Three Graduate Students Receive SEM Awards

Three Department of Music graduate students, Shuo Yang, Samuel Boateng, and Maya Brown-Boateng, recently received awards at the Annual Conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology doctoral candidate Shuo Yang was awarded the 2020 Martin Hatch Prize (Honorable Mention) by the Society for Asian Music. The award recognizes the best student paper(s) on an Asian Music topic presented at the 2019 Annual Conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology. Samuel Boateng, a doctoral candidate in jazz studies was awarded the 2020 African Libraries Student Paper Prize by the African Music Section (AfMS). The award recognizes the most distinguished student paper delivered on the topic of African and African diasporic music presented at the SEM annual meeting. Maya Brown-Boateng, a third-year student in ethnomusicology was awarded the Historical Ethnomusicology Section Student Paper Prize. The award recognizes the best paper by a graduate or undergraduate student presented at the Society’s annual conference that bridges the disciplines of historical musicology and ethnomusicology in a creative and insightful way.

At the annual conference, Shuo Yang organized a panel on decolonizing ethnomusicology and the legacy of Western educational systems. All three panelists – Samuel Boateng, M. Rizky Sasono, and Shuo Yang – are international graduate students who are receiving academic training at the University of Pittsburgh. Drawing upon their own cultural backgrounds (Ghana, Indonesia, and China) and experiences of positioning themselves at the juxtaposition of international scholarship and Western academia, their papers offer a multi-layered perspective on decolonizing ethnomusicology and the Western educational system as a whole. In Shuo’s paper, “In-Between: Perspectives from an International Student on Decolonizing Ethnomusicology”, she examines the positionality of international students as in-between home and the West. By using ethnomusicology in China as an example, she argues that international graduate students are often the best channels to connect international academia with local scholarship and to bring different ethnomusicological voices into dialogue with each other on the same platform. A revised version of this paper is now published in the SEM Student Newsletter 16.1 Music & Theory.  

In “Jazz and Contemporary Music Making in Ghana: Making a Case for Decolonizing African Music Research,” Samuel Boateng advocates for a new African music research model that is conscious of the many aesthetic domains informing African musicians today. Drawing on theories of Afropolitanism and ethnographic research on Ghanaian jazz, Boateng argues that contemporary African artists resist colonial frameworks of tradition and purity by creating new ways of knowing and being in the world as Africans, through their intentional engagement with multiple routes of cultural inspiration. He argues that the centralization of this new phenomenology of Africanness is crucial to decolonizing African music research. The African Libraries Student Paper Prize comes with a cash award to be used in support of the Adepa Jazz Collection—a multimedia collection about Ghanaian jazz curated by Boateng in collaboration with the Institute of African Studies-University of Ghana. The collection can be accessed at the J. H. Kwabena Nketia Archives, University of Ghana.

In her paper, “Black Music and the Banjo: Performance, Community, and Empowerment,” Maya Brown-Boateng explored how Black banjoists are using the knowledge of the American banjo's African lineage and Black cultural identity as a rhetorical tool to reclaim an instrument, a music, and a history largely exploited in American popular culture. Drawing from interviews she conducted with professional Black banjoists and from her own observations as a novice banjo player, she revealed how the legacies of chattel slavery, blackface minstrelsy, the racialization of the record music industry, and white supremacy continue to impact contemporary Black banjoists’ performance experiences. By emphasizing how Black banjoists confront misconceived collective memories that exclusively associate the banjo with White Euro-American cultures, her work illuminates how racism has shaped the history of the banjo.

Congratulations to Shuo, Sam, and Maya for all their success!