Adelaida Reyes: Pioneer in the Field of Music and Forced Migration

A Review of Her Theoretical and Methodological Contribution


  • Ioannis Christidis Music and Minorities Research Center, mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria



music and conflict, music and refugees, history of ethnomusicology, ethnomusicological theory and method, urban ethnomusicology


Within the ever-expanding field of ethnomusicological research in contexts marked by socio-political, financial, and environmental crisis, a newly emerging area of study has been that of music in contexts of forced migration. This article explores the groundbreaking contribution of one of the pioneering figures in ethnomusicological research in that field: Adelaida Reyes. The article’s goal is to encapsulate a framework that could be adopted and adapted by, and inspire new researchers on music and forced migration. After an introduction to the personal background of Adelaida Reyes, the article discusses three main positions that permeate her inaugural research in urban contexts, particularly that of New York. These are the interdisciplinary conceptualization of the socio-political context; the study of music of groups of people without essentialist preconceptions, and the adjustment of fieldwork methods to correspond to theoretical concerns and the empirical reality. The article then proceeds to link Reyes’ core thoughts with the particular innovative theoretical and methodological concepts she applied in her multi-sited research with Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. and in refugee camps in the Philippines, as well as in her research with refugees from South Sudan in Uganda. Informed by anthropological refugee studies, her pioneering approach perceives forced migration as a unified experience and context, consisting of pre-departure features, departure-related, and finally, those related to resettlement. Musical meaning then becomes intensively transforming and dependent on a plethora of factors. On the one hand, as Reyes' ethnomusicological research in urban settings had pointed out, there was complexity, heterogeneity, and blurred boundaries, and on the other, emerging in particular experiences of forced migration, there was psychological distress; processes of institutional labeling; living in refugee camps; asymmetrical power relations between refugees and the larger society; and the emotional and political relationship with the past homeland. In the conclusion of the article, Reyes’ priceless contribution is discussed alongside recent ethnomusicological research on music and forced migration.

Author Biography

Ioannis Christidis, Music and Minorities Research Center, mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria

Christidis holds degrees in Architecture (2010) and Music Science and Art (2017) and plays the piano and the Middle Eastern oud. In 2019, he enrolled in a doctoral course in ethnomusicology at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. Since 2020, he is a researcher at the Music and Minorities Research Center. His work examines music in the context of forced migration from Syria to Europe. In 2020, Christidis was awarded the Dissertation Prize for Research on Migration by the Austrian Academy of Sciences.






Special Collection "Music and Forced Migration"