World of Music, Arts and Dance

SOAS Music Day

WOMAD is an annual international arts festival. This year’s event takes place in Charlton Park, Wiltshire, UK between 28th and 31st July.

Some of the artists performing at this year’s festival include Asian Dub Foundation; Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires; Baaba Maal; Anoushka Shankar; Les Amazones d’Afrique; Konono No. 1; and Toumani Diabaté.

Toumani Diabaté is a Malian kora player, and is one of the most creatively prolific musicians on the African continent. Toumani Diabaté’s father Sidiki Diabaté was a kora player of legendary fame in West Africa, but it is perhaps Toumani who has been responsible for bringing the instrument to the attention of audiences worldwide.

The kora is a 21-string harp, played predominantly among the Mandinka people of Gambia, Senegal and Mali. It sounds somewhat like a harp, but its intricate playing style has been compared closer to flamenco guitar.

In 2015, SOAS University of London awarded Toumani Diabaté an honorary doctorate, and SOAS’ Dr Lucy Doran has produced seven albums by Toumani, including Toumani & Sidiki, which features him with his son in instrumental kora duets.

The Department of Music at SOAS is the largest and leading centre in Europe for the study of World Music. As well as offering undergraduate programmes in BA Music and BA Global Popular Music, SOAS offers the postgraduate qualification MMus Performance.

This programme is designed for students who wish to specialise in performance while studying for an academic degree. Students have the unique opportunity to develop performance in specific Asian and African music traditions to professional standard. They acquire expert knowledge about performance and the geographical or stylistic region of their performance specialism.

The performance component of the programme includes practice-based research. Students study the music of a particular region alongside performance theory training, and through a range of optional courses they can pursue additional interests as well.

The programme is particularly suited to performing musicians who wish to deepen and broaden their theoretical perspectives and musical horizons. Many former students have found their performance careers enhanced, while others have gone on to engage with their performance from more critical, academic perspectives.

Head of Department, Dr Nick Gray, outlines some of the benefits of taking a degree in Music.

How did you first become interested in music?

“My parents were into classical music and I was brought up listening to music all the time. I started learning classical violin and later became a music student at university. However, by that time I’d branched out more into what would later be called “world music” and contemporary music. I became obsessed with Balinese gamelan and later spent several years studying it in Indonesia (and the rest is history!)”

Why study for a degree in music?

“Doing a degree in music really opens your mind to new things – I think much more so than a conservatoire.”

“You’re likely to arrive interested in one thing and leave interested in so much more, and with a deeper understanding.”

What is it about the SOAS undergraduate music degrees, which make them so special?

“SOAS Music Department is completely unique – there’s nowhere else you can study world music and ethnomusicology to such a deep level and our courses also include so much vocational stuff – sound recording, composition and much more.”

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