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John Bird Music Research Seminar - Prof Rachel Harris

Calendar Wednesday, 1 May 2024
Calendar 16:30-17:30


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Prof Rachel Harris

‘Music, tourism, and colonial desire: the case of the “Xinjiang Dance” Craze’

In 2023, in parks and town squares across the country, Chinese people engaged in a nationwide ‘Xinjiang dance’ craze. They learned the dance moves for choreographed versions of the dance styles of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other peoples of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and they dressed themselves in ethnic costumes to perform these dances to recorded soundtracks of Uyghur pop.

For outside observers, this might seem an unlikely development following the discourses of terrorism and mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in recent years, but it aligned neatly with new initiatives across Chinese government, media and heritage to promote tourism in the Uyghur region. In this talk, Rachel Harris reflects on the political manipulation of music and dance, highlighting the ways that Uyghur music and dance are currently being used to rewrite the history of the Uyghur region and the future of its peoples, thinking through the aesthetic formations and imaginaries of Uyghur heritage in China, and the links between music, tourism and territory, colonialism and desire.

Rachel is Professor of Ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London. Her research focuses on musical life, religious and expressive culture among the Uyghurs, and heritage and tourism in China. Her latest book Soundscapes of Uyghur Islam (Indiana University Press 2020) won the 2022 BFE book prize. Recent projects include a British Academy Sustainable Development Project to revitalize Uyghur cultural heritage in Kazakhstan, and the European Research Council Advanced Grant, Maqām Beyond Nation. Further information can be found here:

Boyd Lecture Theatre
Music Building
31 Corbett Road
CF10 3EB

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