africa and recently completed a monograph on kwaito, a genre of South Africa electronic music that emerged alongside the deracialization of apartheid policies in the early 1990s. In this book, I examine the relationship between musical praxis and “freedom” (broadly construed) and ask what types of political and aesthetic communities are possible in the twenty-first century.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, I first came to the US to pursue studies in classical composition at the New England Conservatory of Music, where I was the recipient of a Francis W. Hatch Endowed Scholarship. I received my PhD in the Anthropology of Music from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010 and then spent two years at Columbia University where I was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Music. I maintain active connections to South Africa and am currently an Honorary Research Associate in the School of Social Sciences at Wits University.

Recent Courses

  • Introduction to World Music
  • Music in Africa
  • Music and Materiality
  • Music and Cultural Theory
  • Remapping Sound Studies
  • African Dance and Music Ensemble (Director)

Selected Honors/Awards

Pitt Humanities Center, Internal Faculty Fellow (Spring 2015)

Alzheimer’s Association, “Influence of African Dance on Neurocognitive Function” ($250,000). Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Kirk Erikson) (2014-2017)

Hewlett International Grant, University of Pittsburgh (2014)

Central Research Development Fund, University of Pittsburgh (2014-2016)

Participant, International Gugak Workshop, Seoul (2014)

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Columbia University (2010-2012)

Heyman Center for the Humanities, collaborative research grant (2012)

Honorary Research Associate, School of Social Sciences, Wits University (2009-2012)

Merck Pharmaceuticals, Summer research grant (2010)

Benjamin Franklin Fellowship, University of Pennsylvania (2005-2010)

Selected Publications

Kwaito's Promise: Music and the Aesthetics of Freedom in South Africa (forthcoming from University of Chicago Press [Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology])

“Musical Economies of the Elusive Metropolis.” In Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique, ed. Ronald Radano and Tejumola Olaniyan. Forthcoming from Duke University Press.

“Sound and Circulation: Mobility and Obduracy in South African Electronic Music.” Ethnomusicology Forum. 24(1): 102-123 (2015)

“Kwaito and the Culture of AIDS in South Africa.” In The Culture of AIDS in Africa, ed. Gregory Barz and Judah Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 343-361. (2011)

“Exiles, Inziles, and the Politics of Song.” In Exils et migrations postcoloniales, ed. Hervé Tchumkam and Pierre Fandio. Yaounde: Editions Ifrikiya, 209-223. (2011)

“Historicizing Kwaito.” African Music 8(2): 26-55. (2008)

“Producing Kwaito: Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika After Apartheid.” The World of Music 50(2): 103-120.  (2008) 
[Reprinted in Electronica, Dance and Club Music, ed. Mark Butler. Aldershot: Ashgate (2011)] 

“Robert Ashley and the Tourettic Voice.” Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal 4(1): 30-33. (2008)

“Byron’s Lament: Notes on Music(ology) in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.” In Littératures et déchirures, ed. Clément Dili Palaï and Daouda Pare. Paris: L’Harmattan, 27-42. (2008)

“The Politicization of Kwaito: From the ‘Party Politic’ to Party Politics.” Black Music Research Journal 28(2): 75-102. (2007)

“South African Music After Apartheid: Kwaito, the ‘Party Politic’, and the Appropriation of Gold as a Sign of Success.” Popular Music and Society 28(3): 333-358. (2005)

“‘I am Proud to be South African because I am South African’: Reflections on ‘White Pride’ in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” African Identities 3(2): 195-210. (2005)

Selected Papers

“Practices of Immobility: Notes on Popular Music in Contemporary South Africa.” The Ghetto: Sawyer Seminar at Carnegie Mellon University (2014)

“With a Hop, a Skip, and a Jump: Notes on the ‘Circulation’ of African Popular Music.” Society of Ethnomusicology annual conference, Pittsburgh (2014)

“The Struggle of Freedom: Reflections on Kwaito and House Music in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Contesting Freedoms: A Colloquium in Music Studies in a Democratic South Africa, Pretoria (2014)

“Sound and Circulation: Mobility and Obduracy in South African Electronic Music.” Lecture Series, Oberlin College (2014)

“African Afrofuturism: Spoek Mathambo and the Aesthetics of Necro-music.” American Anthropological Association annual conference, Chicago (2013)

“The Democratization of Democracy: Reflections on Kwaito Music in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Changing the Tune: Popular Music and Politics in the 21st Century, Strasbourg (2013)

“Kwaito’s Promise: Freedom and Aesthetic Experience in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Concilium on Southern Africa, Duke University (2012)

“On the Sonic Politics of Spinning.” Society of Ethnomusicology annual conference, Philadelphia (2011)

“The Culture of AIDS in Africa.” Participant at presidential roundtable at the Society of Ethnomusicology annual conference, Philadelphia (2011)

“Musical Economies of the Elusive Metropolis.” Music, Race, and Empire Symposium, University of Wisconsin (2011) 

“Humiliation and the Gift of Empire: Notes on Popular Music in South Africa.” American Anthropological Association annual conference, New Orleans (2010)

“Material Processes and Immaterial Production in Contemporary South African Music.” Ethnomusicological Research Today, Hanover, Germany (2009)

“Border-Crossings: Music, Sound, and Jews in Kant and Herder.” Music, Herder, and the Enlightenment, University of Pennsylvania (2008)

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