by Sebastian Hachmeyer[1]


In Kallawaya cosmology autochthonous (indigenous) musical practices are closely related to the social, natural, and spiritual environment. This is evident from processes surrounding the construction and tuning of instruments, activities in the cycle of agrarian production, collective ritual and healing practices, and communications with ancestors and deities relating to local weather events and climate. This article examines the interrelation between musical and climate change in the Kallawaya region. The impacts of musical sound on local weather events are of great importance to understand the complexity of climate change in this local context. The Northern Bolivian Kallawayas refer to changes in climate as a complex of alterations in local human and non-human relationships based on a rupture of reciprocal relationships in an animate world, in which music plays an important role for the cosmological equilibrium. This situation demonstrates the relevance of indigenous knowledge and cosmologies in relation to climate change discourses, particularly regarding questions of climate justice.

Valley of Niñocorin (Sacred Mount Akhamani in the background)

Valley of Niñocorin (Sacred Mount Akhamani in the background)


Ecomusicology –  the study of “relationships between music and sonic issues, both textual and performative, related to ecology and the natural environment” (Allen 2011, 419) – offers an interdisciplinary toolkit needed to study music in times of environmental crisis (see also Titon 2013). One of the most profound manifestations of the environmental crisis is anthropogenic (i.e. human-influenced) climate change. The conventional environmental science discourse focuses on fossil fuel combustion and exponential greenhouse gas emissions and on humanity’s impacts on the global atmospheric system: global warming. The impacts of climate change and global warming are plentiful, depending on local contexts: glacier retreat, desertification, water scarcity, sea-level rise, inundation, floods, changing local weather patterns, migration, to mention just a few. Also dependent on local context is how diverse peoples understand climate change and how they produce climate change related knowledge. Many studies of indigenous people and climate change in the Andes take for granted a conventional understanding of climate change and the predominant scientific explanation of its appearance. In such studies (e.g. Lara & Vides-Almonacid 2014; Vidaurre et al. 2013; Nordgren 2011), local knowledge may well serve for climate change impact detection or as an adequate and cost-efficient source for alternative adaptation strategies increasing resilience.

There are ecomusicological studies about the relationship between music, sound and climate change (e.g. Titon 2016; Allen 2013; and various authors in Allen and Dawe 2016). Some themes touched upon are musicians’ evocation to nature as a source of inspiration, dealings of environmental issues in activist music, the ecological (and carbon) footprint of live music, world tours and recordings, the sustainability of prime material use for instrument making (i.e. deforestation and included liberation of CO2), as well as changing animal behavior, especially bird sounds and communication. What all these aspects have in common is that they tie in with naturalist understandings of “Nature” as something universal and objective. Descola (2013) defines naturalism as typical to Western ontologies, which supposes a metaphysical dualism between nature, the domain of necessity, and culture, the domain of spontaneity, separated by metonymic discontinuity (see also Viveiros de Castro 2012). Titon (2013) states that most ecomusicologists accept “Nature” as real, external and objectively knowable. He further argues for a more ecological construction of “Nature” based on a relational epistemology of diversity and interconnectedness. Ethnomusicology can contribute to denaturalize assumptions about “Nature” while studying other-than-Western epistemologies involving sound and music, so called “acoustemologies” (Feld 1993). In an aurally minded society, Ingold (2000, 284) argues, people would express their ideas of knowledge or understanding by drawing on metaphors from the realm of acoustic experience.

Hence, in relation to ecomusicological research, consider the following question: How do diverse peoples engage in local and situated musical practices that produce climate change related knowledge? In the context of the Northern Bolivian Kallawaya, I argue that music is a local and situated knowledge practice” (Strathern 1990) that produces climate change related knowledge in a local relational field. Thus, in order to better understand the present situation of climate change in the Kallawaya region, it is worth listening to the cracking sound of melting glaciers, to bird songs appearing in different time-spaces, to sirens singing songs of rivers drying out, and, ultimately, to music being played with different musical instruments, each of them telling a story about their unique ecology and meaning in a meaningful and “radical different world” (Blaser 2013, 549). In the end, this opens up ontological questions about the very idea of climate change “as we know it” (Viveiros de Castro 2014).

