Music's institution and the (de)colonial

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


After an open call, we invited contributers to a two-day conference at Lund University, Sweden, on 4–5 May 2023, welcoming researchers, artists, and activists whose work explore issues of colonialism, decolonial resistance, and/or institutional decolonisation initiatives in relation to music’s past and present.

In the call we were open towards traditional papers, as well as creative methods, interdisciplinary approaches, and different presentation formats. We asked all contributors to specifically address one of the following three themes:

1. Musical colonisation
Kofi Agawu has directed attention to the processes and effects of “musical
colonization” (2016, 338), highlighting, among other things, the legacy of colonial
European ethnomusicology and the global imposition of Protestant hymns’ diatonic
tonality in the nineteenth century. In the African context this was, according to Agawu,
“musical violence of a very high order,” the intricacies and processes of which “remain
to be properly explored” (ibid.). We therefore invite contributors to explore the
processes and consequences of musical colonisation, and the different forms it has
taken in different times and places. Specifically:
- How have colonising powers sought to categorise and taxonomise indigenous
- How have the musical instruments, styles, and conventions of colonised people
been suppressed?
- Through which disciplinary techniques and instruments have colonisers
imposed their musical practices and tonal systems?
- How has the composition and performance of music functioned as a means of
claiming and asserting control over colonised places and peoples?

2. Music as decolonial resistance
Throughout history many musicians and composers have expressed their political
resistance through music practices. The historical Avant-garde did it with abstraction
and insistence on art’s materiality, 1960s and 1970s protest movements turned to folksong tradition and “sing and song” writing, the punk movement used loudness and
noise, while artists in totalitarian systems often turn to religious references and
expressions. With this context we ask contributors to consider:
- How is musical resistance expressed in colonial contexts?
- What are the institutional strategies?
- What are the aesthetics?
- How can music be an active part of the processes of decolonisation?

3. Dynamics of colonialism in musical institutions today
National governments and inter-governmental organisations have in the past two
decades launched programmes meant to explicitly address their colonial legacies in
the field of the arts, often part of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Our
focus is primarily on the Nordic region, but we welcome studies from other contexts,
as well as explorations of the geographical and geopolitical complexity of musical
institutions’ decolonisation policies, including from STS and infrastructural critique
perspectives, with questions such as:
- How are policies addressing colonial legacies being deployed, and how are they
interacting with and potentially changing theories of musical aesthetics?
- To what extent do they address and overcome colonial relations?
- How do concepts of decolonisation intersect with other DEI initiatives in music
and arts policy today?
- What are the blindspots and negative unintended consequences of these
- In what ways do these programmes intersect with dynamics of neocolonialism?
What do contemporary debates on decolonisation in music and art discourses
fail to address and why?
Period2023 May 42023 May 5
Event typeConference
LocationLund, SwedenShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational

UKÄ subject classification

  • Humanities

Free keywords

  • music
  • decolonial thinking
  • decoloniality
  • decolonization
  • musicology
  • music history
  • music education