Popular Music Lecture: Marié Abe on Japanese Popular Music


Feb. 1, 2023, 5:30pm to 7pm

Campus Location

Office/Remote Location

Room 147
Photo portrait of Marié Abe


The Arnold Shaw Center is hosting a free lecture as part of its annual lecture series on popular music. This lecture is titled "The Poetics of Mishearing: Listening for Affinities and Colonial Traces across Japanese and Ethiopian Popular Music(s)."


Mishearing is a common acoustic byproduct of human encounters across difference. As global circulation of sound recording is often marked by uneven access and obduracy (Steingo 2015), cultural imaginaries that emerge from listening to such recordings across geographical, historical, and cultural difference can generate unexpected and generative “mishearing.” How might we understand the potentialities of sound when it is misheard? What do we make of hearing when it creatively transcends the limits of aural intelligibility? This lecture is a preliminary exploration of the phenomenon of aural apophenia (Lelpselter 2016)—error of perception, a kind of mishearing—, to theorize the potentialities of sound to confuse, allure, and bring to life yet-to-exist, imagined affinities across difference. I will pursue this inquiry by tracing the unlikely aesthetic resonances and cultural affinities between Japan and Ethiopia through the circulation of musical sounds of enka, a sentimental popular music genre from 1950s Japan. By tracking the circulation of enka from Japan to Ethiopia—via Japan’s former colony Korea, where Ethiopian soldiers fought along the UN troops during the Korean War—, I will explore how imagination and desire conditions our hearing and formation of affective alliances, and the politics and poetics of aural apophenia and the affective forces of, and desire for, uncanny affinities that emerge from such generative mishearings.

About the Speaker

Marié Abe is associate professor of music in the Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology, and an affiliated faculty at the African Studies Center and American and New England Studies Program at Boston University. Her book, Resonances of Chindon-ya: Sounding Space and Sociality in Contemporary Japan (Wesleyan University Press, 2018), is an ethnographic exploration of the politics of space and sound, affect, and Japanese popular performing arts.

Other research topics include music and social movements, the accordion and immigrant communities in California, anti-nuclear movement and music in Japan, anti-U.S. military movement and music in Okinawa, and historical imaginaries and musical affinities between Japan and Ethiopia. Marié’s past research interests span from ritual music in Bali and Indonesia to Afro-futurism in the United States.

Marié is also dedicated to public ethnomusicology. She has co-produced the NPR radio documentary “Squeezebox Stories” (2011), which tells stories from Californian immigration history using the accordion as a common trope. Marié is also a founder and the Artistic Director of the BU Global Music Festival—an annual celebration of musical cultures around the world featuring high-caliber, international artists as well as vibrant local musical communities. Through this curatorial work, she is committed to bringing the wider musical world to the doorstep of thousands of students, adults, young people, and families throughout the Boston area for free.

Marié has been a recipient of the Faculty Fellowship at the Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College (2013-14) and the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto (2018-19). Before coming to Boston University, Marié taught in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, where she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and in the Department of Music and Asian Studies Program at UC Berkeley.

As an active performer and improviser of the accordion and piano, she has performs, tours, and records with artists from the United States, Japan, Ethiopia, and beyond, including Debo Band (Sub Pop/Next Ambience), Fred Frith, Carla Kihlstedt, Jinta-la-Mvta, and more.

Marié holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a bachelor degree in sociology, anthropology, and ethnomusicology from Swarthmore College.



Admission Information

This event is free and open to the public.

Contact Information

UNLV School of Music
Jonathan Lee