The sonorous and musical meshwork in Kallawaya cosmology

The Kallawayas is a Quechua and Aymara speaking ethnic group known for its naturopathic medical tradition, ancestral agricultural and ritual practices, and famous musical genre called qantu. Today, the Kallawaya region mainly corresponds with the province of Bautista Saavedra in the Northern Andes of the department of La Paz, Bolivia. As I have shown in part I of the article (Hachmeyer 2017), a musical and sonorous meshwork integrates different dimensions of cyclic life of the immersion in what is called pacha in Quechua. Besides meaning cosmos and time/space, pacha also refers to weather and climate relating to a particular meteorological succession during the main climatic seasons of the year, called ch’aki pacha (dry season) and paray pacha (wet season). For the Kallawayas music (once reduced to a byproduct of rituals and agrarian practices) is an organizational principle of time and the cosmological centrality for the transformation of climatic seasons with their respective meteorological succession. Archer (1964, 29) argues that “we expect a music to be shaped by climate”; but the Kallawayas would respond that they rather expect climate to be shaped by music.

Local climate as a “physical-symbolic complex” (Rivière 1997, 34) is the direct manifestation of established reciprocity with a pantheon of Kallawaya deities and Andean spirits being responsible for adequate climatic conditions favoring agrarian production. Music establishes an emotional and ethical context for ecological relationships that extend into a visible and knowable past (ñawpa) and orients towards an invisible, but hearable, thus anticipatable future (qhipa), depending on the maintenance of reciprocal relationships between human and other-than-human subjectivities (see also Simonett 2016). This is related to what I have called “musical performativity” (Hachmeyer 2017 and 2015), which describes basic conditions required for the success of a “musical speech act.” Musical sound has to be produced by specific instruments relating to a particular time-space condition during the “orchestration of the year” (Stobart 2006), which primarily relates to repercussions on local climate and meteorological events (wind, rain, frost, etc.). Due to the agrocentrism in Kallawaya cosmology, this orchestration of the year plans and integrates different agricultural tasks, during which climate related collective rituals play a major role in securing agrarian production. These rituals literally take place at particular, i.e. sacred, places, in which a specific musical expression (sound, harmony, rhythm, tempo, etc.) can unfold its cosmological potential within a relational and animate world (Rösing 1996).

If music and climate assume such an interdependent relationship, how do Kallawayas perceive changes in these two interdependent realms?

Climate change in an animate world

Descola (2013) defines animism as endowing natural beings with human dispositions and social attributes, where the elementary categories structuring social life organize the relations between humans and natural species, thus defining a social and moral continuity between nature and culture (see also Viveros de Castro 2012). Considering the Andean context, I propose that climate, instead of being a description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant meteorological quantities over a period of time, rather might be seen as a description of relevant human and other-than-human moral qualities, relating to reciprocal relationships with Andean deities and spirits. Climate change would be understood as an unprecedented change in that same moral behaviour between human and other-than-human subjectivities. In Kallawaya cosmology, telluric processes cannot be separated from corporeal processes (Bastien 1985). The body is not considered dualistically as a material vessel of organs apart from mental, emotional or cognitive processes happening in mind. The body, for instance, also comprises the inner self (ibid.). Health, or the “wholeness of body” in Kallawaya terms, is seen as a process in which centripetal and centrifugal forces pull together and disperse fluids that provide emotions, thought, nutrients and lubricants for the “members” of the body (ibid.). Fluids of the body are governed by similar dynamics within the environment, so that they “flow back and forth between the body and the mountain” (Bastien 1985, 598). Hence, ultimately, it “extends beyond dualistic confines of inner and outer” (ibid.). Feeling, thinking, and nurturing are processes happening not just inside one’s own body. It might be more adequate to talk about these relationships in terms of an inseparable person-mountain-body unit, as well as corporeal and mental extensions in an ecological approach to feeling, thought, and nurture (cf. Clark & Charmers 1998; Gibson 1979). The person is attached to mountain, as much as the mountain is attached to person, through their bodies, in which fluids, i.e. materials and energy, flow interchangeably. This interchange is basically sustained through agriculture, rituality, and, especially, musical sound reciprocally mediating between the person and the mountain (in which ancestors and deities are literally embodied).

In the case of Kallawaya physiology, reciprocity might be seen as a mental, spiritual, cognitive, material, and particularly sonic exchange between a person in environment and vice versa, having the ultimate goal to blur boundaries between both. Hence, “we can no longer think of the organism, human or otherwise, as a discrete, bounded entity, set over against an environment. It is rather a locus of growth within a field of relations traced out in flows of materials. As such, it has no ‘inside’ or ‘outside’” (Ingold 2013, 10). According to Descola (2013), in the reciprocal mode of interaction, humans and other-than-humans are substitutes for one another, contributing jointly, by their reciprocal exchanges, to the general, in this case climatic equilibrium of the cosmos. Ultimately, the corporeal is not separated from the cognitive, as much as the natural is not separated from the cultural, behavioural or moral. The very adversity or even “sickness” (Vergara Aguilar 2013) of climate (as an expression of pacha) is related to a) an improper circulation of fluids within the person-mountain-body and b) to the sphere of the moral and behavioural, since the universe is a social and moral order governed by moral and ritual law (Radcliffe-Brown 1952).

