My recent book, Django Generations: Hearing Ethnorace, Citizenship, and Jazz Manouche in France (University of Chicago Press, 2021), shows how relationships between racial identities, jazz, and national belonging become entangled. Jazz manouche is a genre named for the Manouche people (French Romanies, otherwise known as “Gypsies”) and based on the work of famed Manouche guitarist Django Reinhardt. While Manouches face frequent ethnoracial discrimination in France, they are lauded as bearers of a jazz manouche tradition that is also considered part of French national heritage. Incorporating ethnographic, archival, and performance-based research, I examine how music is used to construct divergent ethnoracial and national identities in a context where discussions of race are otherwise censured. shows that jazz manouche becomes a source of profound ambivalence as it generates ethnoracial difference and socioeconomic exclusion. As the first full-length ethnographic study of French jazz to be published in English, this book enriches anthropological, ethnomusicological, and historical scholarship on global jazz, race and ethnicity, and citizenship while showing how music can be an important but insufficient tool in struggles for racial and economic justice.
Django Generations received the 2022 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology from the Society for the Anthropology of Europe.
My current project examines the French legacy of the Romani genocide, focusing on commemorative efforts among descendants of Manouche Romani victims and survivors. During World War II, Romanies across Europe were imprisoned in internment and concentration camps and/or executed, and survivors faced enormous social and economic challenges as a direct result of the war. This project explores the work of cultural producers who aim to raise public awareness about the Romani genocide and advocate for Manouche rights. In 2023-24, I will pursue ethnographic and archival research in France as a fellow at the University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Study.
My other publications include:
“Jouer pour le public: commémorations et mémoires manouches du génocide.” Translated by Claire Darmon. Revue d’Histoire de la Shoah 217: 367-388. https://doi.org/10.3917/rhsho.217.0367. This article was published in English as “Playing for a Public: French Manouche commemorations of Romani genocide.” Revue d’Histoire de la Shoah 217: XXIX-XLIX.
Scholarship about French Manouches often emphasizes prohibitions on speaking about past traumas and the dead, but there are exceptions to this silence. This article explores instances in which Manouche musicians are publicly vocal about death and trauma from generations prior. Their outspokenness is particularly evident in recent public-facing musical works that commemorate the Nazi genocide of Romanies. The producers of these works self-consciously endeavor to make themselves legible within contemporary frameworks of genocide commemoration. These efforts should be taken as evidence of multiple and ambivalent attitudes toward death and trauma that exist within Manouche individuals and communities. In breaking the silence, the work of these artists may signal shifts in attitudes about how to pay respect to the dead. Close attention to cultural productions such as music offers a nuanced understanding of Manouche memory practices and may thus contribute to struggles against a long legacy of anti-Romani racism in France.
Co-authored with Ioanida Costache, “Staging Genocide: Theatrical Remembering of the Romani Holocaust.” European History Quarterly 52(4): 677-98. https://doi.org/10.1177/02656914221097602
This article explores performance-centred efforts to remediate the erasure of Romanies from public Holocaust narratives. First, the French play Samudaripen uses aesthetic strategies that emphasize themes of violence and rupture in order to evoke the brutality of Romani persecution under Nazi and Vichy regimes. With its performative elisions between Romani experiences in internment camps in France and concentration camps abroad, Samudaripen connects both historically-specific and fictionalized instances of Romani trauma to broader patterns of anti-Romani persecution past and present. Second, the Romanian-Romani language theatre piece Kali Traš (‘Black Fear’) relays the story of the Romani deportations to camps in Romania in the region of Transnistria under the rule of Romanian fascist dictator Ion Antonescu. Kali Traš pushes back against the silencing of the Romani genocide by reinvigorating the counter-history of the Romani Holocaust in both informative and affectively compelling ways. Each play proclaims Romani agency in commemorative contexts through its narrative and aesthetic strategies. This article shows how Romani artists have engaged in public-facing projects that criticize mainstream Holocaust historiographies and anti-Romani racism more broadly, assessing the extent to which such works constitute valuable additions to Romani struggles for recognition and reparations.
“Feeling to Learn: Ideologies of Race, Aurality, and Manouche Music Pedagogy in France.” 2021. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. https://doi.org/10.1111/jola.12334
This article explores how music professionals promote interdiscursive oppositions between musical aurality and musical literacy to unsettle the terms of their racialization. For many French Manouches (a subgroup of Romanies/“Gypsies”), music is a source of pride, profit, and public recognition. Manouche musicians often valorize their own sensorially centered pedagogical approaches in distinction to music literacy as espoused by French schools and conservatories. In doing so, they link notions of expressivity, naturalness, and ethical behavior to their Manouche identity in contrast to White French society. They construct parallel contrasts between Black and White musicalities in the jazz world to convey their value as racialized musicians, pointing to transnational formations of race and White supremacy. Because French color-blind policy constrains speech about race and racism, advocacy for an aurally centered approach to music pedagogy becomes a way for speakers to denounce the discrimination Manouches face as racialized subjects. For these musicians, self-exoticization is a multifaceted tactic to develop a market niche, to prove themselves as good neoliberal subjects, and to disrupt the racial logics that render such alterity both an asset and a burden. Their discourse remains powerful even if, in practice, some make use of the very music-theoretical frameworks they critique.
