Music and Cultural Diplomacy in the Middle East: Geopolitical Re-Configurations for the 21st Century

About the Event

In recent years cultural diplomacy has gained renewed attention given the social, economic and geopolitical transformations that have underpinned rise of neoliberal economies (Zamorano 2016, Ney 2008). Broadly defined as a soft power tool for building long term influence, cultural diplomacy is a contested term since it can be located on the same spectrum as state branding, propaganda and public diplomacy (Goff 2013). However, cultural diplomacy may also be expanded beyond the remits of the state to encompass international organizations (EU, UNESCO), non-sate actors (NGO’s), communities and individual musicians. All of these contribute to the constant flows of ideas, images and sounds circulating through a plethora of platforms that characterize today’s highly mediatized global world.

While key studies from the fields of musicology, popular music studies, political science and diplomacy have addressed the role of music in cultural diplomacy during the Cold War period (Fosler-Lussier 2015, Mikkonen and Suutari 2016), cultural diplomacy has barely been addressed in the context of the Middle East. Here, the work of musicians such as Umm Kulthum or Fairuz has arguably served cultural diplomacy purposes. This conference aims to tackle a lack of contemporary accounts on the role played by musics, musicians, music institutions as well as non-state actors in mediating between contemporary sound practices, power and cultural diplomacy within the Middle East as well as those between the Middle East, the Western world and other geographies.

In the aftermath of the 2015 migration crisis, cultural diplomacy gained further relevance with the EU claiming it to be ‘at the heart of European International relations’ (European Union External Action). Music has served to manage cultural difference between European states with their external ‘Muslim neighbours as well as internal Muslim citizens’ (Shannon 2015:168) in what can be perceived an asymmetric exchange that serves political, economic and rhetorical functions. In light of the increasing ways in which the term ‘cultural diplomacy’ is being applied, we invite proposals that can help problematise Middle Eastern musical practices in their relationship to power and cultural diplomacy in order build a broader and pluri-dimensional account on these contentious relationships.

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The event is organized by Dr. Maria M. Rijo Lopes da Cunha and Associate Prof. Søren Møller Sørensen from the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies (IKK) of the University of Copenhagen and supported by the Danish Institute in Damascus.

Concert by Badia Bouhrizi

On Friday, 4 December at 17:00, the Tunesian singer-songwriter and composer Badiaa Bouhrizi will be introduced followed by
Q & A.

Badiaa Bouhrizi was awarded the AKMI Award 2019 for Music as Social Justice and Influence.

At 18:30 Badiaa Bouhrizi will give a concert.