Ethnomusicology, Fieldwork, and the Refugee Experience

Notes on Afghan Music in Austria


  • Marko Kölbl Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology, mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria



Afghan music, Afghan diaspora, refugees, coloniality of asylum, decolonizing ethnography


In this article, I discuss ethnomusicological takes on refugees and forced migration relating to five years of fieldwork within the Afghan community in Vienna. Against the background of the recent surge in ethnomusicological studies on forced migration, I critically interrogate my own positionality in relation to the coloniality of asylum that inherently racializes relations between researchers and refugees in ethnographic work. I then review narratives of “crises” and effects of “borders” in relation to migration between Afghanistan and Europe, specifically Austria.

In the article’s main section, various scenarios of Afghan musical practice in Vienna are outlined while offering insights into the musical worlds of the city’s Afghan diaspora both regarding online and offline settings. I approach music as an everyday practice with a perspective strongly shaped by my friendship with Qais Behbood and Bahram Ajezyar. I then specifically discuss Afghan pop music, presenting two Vienna-based singers, Dawood Sarkhosh and Masih Shadab, referring to song examples.

Concludingly, I address relationships, partnerships and friendships in ethnographic fieldwork on forced migration. I contrast friendship with the coloniality of asylum-related research on music and dance and suggest friendship and affection as an ethnographic mode.

Author Biography

Marko Kölbl, Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology, mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria

Marko Kölbl holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, where he also works as a Senior Scientist at the Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology. He is specialized in music and dance of minorities and migrant communities with a focus on intersectional, queer-feminist and decolonial perspectives. Marko Kölbl currently serves as chair of the ICTM Study Group of Music, Gender and Sexuality.






Special Collection "Music and Forced Migration"