Topics in Ethnomusicology: Music for Global Human Development

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a project of the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology

Please contact Michael Frishkopf with any questions.

This course will focus on Music for Global Human Development (m4ghd) -- the ways music can be used for social progress on a variety of issues (health, education, peace, civil society, social justice, social integration) in conjunction with Community Service Learning (CSL).

We will combine readings in applied ethnomusicology, ethnomusicology and migration, urban ethnomusicology, critical development studies, and the theory and practice of participatory action research, with practical music-making activities, and real-world class projects. We will learn about projects and organizations that apply music towards development goals, whether in the private, non-profit (NGO), governmental, or intergovernmental (IGO) sectors. We will learn how to evaluate such projects critically, in light of their contribution to human development.

The course is open to all regular UofA students, from first year to last year, and also open to community members through the Open Studies program. The CSL volunteering requirement is PART of your coursework, not extra work. The course will focus on a collaborative project with a local non-profit.

There will be no in-class exams nor will there be a final secondary source research paper. Rather we will focus on contributing to these projects, and documenting those contributions as original research with appropriate references to the literature we read during the term.

Overview of M4GHD

Music for Global Human Development: Participatory Action Research cycles towards a stronger social fabric.

Music is a social technology of tremendous potential for positive social change.

Music for Global Human Development (M4GHD) is a critical approach to applied ethnomusicology, entailing collaborative social action, evaluative research, and critical reflective thinking.

Ethnomusicology is the study of music in its social, cultural, and historical contexts. Applied ethnomusicology seeks to create change outside the academy. M4GHD entails participatory action research projects in music & development (humanized in aims and methods), centered on global collaborations between academics, NGOs, government organizations, musicians, and others, applying ethnomusicology to real-world social issues, focusing on peoples who have been marginalized--socially, politically, economically--by colonialism and its aftermath, whether in the "developing" world or not. These music-centered projects, often including also related arts (dance, poetry, drama) as well, are ideally twinned with evaluative evidence-based research, gauging project impact through anthropological and sociological study. They are carried out as collaborative partnerships with artists and other experts in each locale.

M4GHD is a project of the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology

Singing and Dancing for Health in Ziong, Northern Region, Ghana

Music for Global Human Development

For some examples of M4GHD projects, past and present, please see the following:

Generally M4GHD features two streams:

  • Songs for Sustainable Peace and Development
  • Music for Cultural Continuity and Civil Society

additional examples follow....

Songs for development

A set of participatory action research projects centered on the production and deployment of popular music to disseminate explicit development messages, especially for key issues in public health, education, religious/ethnic tolerance, and peace. Lyrics powerfully convey the messages; familiar popular musical styles provide affective content; local stars bestow their social capital; media offers maximal diffusion; locality encourages participation and adaptation (unlike popular music imported from abroad). Simultaneously, local popular music dedicated to widely-acknowledged social problems serves as a magnet drawing communities together around shared concerns, without regard for age, class, gender, or ethnicity, and thus helps to support social integration as well, forging a more participatory "culture of music". Media products enable sustainability -- as they can be shared online and rebroadcast free - and support a triple purpose: catalyzing positive social change locally, raising awareness globally, and generating a revenue stream to support their musical communities.

Initially I worked in collaboration with Liberian refugee musicians in Ghana, and recent returnees to Liberia, helping them articulate and disseminate musical messages of peace and development (Giving Voice to Hope), and also focusing on health issues (Giving Voice to Health) and Education. Other projects have emerged since then, in northern Ghana, Ethiopia, and Egypt; see below.

Music for cultural continuity (MCC)

A set of participatory action research projects centered on the revival and reinforcement -- through performances, teaching, professional support, establishing youth groups, media products, or archival infrastructures -- of traditional music carrying implicit messages about intergenerational identity, and enacting intergenerational relationships in performance. Here messages -- abstract values of community, identity, and the value of heritage--are typically not explicitly encoded in lyrics; rather, traditional music is used to link multiple generations in communal, face to face, performances adapted to each community. The result is improved socio-cultural integration, which enables the transmission of cultural knowledge and the formation of stronger structures of civil society, that can oppose incursions by economic and political systems. Music for cultural continuity and civil society thus supports the socio-cultural infrastructure without which large development problems cannot be sustainably faced. Media aspects, where produced, are designed to catalyze local social progress, raise global awareness, and sometimes also generate a revenue stream for local musicians.

