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Music Against Empire: Contemporary and Historical Excavations of Trauma and Resistance

General Programming

dateSeptember 8, 2023 timeFriday, 5:30pm EDT location Buell Hall, East Gallery, Columbia University
  • Columbia Maison Française
  • Department of Music
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Headshot of Layale Chaker with her violin

How can sonic practices effectuate the emergence of collective memory in the face of trauma? In what ways have song and poetry manifested notions of belonging? How can listening as a form of solidarity factor into forging resilience?

Sound continues to act as a form of resistance to systemic oppression in contemporary classical, improvised, and even popular music. While recording technology and conditions of war have posed great limitations, we also have access to music made by historical victims—such as victims of war. Join us for a performance and conversation about music against empire. Led by Knar Abrahamyan, panelists engage with historical and contemporary musical sources that foreground resistance to erasure, oppression, and cultural assimilation.

Layale Chaker will present music from her ensemble Sarafand’s new project. Inspired by a poem by Lebanese author Ounsi el-Hage, Radio Afloat is a reflection on the intertwined destinies of people and the natural world, which manifest even louder in times of collective pain, a commentary on the ebb and flow of politics of power and conflict that further the vulnerability of the land and those who tend to it. Sarafand Ensemble features Layale Chaker (violin), Jake Charkey (cello), Phillip Golub (piano), John Hadfield (percussion), and Sam Minae (bass).


Jill Jarvis is Assistant Professor of French at Yale, and specializes in the aesthetics and politics of North Africa. Her forthcoming book, Decolonizing Memory: Algeria and the Politics of Testimony, brings together close readings of fiction with analyses of juridical, theoretical, and activist texts to illuminate both the nature of violence and the stakes of literary study in a time of unfinished decolonization. She is also at work on a second book project, "Signs in the Desert: An Aesthetic Cartography of the Sahara," which envisions the Sahara as a site of material, intellectual, and linguistic exchanges that challenge both disciplinary boundaries and received notions of African studies.

Hiba Abid is the first curator for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the New York Public Library. She earned her PhD in Islamic Art History and Codicology at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris) in 2017. Hiba Abid’s research focuses on the materiality of devotional manuscripts dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad produced during the premodern period in the Muslim West.

Ege Yumuşak is a philosopher specializing in epistemology, the philosophy of mind, and social & political philosophy. She received a PhD in Philosophy from Harvard University in 2022. Her research examines political disagreement—its material foundations, social manifestations, and epistemic properties. She is currently writing a series of articles on the nature and significance of clashes of perspective in social life. Her writing, on topics ranging from labor organizing to feminism, has appeared in The Point Magazine and The Forge Magazine. She is a Fellow in the Society of Fellows.

Knar Abrahamyan is Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University. She is a music scholar whose work examines the historical and political entanglements of cultural production. Her book project, "Opera as Statecraft in Soviet Armenia and Kazakhstan," re-envisions Soviet music history by analyzing the power dynamics between the state and its ethnic and racial Others. It explores opera as a contested imperial space through which the Soviet state pursued colonial subjugation under the guise of cultural modernization. Abrahamyan has presented at major national and international conferences, and her work on Soviet music and politics appeared in the DSCH Journal and a collected volume, Analytical Approaches to 20th-Century Russian Music. Before joining the Music Department, Abrahamyan was a Fellow in the Society of Fellows during the 2022–2023 academic year.


Layale Chaker is a violinist and composer whose work lies at the intersection of classical contemporary music, Jazz, Arabic Music, and improvisation. She has received commissions and presented performances and projects around Europe, the Middle-East, North and South America and Asia, and has collaborated with Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Ziad Rahbani, Johnny Gandelsman, Holland Baroque, among others, and concert halls such as The Berlin Philharmonic, Abbaye de Royaumont, Hancher Auditorium, The Stone, National Sawdust, the Banff Centre, the Royal Albert Hall and the Wigmore Hall.