“Placing Django: Narratives of Heritage and Race in a Parisian Exhibition.” 2021. French Cultural Studies 32(4): 315-329. https://doi.org/10.1177/09571558211007438
Django Reinhardt: Swing de Paris, an exhibition that took place at the Cité de la musique in Paris, depicted the life and environment of famed Manouche (French Romani/”Gypsy”) guitarist Django Reinhardt. In this article, I explore how the exhibition performed a spatialized centre-periphery model of citizenship that both reflected and reinforced Manouche marginality in relation to broader French society. I argue that museum exhibitions generate and harness place-oriented narratives to reinforce hegemonic conceptions about ideal citizens. In marking out an ethnoracially segregated imaginary of swing-era Paris, the exhibition reproduced stereotyped ideas about Manouche exoticism and inadaptability to urban modernity. These narratives are not exceptional, but are part of a long-standing project to define national belonging in terms of a normative white identity. As such, they are symptomatic of a much broader problem of state-sanctioned racism in France that is denied through claims to colour-blindness.
“Music That Tears You Apart: Jazz Manouche and the Qualia of Ethnorace.” 2020. Ethnomusicology 64(3): 369-393. https://www.doi.org/10.5406/ethnomusicology.64.3.0369
Through talk and performance, participants in the genre of jazz manouche articulate Manouche (French Romani/“Gypsy”) ethnoracial identities. This article takes a semiotic approach to exploring how ethnoracial differences are perceived sonically and reified through language about jazz manouche guitar technique. By analyzing interlocutors’ sensory descriptors such as power, rawness, and even the feeling of ethnoracial identity itself, this article reveals continuities between individual sonic perceptions of race and ethnicity and broader semiotic ideologies about race and ethnicity. These discourses can serve or compromise Manouche interests as they naturalize ideas about social difference.
“Genre, Ethnoracial Alterity, and the Genesis of jazz manouche.” 2019. The Journal of the American Musicological Society 72(3): 665-718. https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2019.72.3.665
Based on the music of legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt, jazz manouche is a popular genre that emerged during the late twentieth century. This article examines the historical development of jazz manouche in relation to ideologies about ethnoracial identity in France. Jazz manouche is strongly associated with French Manouches, the subgroup of Romanies (“Gypsies”) to which Reinhardt belonged. In the decades following Reinhardt’s death in 1953, some Manouches adopted his music as a community practice. Simultaneously, critics, promoters, and activists extolled the putative ethnoracial character of this music, giving rise to the “jazz manouche” label as a cornerstone of both socially conscious and profit-generating strategies. Drawing on analysis of published criticism, archival research, and interviews, I argue that ethnoracial and generic categories can develop symbiotically, each informing and reflecting ideologies about cultural identity and its sonic expressions. Jazz manouche grew out of essentializing notions about Manouche identity, while Manouches have been racialized through reductive narratives about jazz manouche. In this case, an investigation of genre formation can inform understandings of ethnoracial identity and national belonging.
“Jazz Manouche.” With Benjamin Givan. 2019. Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/omo/9781561592630.013.90000315373
“Romani Music.” With Petra Gelbart. 2019. SAGE Encyclopedia of Music and Culture, edited by Janet L. Sturman, 1848-1850. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
“Rich Theory: Mandino Reinhardt on Jazz Manouche in Alsace.” 2018. Jazz and Culture 1: 104-121. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jazzculture.1.2018.0104
“The Politics of ‘Understanding’: Secrecy, Language, and Manouche Song.” 2017. Ethnic and Racial Studies 40(1): 96-113. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2016.1213404
This article explores how song operates as a forum through which Alsatian Manouches (a subgroup of Romanies/“Gypsies”) negotiate social relations with non-Manouches and with each other. Two of the most salient identity markers for Manouches are music and language. Whereas Manouches regard instrumental music as a legitimate means of engaging with non-Manouche people, it is often considered inappropriate to share their spoken dialect of Romani with others. As a combination of both, Manouche song represents a complex juncture of volition and apprehension towards their interactions with non-Manouches. Drawing on fieldwork among Manouche and non-Manouche performers, I investigate how public Manouche vocal performance ironically connotes an ambivalence towards cross-cultural sharing, and how power relations unfold through varying degrees of linguistic concealment and openness. This article theorizes the (il-)legibility of the voice in music and illustrates how song reflects Manouche language ideologies in flux.
“‘His soul was wandering and holy’: Employing and contesting religious terminology in Django fandom.” 2013. Popular Music and Society 36(3): 380-396. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2013.798547
“You Eat What You Are: Cultivated Taste and the Pursuit of Authenticity in the Slow Food Movement.” With Charles Lindholm. 2013. In Culture of the Slow: Social Deceleration in an Accelerated World, edited by Nick Osbaldiston, 52-70. London: Palgrave.