Kaley Reid Mason


Assistant Professor of Music; Director of Undergraduate Studies


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 fieldwork has centered primarily on South India, I am broadly interested in how music can serve as a vehicle for cultural dignity in the lives 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, where I considered how interpreters mobilize music to promote intercultural empathy. The intersection of expressive culture 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 in response to new modes of patronage. 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 musical idioms as diverse as ritual praise hymns, classical Karnatik compositions, protest songs, and popular film music.

I am also working on a second book that traces movement-driven themes like migration, radical socialism, and religious pluralism across multiple popular music scenes in South India and its diasporas in the American Midwest and the Middle East. The book investigates the creative strategies Indian musicians use to craft popular songs that paradoxically blend narratives of infinite openness and inclusivity with distinctive regionalist sentiments that tap into a narrower sense of belonging. Finally, as a secondary area, I imagine extending my theoretical interests to research on Post-War popular music, race, and politics in France. The project would focus on cities as transit zones for strategic musical partnerships that transcend ethnic differences as part of wider social movements. In particular, I aim to zero in on interethnic friendships that use music to contest racialized concepts of citizenship and national belonging that have recently targeted visible and audible alterity. The rise of the far right in mainstream European politics, the ongoing debates over boundaries, faith, and secularism, the deepening economic crisis, and the coerced and aspirational mobility of migrant workers from former colonial territories—these issues form the backdrop for the affective musical friendships I aim to examine historically and ethnographically in Paris, Toulouse, and Marseille.

Recent Courses Taught

  • 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 Asia: Art Worlds (undergrad)

Selected Works

  • Forthcoming. “Songs of Protest: Performing Caste, Class, and Social Movement in Malabar.” In Music and Dance as Everyday Life in South Asia (proposal under review)
  • Forthcoming. “On Nightingales and Moonlight: Songcrafting Femininity in Malluwood.” In Popular Music in India: Dancing with the Elephant, eds. Gregory Booth and Bradley Shope. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Forthcoming. “Musicians and the Politics of Dignity in South India.” In The Cambridge History of World Music.
  • 2009. Compte Rendu/Book Review. “Christine Guillebauld. 2008. Le Chant des Serpents: Musiciens Itinérants du Kerala.” Cahiers d’Ethnomusicologie 22:278–82.
  • 2007. “Situating Musical Lives in Multiethnic Canada: Listening for the Non-Western.” 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.
  • 2006. Book Review. “Laurent Aubert. 2004. Les Feux de laD’Acesse: Rituels villageois du Kerala (Inde du Sud). » The World of Music 3:70-74.
  • 2004. “Sound and Meaning in Aboriginal Tourism.” Annals of Tourism Research 31/4:837-854.