DIALOGUES: Towards Decolonizing Music and Dance Studies


In early 2021, the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) began a series of online sessions, the ICTM Dialogues, that focused on decolonizing music and dance studies from multiple viewpoints. It was a challenging and disorienting year for members of the ICTM. During the COVID-19 pandemic that had begun in early 2020, BIPOC (an acronym for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) and Black Lives Matter movements brought to the fore issues related to anti-racism, decolonization, equity, and the rights of Indigenous, marginalized, and minoritized peoples. The ICTM and its members were compelled to critically reflect on ways to nurture inclusivity, equality, diversity, care, and social justice in the Council and in our academic research methods, teaching, and performances. We needed to do more than reflect – we needed to make meaningful, lasting change in our practices, communities, and institutions.

The ICTM Dialogues Committee posed these questions in its Call for Proposals:


This digital book presents the ICTM Dialogues in a dynamic multimedia format, featuring a showcase of videos recorded during the online sessions. Through this publication, we hope to continue emergent dialogues about decolonizing music and dance studies in the ICTM, and continue to build relationships and communities of practice and praxis across institutional, national, and regional boundaries.

In early 2020, ICTM’s Executive Board requested that the Ethics Committee consider and advise regarding an appropriate expression of solidarity in support of BIPOC initiatives and calls for social justice. The Ethics Committee, chaired by Naila Ceribašić, invited additional ICTM members to help them in their deliberations, and in drafting the “Statement and Activities in View of Decolonization of Music and Dance Studies.” Both Tan Sooi Beng and Marcia Ostashewski, the editors of the current publication, are members of the ICTM Executive Board and its Ethics Committee; Marcia Ostashewski was also, at the time, the President of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music (CSTM), the Canadian counterpart of the ICTM. At the same time as working with the ICTM Ethics Committee on the Statement, Marcia worked with former CSTM Secretary Meghan Forsyth and the rest of the CSTM Executive and membership as a whole to draft and ratify “CSTM’s Call to Action: Challenging Systemic Racism and Colonialism in Ethnomusicology in Canada.” Both ICTM’s Statement and CSTM’s Call to Action went hand in hand with efforts toward decolonizing ethnomusicology on an international level and within Canada, among them the ICTM Dialogues and the current publication.

Since 2020, the pandemic has been a common thread weaving into our experiences at personal, national, and global levels. Lockdowns, quarantines, sanitizer, masks, vaccines, the “new normal,” and Zoom became part of our daily vocabulary. Many ICTM Study Group Symposia and in-person meetings were postponed, including the 45th World Conference that had been planned for 2021 in Lisbon. We were all challenged to adjust to ever-changing work-from-home paradigms and mobility restrictions. We experimented with different technologies and remote working platforms in order to communicate and connect with our students and colleagues. The pandemic also fostered a discourse and culture of compassion. Disparities and inequities that existed in our communities and workplaces prior to COVID-19 have became more stark as well, especially for people who have long suffered from the impacts of racism, colonization, marginalization, and discrimination.

These challenges have been unsettling but they have also given ICTM members opportunities to explore alternative ways of working, of navigating difficulties that arise in the day-to-day activities of our work, and of relating amidst changing dynamics of power in our communities and institutions. Emerging from discussions related to the ICTM’s “Declaration of Ethical Principles and Professional Integrity,” the Council’s Executive Board launched a series of virtual dialogues that provided a space for members to meet and network online, as well as conduct meaningful conversations about decolonizing music and dance studies on an international level.

An international committee was established to organize the 2021 ICTM Dialogues. Committee Members include Tan Sooi Beng (Malaysia, Chair), Silvia Citro (Argentina), Irene Karongo Hundleby (Solomon Islands/New Zealand), Jean Kidula (Kenya/USA), Urmimala Sarkar Munsi (India), Christian Onyeji (Nigeria), Marcia Ostashewski (Canada), Shzr Ee Tan (Singapore/UK), and J. Lawrence Witzleben (USA). Susana Sardo (Portugal) and Kati Szego (Canada) also joined the Committee as World Conference Program Co-Chairs, responsible for decisions regarding presentation content at the 2022 gathering in Lisbon, including reports, activities, and presentations related to the 2021 ICTM Dialogues. The ICTM Dialogues Committee sent out a Call for Proposals inviting presentations exploring multiple perspectives on decolonization from around the world (ictmusic.org/dialogues2021). Forty-two proposals were submitted and evaluated and twenty-four were selected for the series. Notably, the majority of selected proposals were from countries that have historically been underrepresented in ICTM meetings and publications, including countries from Latin America (41% of the proposals accepted) and Africa (20%) (ictmusic.org/dialogues2021/programme). Other presentations included contributions from India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Tunisia, and nations of the former Soviet Union.

