In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Diaspora

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Volumes
  • Journals
  • Audio/Visual Recordings and Transcriptions
  • Jewish Diaspora
  • African Diaspora
  • Armenian Diasporas
  • East Asian Diasporas
  • European Diasporas
  • Iranian Diasporas
  • Levantine Diasporas
  • North African Diasporas
  • Mexican Diasporas
  • South Asian Diasporas
  • Southeast Asian Diasporas
  • Sub-Saharan African Diasporas
  • Turkish Diasporas
  • Internal Diasporas
  • Diasporic Practices
  • Diasporas of Musical Ensembles

Music Diaspora
Sylvia Alajaji
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0167


Diaspora, a term describing the scattering of a population from a common point of origin and the communities that form as a result, is often described as a condition of placelessness: not fully belonging to any one place or another, being instead in-between, neither completely here nor there. At the same time, however, it is also a condition of placefulness: the lack of place being met by an almost preoccupation with it—if not by those in diaspora themselves, then by those who observe and study the diasporic condition. Etymologically derived from the Greek diaspeirein (“to scatter”), diaspora as a concept initially referred exclusively to Jewish exile and dispersions, then to two other populations—the Greek and the Armenian. While the Jewish, Greek, and Armenian dispersions continue to be considered “classic” diasporas, the term’s conceptual framework has broadened to include dispersions brought on by the transatlantic slave trade, labor and trade migrations, forced migrations, and colonial processes. As boundaries of the concept continue to be stretched, what has emerged is the great diversity inherent in diaspora and in diasporic processes. As a result, diaspora has become a notion as slippery as it is ubiquitous. However, while some may view this ubiquity as jeopardizing the usefulness of the concept, what has remained more or less consistent—and what has, in fact, illuminated the very diversity inherent in diaspora—are the lines of inquiry into diaspora that have been pursued by scholars across the humanities and social sciences. How do those in diaspora situate themselves, whether physically or temporally? How do they navigate the many places, whether imagined or actual, that comprise their histories and their identities? What is place when there is no place (or, when there are so many)? Given music’s ability to navigate such multiplicities and to sonically construct and hearken to place (Stokes 1994, cited under General Overviews), it is no surprise that the diasporic condition and the processes and concepts that have become absorbed into its ever-broadening semantic field (such as exile, migration, and transnationalism, among others) have been an important area of research for musicologists and ethnomusicologists since the 1980s at least. Music studies have much to offer to the study of diasporas in general as they can illuminate the processes and complexities within them in a number of ways. Music studies have also been on the frontlines of newer permutations and understandings of diaspora, including internal diasporas and digital diasporas. Furthermore, music ensembles that have proliferated globally without the presence of a diaspora community have widened. As can be seen from this bibliography, certain diasporic populations have received more attention than others. Thus, this bibliography should be able to both direct one to the most substantial scholarship in a certain area, but at the same time implicitly highlight those areas needing further research.

General Overviews

As with other fields, diaspora studies in music have been predominantly approached via case studies. However, in an effort to rein in the slipperiness of diaspora as a concept and to more concretely identify the ways in which musicologists and ethnomusicologists can contribute to diaspora discourses, a number of scholars have offered useful overviews of the concept as it has been approached within ethnomusicology and musicology and identify future directions for the concept within music studies. In dialogue with some of the foundational literature of diasporic studies, these articles also provide conceptual frameworks that delineate both the potentialities and limits inherent in the diaspora concept, specifically as they apply (or may apply) to music. For a general overview of the concept of diaspora from the musicological and ethnomusicological perspectives, Diaspora is an ideal place to begin. Ramnarine 2007, Slobin 2012, and Turino 2004 provide indispensable critical analyses of diaspora as it has been conceived of and understood both within and without ethnomusicology. Ramnarine 2007 and Turino 2004 offer their own analytical frameworks for the study of music and/in diaspora, while Slobin encourages scholars to engage with diaspora as a theoretical concept and not simply a categorical designation to be taken for granted. Turino 2003 proposes an alternative to the “global culture” model that has often been used in the study of diasporic and immigrant musics. Slobin 1993, a particularly useful source for the study of music within multiethnic societies, provides a theoretically rigorous model for the analysis of micromusics, or “small musics living in big systems” (p. xiii). While Stokes 1994 does not explicitly engage with the concept of diaspora, this important chapter provides critical insight into the relationship between music and identity—a relationship at the heart of the majority of the scholarship on music and diaspora. Finally, the author of Shelemay 2011 invites a critical re-examination of the notion of community (whether diasporic or otherwise), urging scholars to attend to the discursive implications of the term. Her call for a more rigorous, or at the very least re-examined, approach to the defining of community is of the utmost relevance to those studying diasporic communities, as the case study she provides demonstrates.

