Study Group “Mediterranean Music Studies” (MMS)

Symposium on “Musical Insularity”
Lisbon, July 2012
Instituto de Etnomusicologia, Centro de Estudos de Música e Dança (INET-MD)
Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas
Nova Universidade de Lisboa

Between July 10 and 12, 2012 the Study Group for Mediterranean Music Studies held its 9th  Symposium in Lisbon, Portugal, hosted by INET-MD at the Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humana of the Nova Universidade de Lisboa. We are all very grateful to Professor Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco, Director of INET- MD, for her  cordial hospitality, impeccable organization, and active participation as discussant and session chair.

The theme of this Symposium was “Musical Insularity: How it Favours Conservation, How it Triggers Innovation.” Papers were selected by a committee, made up of Caroline Bithell, Kevin Dawe, and myself. It is with great regret that we could not have Kevin's presence, because of a joyful event in his family requiring his total attention.

The choice of a theme such as “insularity”requires a bit of explaining because in June 2004, Tullia Magrini organized in Venice the 6th Meeting of the Study Group, then called "Anthropology of Music in Mediterranean Cultures," devoted to a discussion of “Music in Mediterranean Islands.” Since then Islands have become a much bigger topic than they ever were. In fact, thanks largely to Godfrey Baldacchino (University of Prince Edward Island, Canada) and his hournal “Island studies” this topic has become a veritable new field of intellectual endeavour. That is why it seemed challenging to musically revisit “islands,” and do so in an even wider perspective – that of “insularity.” Luckily, we could have in Lisbon, some of the people who had previously been in Venice (
Judith Cohen, Caroline Bithell, Ruth Davis, Franco Fabbri, and Gail Holst-Warhaft) and so the connection between the 2004 event and this later one was more than merely symbolic.

In Lisbon a welcome address was given by by Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco, followed by a few words by myself. Six sessions followed, with eighteen papers by representatives of eleven nations (Albania, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Portugal, Israel, UK, USA). Actually more than eleven nations, if one considers how many of our speakers are either bi-national or live and work in a Country different from that of their upbringing. They all made up a very interesting party, where old friends were happy to meet each other again, and where new people were equally happy to join the group.

We adopted, in keeping with a philosophy developed and tested last year in the Portel Symposium, a “slow food” approach. The program was full, but not packed, and a good amount of time was devoted to discussions. In evenings we all could satisfy our thirst for Fado performances.

The list of papers presented, reproduced here below, in the order of appearance, gives an idea of the variety of topics put on the table for discussion; some of the papers explored the idea of musical insularity in its more general terms, others in its anchorage and manifestation in local settings:

  • Ioannis Tsioulakis (University College, Cork): “Musical Eclecticism and the Pre-recession Athenian Ethnic Scene: Fragments of a Salvage Ethnography”
  • Gail Holst-Warhaft (Cornell University): “Porous Borders and Liminality: the Aegean Islands as Musical Conduit and Crossroads”
  • Franco Fabbri (Università degli Studi di Torino): “Beam me up, Scotty!” Metaphoric and Real Insularity in the Globalized World (or: a Sea Star Trek)”
  • Mojca Piskor (University of Zagreb): “Island Islanded: Decoding the Islandness of the Otočki Rock”
  • Ruth Davis (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge): “Islands of Musical Memory: Recalling the Jewish Arab past in North Africa and the Levant”
  • Judith Cohen (York University, Canada): “Singing Beyond the Island: New Musical Strategies among Iberian Crypto-Jews”
  • Vanessa Paloma (Brandeis University): “A Songbook from Alcazarquivir’s Early 20th Century”
  • Ed Emery (SOAS, London): “The Insularity of Insular Song”
  • Jorge Castro Ribeiro (Ethnomusicology Institute INET-MD Lisbon,
  • University of Aveiro): “Beyond Insularity and Tourism: Popular Music in the Madeira Archipelago”
  • Cassandre Balosso-Bardin (SOAS, London): “The Xeremies in Mallorca: Between tradition and Modernity, the Modern Day Situation of the Majorcan Bagpipes after its Revival in the 1970s”
  • Goffredo Plastino (University of Newcastle). “A Tough Sound: the Calabrian Lira from Isolation to Innovation”
  • Andrew Pace (University of Manchester): “A Comparison of Performance Context Between Maltese Communities in Malta and Australia”
  • Abigail Wood (SOAS, London/Haifa University, Israel): “Insularity in a Crowded Place: Music and the Boundaries of Belonging in Jerusalem’s Old City”
  • Mikaela Minga (Università degli Studi di Milano): “The Serenata Korçare: How a Song Can Be Insular”
  • Loren Chuse (Berkeley, California): “Spanish Flamenco: A Case of Musical Insularity and Innovation”
  • Maria Hnaraki (Drexel University): “Dancing with the Heroes: Conservation and Innovation in Cretan Performance”
  • Marcello Sorce Keller (University of Malta): "Musings on Islands, Insularity, and Cultural Diversity"
  • Caroline Bithell (University of Manchester): “Reimagining the island”

This was not only an interesting mix of topics but also, in the estimation of this writer, a mix that gave us all a tangible perception of how large the topic of musical insularity really is, and of how it provided a new angle from which to examine the “tradition vs. innovation” dynamics; in other words, the dynamics of musical change.

A conclusive session, devoted to the discussion of future events, future publications, and future development of the MMS website took place at the end, chaired by Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco. As far as future events are concerned, Palermo seems to be the place where our next colloquium will be hosted, thanks to Sergio Bonanzinga of Palermo University (Crete and Morocco, and even Australia are being considered for the medium range future). In the way of publications there seems to be a clear propension to go electronic, and the MMS website is probably the place for this to occur. This is something on which the èresent writer will have to work for the next several months.

At the very end a party took place. The music was provided at first by Sérgio Fonseca, doctoral student at INET, who is a Fado performer, and guitar collector. Then Franco Fabbri took over the guitar and gave us classical rock, as well as some of his songs written for the Italian group “Stormy Six.” Cassandra Balosso Bardin also took up her bagpipes, with Ioannis Tsioulakis at the keyboard, and Judith Cohen joined in with percussions and flute. Many of us enjoyed some dancing as well. It should not be forgotten that music and dancing we intermixed with wine, baked cod-fish with cream (a Portuguese delicacy) cake, and cookies. That was the appropiate way to enjoy once more each other's company, and then say good-by or, rather, arrivederci.

Marcello Sorce Keller



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