The Committee was highly encouraged as the online sessions attracted the participation of academics, students, cultural activists, and heritage bearers from around the globe. Out of a total of 2,445 people who registered for the twenty-four sessions, 27% were faculty members, 33% were graduate students, 10% were university affiliate employees, 6% were undergraduates, and the other 23% included social activists as well as Indigenous and minoritized knowledge holders. The ICTM Dialogues also attracted the interest of people who had not attended any ICTM meetings before; they made up 44% of those who registered.

Furthermore, our statistics show that those who could not attend the live sessions watched the recorded videos that were posted on YouTube and Bilibili. As of January 2022, the four most widely viewed sessions include Dialogue 1 – “A Latin American Dialogue for Social Inclusion: Community Musics, Ethnicities, and Identities” (681 attendees and YouTube viewers); Dialogue 4 – “Collaborative Methodologies for Decentring Power Hierarchies in Education, Artistic Research, and Museum Curating” (601 attendees and YouTube viewers); Dialogue 3 – “Insider Dance Research and Resulting Discourses in Seven African Countries” (365 attendees and YouTube viewers), and Dialogue 2 – “From Cosmopolitanism to Cosmology: Forging Decolonial Praxis in Contemporary South Africa” (331 attendees and YouTube viewers). Due to the many online seminars that were organized in the wake of the pandemic, busy schedules of colleagues, time zone differences, and “Zoom fatigue,” the number of attendees and YouTube viewers decreased substantially towards the latter half of 2021. Still, the recordings remain online and readily accessible, and continue to be viewed. They constitute an invaluable record of the unprecedented past two years, and a legacy of the collective efforts of ICTM and its members to disrupt the impacts of racism and colonization in music and dance studies.

Key Themes

What are the main themes of the ICTM Dialogues? The presenters emphasize that, in the postcolonial era, Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities in many parts of the world continue to face racial, class, gender, and other types of cultural inequalities and injustices that are perpetuated by neocolonial hegemonic powers. It is therefore important to develop research methodologies that seek to recover and affirm identities, knowledges, and histories as well as to reclaim the ontologies and epistemologies of marginalized people. The ICTM Dialogues presenters and audience members alike expressed a need to decentre power hierarchies such as those between the researcher/researched, scholar/performer, theory/practice, centre/periphery, and Global North/South in our ethnographic research methodologies (Mignolo, 2021; Smith, 2012).

With case studies from disparate locations and many different communities of practice, the ICTM Dialogues highlight multiple approaches to enhance knowledge production and transmission with and/or by tradition bearers. They encompass work in music education, dance and music studies, composition, as well as artistic and historical research. It is noteworthy that, in most of the ICTM Dialogues sessions, praxis acts as an important approach and point of convergence for decentring or disassembling hegemonic structures in society. As Freire (1972) writes, praxis attests to the use of research and theory to reflect on who benefits from the investigations and publications of research, and to transform society. The ICTM Dialogues also emphasize that diverse knowledges and ways of knowing, including those of the marginalized groups, are equally valid. ICTM Dialogues 4 and 6 exemplify how certain European museum curators have begun to interact and cooperate with Indigenous researchers so that Indigenous voices and approaches to sharing cultural knowledge are foundational to museum exhibitions. ICTM Dialogue 19 charts a new course forward by attempting to overcome internal divisions within the academy itself, between humanities and aesthetics, literature and music. Bringing together a renowned exponent of Sikh devotional music with ethnomusicologists and Sikh Studies scholars, this panel illuminates how the recovery of pre-colonial Sikh ways of knowing occurs through an encounter with “the Other” beyond the centre-periphery dynamics of the West’s dominant episteme.

Praxis with Indigenous and marginalized research participants is typically characterized by intensive collaboration in knowledge creation and dissemination. Such collaboration can lead to social change (Lassiter, 2021). The presenters in ICTM Dialogue 11 emphasize that horizontal collaboration with knowledge holders in academic research and archival work helps to break through academic boundaries that have typically segregated people who are researchers from those who are researched. In various parts of Latin America, collective research and dialogue among Indigenous performers, cultural activists, and academics have inspired the building of communities of practice, reasserted local identities, and circulated knowledges beyond colonial narratives and spaces (ICTM Dialogues 1, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 15, 23). ICTM Dialogue 2 highlights how collaboration between community musicians and university teachers/students in jazz performance and scholarship can tear down racial barriers in South Africa. ICTM Dialogue 4 illustrates how artistic research collaboration between university-based researchers and Indigenous performers can be a means for the latter to engage in rejuvenating their cultures.