Current MCCS projects center on Ewe music of SE Ghana, Dagbamba music of northern Ghana, El Mastaba Centre for Egyptian Folk Music, the Egyptian Centre for Culture and Art, and AMAR (Foundation for Arab Music Archiving and Research), Beirut, including consulting as a member of the Board.

  • Traditional Ghanaian music culture
    • Collaboration with traditional Ghanaian musicians on Kinka: Traditional songs of Avenorpedo, to sustain and develop traditional music
    • Mobilizing scholarship for talented but underprivileged Ghanaian musicians, such as Kofi Avi, so they can complete a well-rounded education.
  • Traditional Egyptian music culture
    • Collaboration with El Mastaba Center for Egyptian Folk Music, Cairo, to preserve, archive, document and develop Egyptian music. We are developing an applied research project to support digitization and metadata tagging for El Mastaba's extensive collections, while simultaneously providing training in these procedures to enable sustainability, with in-kind support through secure offsite storage at the University of Alberta.
    • Collaboration with Egyptian Center for Culture and Art, Cairo: To encourage the diversity, specificity and vibrancy of Egypt's cultural scene. Have provided advisory support.
    • Collaboration with AMAR (Foundation for Arab Music Archiving and Research), Beirut: to preserve and disseminate archival recordings of traditional Arab music from the early 20th century. Member of the Board of Directors.
  • World music presentations to local Edmonton schools and daycares (ongoing series of presentations, at the University of Alberta, or onsite)
  • Local community outreach through performance U of A Senate to celebrate campus volunteers

Prior course collaborations

In 2020 the CSL component engaged a number of local non-profits, including the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, Edmonton Immigrant Services Association, and Cerebral Palsy Association in Alberta.

The 2018 CSL component focused on a collaboration with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN) and Multicultural Health Brokers (MCHB), working with newcomers and marginalized populations in Edmonton through various forms of community music therapy towards social integration: hearing and documenting their refugee stories through music; teaching them various musics of intercultural Canada, especially the music you enjoy most; learning and documenting the musics they enjoy most; performing together; perhaps writing and recording songs together, and generally engaging and developing rapport through music, towards musical socio-cultural integration, a "resonance" for which our class interactions will constitute a kind of microcosm and first step. We also worked with the Braille Tone Music Society.

In Fall 2016 the non-profit was the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, including their Sky program for children, and a youth program at Queen Elizabeth School, in Edmonton. We also worked with the [ South Sudanese Mennonite Church]. In Summer 2017 the non-profit was Youth Home Cultural Group (Ghana). In Fall 2018 we will work with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers as well as Multicultural Health Brokers.

Course requirements

  • Readings and in-class discussions. (Usually I have students write brief summaries of readings, highlighting key issues, in order to facilitate good conversations). Most readings will be online. Sometimes I may assign a "listening" or "viewing" instead of a reading.
  • Watching relevant films together, for discussion.
  • Reviewing some sample projects, including those I've been working on under the M4GHD label.
  • Working together to formulate a project with the EMCN (Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers), which may require compiling resources, writing, gathering music, etc. for Syrian refugees in Edmonton
  • Working with the refugees themselves
  • Reporting on this experience -what worked, what didn't, what should the next phase be?
  • No in-class midterm or final exam or final research paper.


CSL: this course will count for the UofA's Community Service Learning program & its associated certificate; you will volunteer 20 hours with Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. This time will be counted towards your workload, and will not pose a burden above and beyond what Music 365 typically demands. Rather some of your academic work will instead take the form of volunteer service. These hours will not necessarily be spent on the premises of EMCN; there will be a variety of ways to work with this organization, depending on the project, which will be formulated collectively by the class.

Prerequisite: Bear Tracks lists MUSIC 202 or consent of the department. Do not worry if you've never taken Music 202 - this course has never been offered! Please email me to receive consent.

Fees: Bear Tracks states that additional fees may be assessed for Music 365. There are no additional fees for this course except when offered in conjunction with the Ghana Study Abroad program.

Please write Prof. Michael Frishkopf for more information.

For more information see


M4GHD aims, ideas, theories, methods

M4GHD issues, applications

M4GHD brainstorm: how can music create positive change in the world?

M4GHD glossary

M4GHD related domains: Applied Ethnomusicology, Applied Anthropology, C4D, Arts for Change, Edutainment

History and Culture of the Arab world

Syrian refugees

Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers

M4GHD: related projects and organizations

Course Syllabi

Music for Global Human Development - Winter 2020 syllabus

Music for Global Human Development - Fall 2018 syllabus

Music for Global Human Development - Summer 2017 syllabus

Music for Global Human Development - Fall 2016 syllabus