Category Archives: conferences

#SEMSEC 2016: from Engine Rooms to Landscapes


From the initial CFP, #SEMSEC2016 has offered productive formulations for thinking about music and musicians both in cultural context and across time and space. SEMSEC Vice President Michael O’Brien‘s work on our meeting theme, “the Engine Room” reflected careful thinking with Elizabeth Clendinning and the other officers, and presenters responded by generating a range of fascinating thought. Sunday’s presentations continued that trend with a session from Caribbean scholars Maarten Manmohan, Ngozi Liverpool, and Meagan Sylvester (hear more from the latter two here); and concurrent sessions featured topics ranging from Christian rock concerts of epic scale and cost to physical geographies of steel pans. So many good papers, so little time!

Meanwhile, the conference afforded opportunities to consider how these sounds and thoughts map onto the fascinating social textures and physical topographies of Trinidad & Tobago, Venezuela’s Orinoco River Delta, and beyond. One highlight was to hike San Fernando Hill with Dale Olsen and his wife Diane. Dr. Olsen’s work with the Warao people of Venezuela earned him the 1997 Alan P. Merriam Prize for the most outstanding book in ethnomusicology (a brief introduction to that work for a general readership appears here). The Warao call San Fernando Hill “Naparima,” and it represents the northernmost extremity of their cosmology. Making this trek with Dale and Diane reminded me that understanding people’s belief systems often means not only listening carefully to their music and examining their folklore in detail, but also experiencing their foodways and their pathways in the world. To that end, just as eating bake and shark, Thai cuisine, roti, and dubbles helped me understand the demographics and overlapping histories of this place, walking Naparima Hill with a distinguished senior scholar contributed to a deeper understanding of Trinidad’s distinctive topography. Its compelling links to the indigenous Warao of Venezuela generated a powerful view of the valley below and the sea beyond it.


San Fernando’s coastal valley moves from a distant Venezuela on the horizon to the left–just 11km away from the southernmost tip of Trinidad–to an industrial coastline, to a well-populated western littoral, to oil refineries, all of which contribute to the physical and cultural atmosphere of the city. To stay in San Fernando is to live and breathe this atmosphere. American and Trinidadian laborers file into restaurants and hotels for their meals and some short-term lodging.

The pace of the city adheres to the distinctive working rhythms of daily life. Visitors can palpably feel Trinidad’s overthrow of the plantation economy, British class society, and the Indian caste systems here. Yes, histories of slavery and indentured servitude shaped land tenure and continued to inform post-colonial economics, but this city has erected monuments to progress. One example is the University of Trinidad and Tobago‘s Southern Academy for Performing Arts (SAPA), where we held the #SEMSEC2016 annual meeting.



Yes, the sweeping interiors of this building and its breezeway are as gorgeous as the treble clef-inspired architecture we see from this view. So thanks also to local arrangements co-chairs Mia Gormandy and Kayleen Justus, this meeting took us from the Engine Room to the gorgeous landscapes of Trinidadian culture and physical topography and back.



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#SEMSEC16 in Trini!

It’s finally here! We’ve been planning and scheming to come to Trinidad and Tobago for several years. The time has come: the Society for Ethnomusicology Southeast and Caribbean Chapter annual meeting takes place this week (Friday-Sunday) at the Royal Hotel in San Fernando Trinidad! More pix and stories to come, but here’s an early one from our cute little guest house, the Heritage Inn in Port of Spain.

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New Position, New Conference, New Friends, New Book!

It’s been a minute since I posted, but I’m at the American Folklore Society’s annual meeting this week. All of the activity on Twitter has inspired me to re-commit to connecting with colleagues and communities via this web presence. This is part of a broader effort to re-connect, post-dissertation, with more popular forms of writing and more diverse audiences than just the academy. However, I do need to start with an important detail: Claflin University has generously provided the necessary leave and support for me to be here. For that and so many other forms of support, I am truly grateful. My first couple of months at Claflin have been fantastic, and my family’s first several weeks in Orangeburg have also placed us in a warm and welcoming community.

I have come to participate in a pre-conference workshop co-sponsored by the university presses at Mississippi, Illinois, and Wisconsin with funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation. It’s been a very exciting and fulfilling day. The workshop involved six authors this year, all of whom provided meaningful feedback to each other on our respective projects. It also involves senior folklorists as mentors and the acquisitions editors at these three university presses. I am so grateful to the folks at University of Illinois Press for their interest in my project and to the FSMW team for putting on this tremendous workshop. I look forward to our reception tomorrow afternoon as well, which will provide further opportunities to build networks across disciplines.

The new friends, colleagues, and acquaintances include those recently added to my Twitter feed, but rather than creating a chain of suggestions for following, I encourage motivated readers to participate in the conversation themselves.

Ultimately, this workshop and this conference point toward a book project that grows out of my dissertation and the subsequent work that I continue to do on that project. In case you’re new to this forum, it’s all about music and wellness in Uganda. Stick around in the coming months for more as that project and other new interests develop close to our new digs!

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