The theme of national and cultural sovereignty is highlighted in ICTM Dialogue 22, presented on 27 November, 2021 by scholars from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) that collapsed in 1991. In this ICTM Dialogue, ethnomusicologists from the region share their development of alternative methodologies and studies of local and minority traditions. Forbidden during the Soviet era, these new research activities have provided avenues to affirm and create independent national identities and to contest Russia’s dominance over the former USSR republics. This ICTM Dialogue is pertinent and timely as the Russian military invaded Ukraine only a few months after this presentation, on 24 February, 2022, the horrors of which we continued to witness even as this digital book moved towards publication.

Another significant theme concerns the development of strategies by music and dance educators, researchers, composers, and artists in postcolonial countries. Presenters in ICTM Dialogue 24 show how these strategies are used to decolonize pedagogy, compositional techniques, and performance vocabularies that continue to be based on Western models in societies on multiple continents. ICTM Dialogue 4 showcases the inspiring “Meeting of Knowledges Movement” in Brazil that has endorsed and validated heritage masters as teachers and researchers and the incorporation of diverse types of musics (rather than exclusively Western Art Music) in university curricula. So too in art music composition, traditional, local, and popular musical concepts and instruments are being integrated with Western ones in several African countries, as discussed in ICTM Dialogue 18. In ICTM Dialogues 3 and 6, postcolonial scholars from Africa and India show sensitivity towards the application of Western-based theories and methodologies for dance research and performances since their education has been based on – and they have been influenced by – these Western models.

Additionally, as ICTM Dialogues 9 and 17 underscore, decolonization has led scholars, musicians, and teachers (particularly those in the Global North) to seek out new ways of knowing. They do this by engaging with academic and knowledge systems different from their own, and with research participants from communities of practice. ICTM Dialogue 13 discusses decentring “whiteness” by foregrounding the agency of musicians and people living in the borderlands of Asia. The presenters in ICTM Dialogue 16 make the case that self-accountability is vital to ensure that inequalities and privilege in one’s research, teaching, composition, and performance are recognized and confronted. As discussed in ICTM Dialogue 7, it is also essential that editors of high-impact journals, especially those based in the Global North, be more inclusive in their review and publication practices.

On a related aspect, ICTM Dialogues presenters stress the importance of multilingual platforms and of being open to alternative modes of participation and presentation. These mechanisms can be very useful in decentring power relations between academics and tradition bearers in dance and music studies, and to engage with tradition bearers on their own terms. Notably, the ICTM Dialogues invited presentations and comments in multiple languages. This helped to convey local cultural concepts and to reduce top-down mediation of and interpretation by academics, which so often happens at knowledge-exchange events such as academic conferences. Some ICTM Dialogues, including 14 and 23, experimented with performance and scripted play in local languages. ICTM Dialogue 16 attempted a semi-structured sharing session akin to a ‘coffee shop’ of Southeast Asia. In this case, presenters used local languages and accents and a specially designed padlet.com site to facilitate inclusive conversations.

Reflections and Moving Forward

Many ICTM Dialogues presenters remarked that participation in the 2021 ICTM Dialogues was thought-provoking and inspiring. The ICTM Dialogues provided a space for music and dance researchers to begin to collectively reflect on the multiple perspectives, practices, and approaches that researchers are engaging to decolonize, and collaboratively produce and disseminate knowledge with artists, performers, and activists. In turn, many Indigenous tradition bearers and knowledge holders, especially from Latin America and Africa, commented that the opportunity to present at the ICTM Dialogues has given them confidence to voice their opinions in academic settings. More to the point, their experiences presenting at the ICTM Dialogues have shown that they will be appropriately welcomed and heard, and that their knowledge and expertise will be valued and respected within the context of the ICTM and the work of its members.

Equally significant, the ICTM Dialogues have promoted new transnational conversations and collaborations between groups and individuals, and fostered new relationships between scholars from disparate regions of our world. One immediate outcome is this digital book, including the abstracts, reflections, questions for further consideration, and videos of the 2021 ICTM Dialogues. This type of publication can be updated easily and is widely accessible to tradition bearers, artists, non-academics, and academics. In this way, this publication also responds to the ICTM Dialogues presenters’ goal of supporting continued, asynchronous, critical engagement at the transnational level.

