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Marié Abe '01: Ethnomusicology on Air

"Ethnomusicology on Air" by Marié Abe '01

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Ethnomusicologist and radio documentary producer Marié Abe '01 discusses her work "Squeezebox Stories," a public radio documentary on the social history, multicultural adaptation, and musical variations of the accordion. Abe, who is introduced by Professor of Music Thomas Whitman '82, recently spoke on campus to give the annual Peter Gram Swing Lecture.

The accordion is about much more than the Polka; it's one of the first global instruments. Played all over the world - everywhere from Italy to Egypt to Brazil - the squeezebox is a great vehicle for telling immigration stories. Abe focuses on a particular story about the community of indigenous Mexican migrant workers from Oaxaca, who are reimagining their complex sense of belonging in a new land through the accordion. By tracing the network of cultural actors, including an accordionist, producer, cultural activist, and a radio host, Abe discusses how diverse creative, political, and economic aspirations among the Oaxacan community have been articulated through their reinterpretation of their beloved regional music chilena on the accordion, while producing a provisional yet productive framework for cultural advocacy for their own community. Furthermore, reflecting on her own process of producing a radio documentary about these actors, Abe considers the efficacy of this documentary project as a kind of musical advocacy at the intersection of ethnomusicology and journalism.

Abe is assistant professor of music in the Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at Boston University. Currently, she is a visiting fellow at the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College, working on her book manuscript that explores the politics of public space and sound through a unique street advertisement practice in Japan, Resonances on Chindon-ya: Sound, Space and Sociality in Contemporary Japan

Abe holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a degree in sociology/anthropology and ethnomusicology from Swarthmore College. Her research interests include cultural advocacy, ritual music in Bali and Thailand, the global circulation of tango, the accordion and immigrant communities in California, anti-nuclear movement and music in Japan, and afro-futurism in the United States. 

Before Boston University, Abe taught in the Department of Music and Asian Studies Program at UC-Berkeley, and in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, where she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies. 

Abe is an active performer of the accordion and piano, with frequent concert tours and collaborations with recording artists from the United States and Japan. She is currently performing with the Boston-based Ethiopian groove collective, Debo Band (Sub Pop/Next Ambience), which has been featured in the New York Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, and NPR, among others.

Peter Gram Swing was the founder of Swarthmore College's Music Department. He was a distinguished scholar of Renaissance music, conductor of the Swarthmore College Chorus for 34 years, and chair of the department for 18. The annual Peter Gram Swing Lecture sponsored by the Department of Music and Dance was established in his honor to bring to the campus eminent musicians and scholars.

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