Kaley Reid Mason


Assistant Professor of Music


Ph.D., University of Alberta, 2006


Office: Goodspeed 201
Phone: (773) 702-8668
Email: krmason@uchicago.edu

In my research and seminars I focus on the tension between creative agency and material constraints in musical work worlds. Although my primary area of specialization is South Asia, I am broadly interested in how music can serve as a vehicle for cultural dignity in the lives and livelihoods of performers, and how performers in turn shape movements for social change. I first pursued this line of inquiry in research on Indigenous cultural tourism in Canada’s capital region, where I considered how interpreters were using song and dance to promote intercultural empathy. The intersection of music, labor, mobility, and inequality has been a prominent theme in my work ever since.

My first book, The Labor of Music: South Indian Performers and Cultural Mobility (under review), examines how a subaltern performer caste merged feudal traditions of ritual servitude with modern practices of work and mobility. From state-sponsored public concerts and private music schools, to local recording studios, political marches, and world music festivals—the ethnography follows musicians who move flexibly across genres as diverse as ritual praise hymns, classical Karnatik compositions, protest songs, and popular film music. Complementing this work, my second book project examines the relationship between popular song and political movements in Kerala, one of India’s most contentious regions. Provisionally titled Songcraft in the Fray: Radical Politics and Popular Entertainment in South India, 1946–2016, this research traces the history of activist songwriting across multiple fields of cultural production, from street theater and the golden age of film song, to the rise of alternative rock, music television, and new media. Drawing on social movement theory, the study also considers new ways of thinking about music and affect in passionate politics.

In addition to my India-centered work, I have a secondary interest in popular music and politics in France and Québec from 1945 to the present, with a particular focus on how musicians have participated in debates over citizenship and national belonging. The rise of the far right in mainstream European politics, the contested terrain of faith and secularism, the deepening economic crisis, and the coerced and aspirational movement of migrant workers from former colonial territories—these issues form the backdrop for the musical activism I intend to study historically and ethnographically in Paris, Toulouse, Marseille, and Montréal.

Recent Courses Taught

  • Affective Labor (seminar)
  • Chanson française (grad and undergrad)
  • Music and Social Movements (seminar)
  • Musical Mobilities (seminar)
  • Capital, Class and Music Matters (seminar)
  • Introduction To World Music (grad)
  • Ethnographic Methods (grad)
  • Music of South Asia (grad and undergrad)
  • South Asian Civilizations in India: Art Worlds (undergrad)

Selected Works

  • Forthcoming 2015. “Music Specialists, Wedding Work, and the Politics of Intimate Recognition in Chicago’s South Asian Communities.” In Music in the Diasporic Wedding, ed. Inna Naroditskaya (Indiana University Press).
  • Forthcoming 2015. “Making Hindustani Music Work: Avenues of Friction and Empathetic Musicality.” In Sounding Cities: Auditory Transformations in Berlin, Chicago, and Kolkata, eds. Sebastian Klotz, Philip V. Bohlman, and Lars-Christian Koch. KlangKulturStudien/SoundCultureStudies. LIT Verlag: Berlin.
  • 2014. “On Nightingales and Moonlight: Songcrafting Femininity in Malluwood.” In More than Bollywood: Studies in Indian Popular Music, eds. Gregory D. Booth and Bradley Shope, 75-93. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • 2013. “Musicians and the Politics of Dignity in South India.” In The Cambridge History of World Music, ed. Philip V. Bohlman, 441-471. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • 2007. “Situating Musical Lives in Multiethnic Canada: Listening for the Non-Western ‘I’.” In Folk Music, Traditional Music, Ethnomusicology: Canadian Perspectives, Past and Present, edited by Gordon Smith and Anna Hoefnagels, 94-101. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars’ Press.
  • 2004. “Sound and Meaning in Aboriginal Tourism.” Annals of Tourism Research 31/4:837-854.