  • Bohlman, Philip V. “Diaspora.” In Oxford Music Online: Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane Root, Philip V. Bohlman, Jonathan Cross, Honey Meconi, and John H. Roberts. New York: Oxford University Press.

    An overview of the notion of diaspora, both in general and as it relates to music.

  • Ramnarine, Tina K. “Musical Performance in the Diaspora: Introduction.” In Musical Performance in the Diaspora. Edited by Tina K. Ramnarine, 1–18. New York: Routledge, 2007.

    Both introduction and case study, the opening chapter to this edited volume draws upon Ato Quayson’s theory of calibration to provide insight into diasporic musical practice.

  • Shelemay, Kay Kaufman. “Musical Communities: Rethinking the Collective in Music.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 64.2 (2011): 349–390.

    DOI: 10.1525/jams.2011.64.2.349

    Inspired by her ethnographic work with Ethiopian diasporic communities, Shelemay asserts that a reappraisal of the term “community” in the study of musical collectivities allows opportunities to elucidate the ways music generates, shapes, and sustains new collectivities. Proposes a framework for the notion of community that “re-claims ‘community’. . .as part of an updated search to define music’s generative role in social processes” (p. 350).

  • Slobin, Mark. Subcultural Sounds: Micromusics of the West. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1993.

    This study of subcultural musics draws upon Arjun Appadurai’s theories of ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, ideoscapes, and mediascapes as a way to explore the dynamics between supercultural, subcultural, and intercultural musical practices. Particularly useful for those working with diasporic musics is Slobin’s conception of a diasporic interculture, which “emerges from the linkages that subcultures set up across national boundaries” (p. 64).

  • Slobin, Mark. “The Destiny of ‘Diaspora’ in Ethnomusicology.” In The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction. Edited by Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert, and Richard Middleton, 284–296. New York and London: Routledge, 2012.

    This brief article offers a useful overview of the use (and misuse) of the “diaspora” concept in ethnomusicology, both currently (as of 2012 in the updated edition) and over the years, examining the term’s emergence, expansion, and evolution in the field. He offers suggestions for future research, emphasizing in particular the concepts of sonic diaspora, intra-diasporic music, and “internet as diasporic agent.” Originally published in 2003.

  • Stokes, Martin. “Introduction: Ethnicity, Identity and Music.” In Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. Edited by Martin Stokes, 1–27. Oxford and Providence, RI: Berg, 1994.

    A critical overview of the relationship between music and identity, particularly in terms of the ways in which music can articulate/inform a sense of place; negotiate ethnic, national, and gender identities; and navigate within hybrid or pluralized identities.

  • Turino, Thomas. “Are We Global Yet? Globalist Discourse, Cultural Formations, and the Study of Zimbabwean Popular Music.” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 12.2 (2003): 51–79.

    DOI: 10.1080/09681220308567363

    Utilizing the cultural formations of immigrant communities, diasporas, and cosmopolitan formations, Turino proposes an alternative framework to the concept of “global culture”—a framework that has often been employed in the study of trans-state musical processes.

  • Turino, Thomas. “Introduction: Identity and the Arts in Diaspora Communities.” In Identity and the Arts in Diaspora Communities. Edited by Thomas Turino and James Lea, 3–20. Warren, MI: Harmonie Park, 2004.

    The introduction to this interdisciplinary and diverse collection of articles argues that music (along with other expressive cultural forms) enables a “rich semiotic field that has the capability of producing particularly complex effects” (p. 17), thus making it particularly effective at representing, generating, and configuring diasporic identities.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.