Additional outcomes of the new relationships fostered by the ICTM Dialogues, even in this short time period, include the publication of essays by a few African scholars in high-impact international journals (in addition to the current digital book), and direct access for knowledge holders to collections of Indigenous music in the European Sound Archives. Further, a list of terminologies that were previously not accepted by international music journals and book publishers is being developed, with the hope of expanding what will be accepted and published in the future.

The Digital Publication

Co-edited by Tan Sooi Beng and Marcia Ostashewski, this book uses Scalar, an open-access publication platform hosted by the University of Southern California that highlights visuals such as images and videos. To avoid advertisements that appear in YouTube videos, the ICTM Dialogues videos are streamed from the ACENET/The Alliance cloud space. ACENET is funded by the Canadian federal government, and works in partnership with The Alliance to provide advanced computing resources to Canadian researchers. Their support is provided to the ICTM Dialogues through the association of Marcia Ostashewski and the Centre for Sound Communities at Cape Breton University, in Nova Scotia, Canada. This way, the videos in the digital publication are available to ICTM members in China, where YouTube has been blocked.

In collaboration with several members of our international ICTM Dialogues Committee as well as Indigenous community-based researchers, Sooi Beng and Marcia (as co-leads of the team) secured a generous grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada – Connections Program. SSHRC funding provided resources to support the ICTM Dialogues as well as the current digital publication, and for making this publication freely available and widely accessible on the world wide web. The SSHRC grant also supported a larger international program on the theme of decolonizing music and dance studies. The larger program comprised activities and outcomes well beyond the ICTM Dialogues (e.g., workshops and publications on anti-racist pedagogies and disrupting white supremacy in the academy, on tools and strategies to foster collaboration in and the democratization of scholarship and research). The grant enabled our team to employ and fund more than thirty graduate students and emerging scholars. We expressly prioritized support for BIPOC students and scholars, people from communities that have historically been underrepresented in scholarship and academic institutions. The broader SSHRC-funded program resulted in greater inclusion in both ICTM and CSTM, and fostered vital regional and transnational conversations toward decolonizing music and dance studies. All the while, it provided meaningful opportunities for research training and professional development, and expanded professional networks for scholars and students.

To further foster accessibility to the ICTM Dialogues, the co-editors of the digital publication encouraged video presentations and abstracts in multiple languages. Although some presenters, particularly those in the Global South, faced challenges regarding internet instability, accessibility to technology, and unexpected climate change crises, the ICTM Dialogues videos enabled non-English speaking heritage bearers to voice their opinions in their own languages, and on their own terms.

Significantly, the hybrid 46th ICTM World Conference held in Lisbon in July 2022 featured papers on decoloniality and alternative means of presentation, and included new types of video and performance presentations (see http://ictmusic.org/ictm2022/programme). Some of the ICTM Study Groups have also begun to hold online sessions on these important topics.

This digital book publication of the ICTM Dialogues has benefited from the ingenuity, creativity, care, hard work, and assistance of many people. We would like to thank the members of the Committee for the 2021 ICTM Dialogues for their prompt evaluations of proposals, Carlos Yoder (ICTM Secretariat) for video editing and running the Zoom sessions so efficiently, Eric Taylor Gomes Escudero (graduate student) for technical assistance during the ICTM Dialogues sessions and publication process, Silvia Citro and Mayco Santaella for editing Spanish translations, and Shzr Ee Tan for uploading videos on Bilibili (until she was blocked). We also extend thanks to Crystal Chan for the beautiful design and meticulous editing of this digital publication, Elizabeth Edgerton and Humberto Piccoli for publication production assistance, and to Chris Geroux for creating the publication’s ACENET/The Alliance video hosting platform and cloud space. Last but not least, our heartfelt thanks to all the ICTM Dialogues organizers and presenters, and the Indigenous tradition bearers for sharing their rich experiences and knowledge; we could not ask for more.


Freire, Paulo. 2007. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London; New York: Continuum.
Lassiter, Luke Eric. 2021. “Collaborative Ethnography, Trends, Developments and Opportunities.” In Transforming Ethnomusicology (Vol. 1): Methodologies, Institutional Structures and Policies, edited by Beverly Diamond and Salwan El-Shawan Castelo-Branco, 59-72. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mignolo, Walter D. 2021. The Politics of Decolonial Investigations. Durnham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies, Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd ed. London: Zed Books and University of Otago Press.

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