Music That Incites

lila ellen gray

Lila Ellen Gray, associate professor of music, delivers the first Faculty Research Lunch lecture of the year. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Faculty research series kicks off with songs from the streets

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

A young woman sings—softly, at first, with eyes closed. “I am of the generation without a salary,” she asserts, voice steadily rising, “the generation that still lives with their parents. … This situation has gone on too long.” The crowd roars, phones in hand, and recordings of the protest song go viral on social media. A street protest movement has begun, one that hearkens back to an earlier revolution, also fueled and justified by song.

That response to a crippling economic crisis in Europe captivated Associate Professor of Music Lila Ellen Gray, an expert in urban ethnomusicology whose book, Fado Resounding: Affective Politics and Urban Life (2013, Duke University Press), garnered the International Association for Popular Music's 2014 Woody Guthrie Award. On Sept. 19, she kicked off the 2017-18 Faculty Research Lunch series with a presentation on Portuguese protest singing.

Gray, who joined the Dickinson community last fall, discussed performances by Portuguese activist-musicians that inspired a wave of unemployed, university-educated 20- and 30-somethings to take to the streets. These include a radio broadcast that signaled the launch of a military coup—which later became the Carnation Revolution—and a platinum-selling record by Deolinda that’s inspired by, and also satirizes, traditional Fado musical culture, using generational cues to call young people not only to hope for change but also to help incite it.

These acts of musical activism were "sutured to an earlier era of revolution," said Gray, referring to the form and function of songs that fanned the flame of Portugal’s 1974 revolution. She added that this “monumentized singing” spurred and reflected a series of interconnected global movements.

The brief lecture was the first of three public interdisciplinary research presentations co-sponsored by the Women's & Gender Resource Center and the Department of Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies this fall. The series will continue with a presentation by Eric Vasquez, visiting assistant professor of American studies on Oct. 24 and a Nov. 30 presentation by Megan Yost, associate professor of psychology and women's, gender and sexuality studies.

"I’m delighted to be able to kick off what promises to be a fantastic season," said Gray.


Published September 21, 2017