The emerging research field of medical ethnomusicology: How music fights AIDS
In a new book, Gregory F. Barz, professor of ethnomusicology at Vanderbilt University documents the effective role music and the arts are playing in the fight against AIDS in Uganda. It's according to the official press release the first book of an emerging research field – medical ethnomusicology – that seeks to combine efforts of anthropologists, music specialists, public health policy makers and doctors and other health care workers to fight disease.
The book is called Singing for Life: HIV/AIDS and Music in Uganda. It collects lyrics to songs and performances inspired by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in that country, and includes a CD sampler of Ugandan music.
"Music and medicine, when they’re coupled together, bring about the greatest effect in many parts of the world in combating disease. While Americans tend to think of music as entertainment, people in countries like Uganda consider it as being life itself."
According to the press release, HIV infection rates have fallen from 30 percent to 5 percent in Uganda in the past decade, and Barz argues that efforts to convey good information by storytellers, dancers, musicians and other artisans have played a prominent role. The typical mass media options don’t work in a country where many people have no access. "Music is often education in Africa, passing along information. I call it ‘dancing the disease’", Barz says.
In an article in the Vanderbilt Register, we read that Barz originally went to Uganda to document native drumming patterns. But:
"The more I listened to songs and observed dances, I began hearing that people were making meaning out of the disease and out of the virus through music and dramas and dancing. They were singing about social problems caused by AIDS – children not having parents, a missing generation – about the sickness that was everywhere.
When I came back, I decided I could no longer close my ears and turn off my fancy recording equipment to these voices anymore. I don’t want to just document the exotic and the local and the indigenous. There has to be some kind of intervention."
Will investigate a bit more. Sounds intriguing. Barz, apart from being a cool guy, is well-known for the book he edited with Cooley on fieldwork practises in ethnomusicology (Shadows in the Field). So, within the sometimes surprisingly insular field of ethnomusicology, he’s one who can connect disciplinary dots.
Of course, there’s a fair deal of research on culturally-appropriate ways to increase AIDS-awareness. Some focus on theater (like Hellweg in Côte-d’Ivoire), others on radio (like Stam in Thailand).
Interesting that ethnomusicologists will be hearing that call.
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