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Sunday November 27th

Professor gives lecture on protest in music ahead of Trump's inauguration

Michael Figueroa, an ethnomusicologist, gives a speech at the Humanities Happy Hour: Protest Music event on Wednesday night at Top of the Hill.
Buy Photos Michael Figueroa, an ethnomusicologist, gives a speech at the Humanities Happy Hour: Protest Music event on Wednesday night at Top of the Hill.

“Politics is on the tops of everyone’s Facebook feeds, and it’s all you ever hear about anymore,” Rachel Schaevitz, a postdoctoral fellow who organizes events for the program, said. “And, it’s exhausting, but it’s so important, so it’s hard to just say, ‘I’m not going to talk about politics anymore,’ because this is our world, and our countries, and our lives, and we need to.”

Many celebrities like Katy Perry and Cher are protesting the inauguration, leaving lesser-known singers like Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood to perform.

“With the upcoming presidential inauguration that many people are unhappy about, using music to voice this opposition is such a powerful tool, ” junior Maddie Fisher said. “As a musician myself, I find music to be one of the greatest ways to move an audience and to make a point.”

At the event, Figueroa introduced the relationship between music and political protest.

“There’s really no such thing as a universal category known as protest music or protest song,” he said. “There are many different possibilities for musical protest. At its basic level, it’s any music activity that challenges or resists some political order.”

Though Figueroa is interested in protest music in pop culture, he is more drawn to smaller movements.

“What’s more interesting to me is the non-celebrity,” Figueroa said. “The way that ordinary citizens use music to protest very political issues. How music is used in smaller ways, not amplified on the world stage — things that happen locally.”

Though Figueroa covered protest music during the Trump election, he also spoke about protest music around the world.

“Protest music is one of the more seemingly obvious ways in which music is politically implicated, but once you look closer with a more internationalist perspective, it’s actually more complicated and not so obvious how music serves in the protest,” Figueroa said.

The event, part of Carolina’s Program in the Humanities, aimed to inform the public about faculty scholarship.

“We try really hard to make sure that the people who come to Happy Hour are really good at talking to us as if we don’t know anything about what they’re doing and we can get a sense for whatever the topic is,” Schaevitz said.

Figueroa has spoken about African-American music and jazz.

“When I saw how the election was getting intense and a lot of musicians like Beyoncé and Jay-Z were involved, I was like, ‘Mike, we have to do something about protest music and politics in music,’” Schaevitz said.

Jamie Blake, who is a graduate student in the department of music, has worked with Figueroa in the past.

“He has a very deep knowledge of his field, and he’s a very passionate professor,” he said.

“But he tries to be accessible and approachable.”



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