Dysfunction of seasonal change

A good climate among the Kallawaya is an adequate climate for agrarian production. Hence, it is worth looking at how local testimonies report about changes in such a typical meteorological succession, usually allowing for particular agricultural tasks. My host in Niñocorin explains that

this is a real problem. In times of sowing it is not raining. Sometimes we repeat qallay [rain ritual practiced in November], because it doesn’t rain. The watapurichiq [collective ritualist of the community] once said that it is as if weather does not correspond to our rituals, and that seasonal changes don’t work. But then, during times of crop growth, a lot of rain impedes the correct preparation of crops, as soil turns into mud. And also after Carnival, where rain normally diminishes, heavy rains and especially hailstorms destroy our agricultural yields right before harvest. (Feliciano Patty 2014, personal communication)

After harvest, special and ancestral preservation techniques require strong and continuous frost over several nights (e.g. dehydration of potatoes that convert into ch’uño). This process of dehydration is sometimes interrupted because of mild winters and an absence of strong frosts. It becomes obvious that climate change impacts undermine the reproduction of indigenous technologies and knowledge. This is evident during such processes of food conservation, but also with regard to ritual practices, as my host indicated. The repetition of rain rituals is related to prolonged droughts during sowing and a delayed transformation from dry to rainy season (see also Nordgren 2011).

Against this background of adverse climatic conditions for agrarian production, Rösing (1996, 52) states that Kallawaya ritualists argue that prolonged droughts during times of sowing are caused by a “cultural and moral decomposition.” Furthermore, local people from different Kallawaya communities perceive adverse climatic conditions as “pain and penalty” of deities and spirits, as reciprocal bonds have been interrupted (ibid.). The abandonment of ritual practices as something “backward” after the agrarian reforms of 1952 coincided with one of the heaviest droughts of the twentieth century, which people related directly to abandoning ritual practices, especially rain rituals such as qallay in Niñocorin and Kaata (Spedding & Llanos 1999, 105f). The very adversity of local climate is related to human failure and irreverence with respect to the cosmological tension of reciprocity in such a relational local field (see also Rivière 1997).

Hence, changing climatic conditions are about changing human and other-than-human relationships in an animate world. Such changes tell a story about patterns of moral and behavioral deterioration. Given this local understanding of adversity within this specific physical-symbolic complex of climate, it is worth looking at how this moral and behavioral change manifests itself in the sphere of music as the mediator of cyclic life and seasonal change.

Musical change as indicator of moral and behavioral change

Merriam (1964) proposes a model of musical analysis indicating emic aspects of musical change grounded in an analysis of musical dynamics, which mainly focus on the conceptualization of music, the behavior in relation to it, and musical sound. In relation to Kallawaya music, analyzing these aspects implies discussing changes in musical performativity and social relevance. Although a performative understanding of musical practices in relation to agriculture and spirituality is still vivid to some degree, it is possible to identify certain changes. First and foremost, the time-space condition of music is partially disarticulated, as a musical instrument appears at “wrong times” or “out of its season.” After a patronal feast in a vicinal community, where Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble were contracted to play in middle of November, my host argued that

this is always like this. If there is a contract to be fulfilled, they would do it. They play qantu out of its season, it does not give them a lot of importance. They always play qantu all the time, as Charazani [the regional capital] always plays its pifano, or Cañizaya [a community close to mount Akhamani] its chatre. And then they wonder why it is not raining. (Feliciano Patty 2014, personal communication)

This generalization of music during the orchestration of the year would consequentially cause certain repercussions on the local climate and agrarian production. My host, for instance, argues that playing qantu panpipes at the end of dry season in November or during rainy season in general prevents it from raining, which would drastically diminish the agricultural yield (for similar testimonies see also Langevin 1991).

Regarding behaviors in relation to music, this generalization of musical genres and instruments can be related to a transformation of former meanings of music making in relation to agrarian production and rituality. For example, consider, among others, musical re-interpretations within younger generations, relating musical practices to social and civil acts and the creation of new Kallawaya identities, and a regional specialization on musical instruments and genres alongside different communities that would always present their specialization during public festivities. Hence, with regard to this shift in meaning of music making, it is worth looking at the contemporary social relevance of music.

