Gavin Steingo seeks to understand globally circulating musical practices from the perspective of the geopolitical South. This research includes examinations of music and value, infrastructures and audio technologies, sound and race, and the politics of world music circulation. Gavin has recently pursued these topics in a monograph, Kwaito’s Promise: Music and the Aesthetics of Freedom in South Africa (University of Chicago Press, 2016, winner of the Alan P. Merriam Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology), and through conversations with scholars across a broad spectrum of disciplines: a special issue of the journal boundary 2 co-edited with Jairo Moreno on the topic “Econophonia: Music, Value, and Forms of Life”; a co-edited book series (also with Jairo Moreno) exploring intersections of music and sound for Oxford University Press; and a volume (co-edited with Jim Sykes) on decolonizing sound studies from Duke University Press.
Gavin grew up in South Africa and began his music career performing with the Johannesburg Youth Jazz Orchestra and as a guitarist in a fairly popular rock band with frequent radio and television appearances. Today, performance forms an important part of his research process. He regularly records in a variety of styles and genres, most recently, for example, on an album by the Venda singer Jininka Nkanyane. The album was nominated in two categories at the South African Traditional Music Awards (2016).
Gavin has taught in the music departments at Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh as well as in the Department of Anthropology at Wits University, South Africa. He has received grants and fellowships from a range of agencies and institutions, including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Musicological Society, the Heyman Center for the Humanities, the National Gugak Center (Seoul/South Korea), Akademie Schloss Solitude (Stuttgart/Germany), Merck Pharmaceuticals, and, most recently, the Alzheimer’s Association. In addition to his academic work, he consults with popular media outlets such as Afropop Worldwide and with performance venues such as the Apollo Theater and Carnegie Hall.
B.M. New England Conservatory
Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania
Recognition & Awards
Alan Merriam Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology, 2017;
Akademie Schloss Solitude, Research Fellow in Social Science, 2015-2017;
Honorable Mention, Jaap Kunst Prize for best article from the Society for Ethnomusicology, 2016;
Alzheimer’s Association, “Influence of African Dance on Neurocognitive Function” ($250,000). Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Kirk Erikson), 2014-2017;
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Music, Columbia University, 2010-2012
2016. Kwaito’s Promise: Music and the Aesthetics of Freedom in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology)
Reviews in: African Music, African Studies Review, Africa Today, Archiv Orientální, Canadian Journal of African Studies, Current Musicology, Ethnomusicology, Ethnomusicology Forum, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, MUSICultures, Notes, Popular Music & Society, Twentieth-Century Music
- 2019. "Listening as Life: Sounding Fetal Personhood in South Africa." Sound Studies. Published online 4 June.
- 2018. "African Afrofuturism: Allegories and Speculations." Current Musicology 99-100(Spring/Fall 2016): 45-75.
- 2017. "Actors and Accidents in South African Electronic Music: An Essay on Multiple Ontologies." Contemporary Music Review. 37 (5-6): 554-574.
- 2017. "Kapwani Kiwanga: spéculations extraterrestres." Translated by Louise Hervé. Images Re-vues: Histoire, anthropologie et théorie de l'art 14.
- 2017. "The Inaudible Nation: Music and Sensory Perception in Postapartheid South Africa." Cultural Critique 95: 71-100.
- 2015. "Sound and Circulation: Immobility and Obduracy in South African Electronic Music." Ethnomusicology Forum 24(1): 102-123.