Here, I would like to take Gutiérrez’s (1991) idea of endogenous and exogenous dynamics within Andean music performance as a starting point. Gutiérrez (1991) states that the brass band can be considered a perfect example of the endogenous dynamic of music in Bolivian rural societies. This endogenous dynamic is caused by contact with a “Western” music culture and can be seen as an attempt to maintain rhythm and melody with well-tempered instruments (see also Mújica 2014). Rather than being considered an expression of an acultural entity (cf. Gutiérrez 1991), brass bands are primarily considered more prestigious than autochthonous music ensembles, as they are considered the more expensive and louder option (Stobart 2006). Moreover, brass band musicians are affirmed certain professionalism with regard to playing instruments, which might be related to formal learning processes. One musician from Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble argued during an akhulliku, the collective act of coca leaf chewing (which provided a context for my focus group discussions),

we are often not considered proper musicians. It would help us if we got some recognition for us, like the Kallawaya healers, they got recognition of their practices. Then, nobody would say that only brass bands consist of musicians. (Mario Ríos 2015, personal communication)

This can be interpreted as a sort of discrimination towards rural indigenous music that seems to lack socio-economic status and professionalism. Hence, the endogenous dynamics go far beyond the insertion of well-tempered instruments and the reproduction of certain elements within brass band music. In the context of the Kallawaya, endogenous dynamics are moreover finely nuanced around the perception of precision, professionalism, and participation within autochthonous music groups in relation to such a comparison with brass band music (Hachmeyer 2015).

Integration through musical participation is understood as one of the main purposes of musical practices in indigenous communities (Stobart 2006). Participation does not so much depend on the precision and professionalism of instruments and practitioners (Turino 1989). Turino (2008) divides between two fields of live performance: participatory and presentational performance.[2] The former is sometimes related to “hobby” musicians while the latter is sometimes related to “professional” musicians.[3] Based on Turino’s (2008) conceptualization of live performance, an analysis of Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble should highlight this fundamental behavioral shift.

Participatory Performance Presentational Performance

Frequency of rehearsal

Main participation in dance

Rhythm: ostinato and constant

Short sectional forms

Dense texture

Minimization of individual virtuosity

Importance of sound

Disappearing of ad hoc integration

Professionalism and precision

Formalized learning

Individual and anthropocentric creativity

Centralized leadership

Social Activity Object, Commodity

Some characteristics of participatory performance have been maintained, basically those corresponding to the song structure, which are a constant ostinato rhythm, short sectional forms, the dense texture and the related minimization of individual virtuosity. The main participatory element is dance, which integrates a majority of people with an active and performative role. Rehearsals are infrequent, although they might increase in the context of presentational performances. On the contrary, some aspects changed towards presentational performances. First and foremost, musical sound becomes more important, so that an untypical sound quality is introduced (Turino 1989), manifesting itself through the disappearance of ad hoc integration and a precision of instruments, as well as a professionalization of musicians. The latter might correspond to formalized learning processes, which replaces practical and embodied learning in a collective situation (can be interpreted as a means to counter discrimination in comparison with brass band music). Moreover, the social organization and leadership is centralized around the “president,” who assumes most administrative and organizational tasks (which also might relate to the social organization of brass bands).

According to Gutiérrez (1991), the formation of a Bolivian identity of folklore and neo-folklore involves exogenous dynamics that generate competition, change music’s logic towards an artistic ideal of individual and temporary pleasure, and elaborate a music for every audience, moment, and place (see also Mújica 2014). In a heritage context, legitimate cultural expressions and cultural rights are conceptualized in terms of past history and the continuity of present actors with that past history (Llanos & Spedding 2009). In this sense, potential conflicts arise over the proper and “real” musical expression of qantu music, being related to conflicts over the legitimacy of expressing “real” Kallawaya identity through music. This is why some actors (mainly musicians from rural indigenous music ensembles, the elderly, etc.) define musical re-negotiations as “stylization” of or “alienation” from a certain ideal of rural indigenous music corresponding to a particular symbolic meaning and social relevance (in relation to agrarian production and rituality).[4]

Pachakuti as climate reversal or turning

These tendencies in the realm of music reflect certain conceptual and behavioral changes that are perceived by some involved actors as “loss of tradition” and thus have certain adverse repercussions on local climate patterns. Analogically, this means a rupture of a constant cosmological equilibrium, which is firstly noted within climatic conditions, as they are direct manifestations of reciprocal relationships between human and other-than-human subjectivities manifested through musical sound. Against this background, the loss of ritual and musical tradition is directly related to adverse climatic conditions.

In the Kallawaya region, there is a distinction between personal and collective rituals. While personal rituals are directed towards healing, collective rituals are directed towards the wellbeing of the whole community, such as adequate climate conditions relating to agrarian production. These collective rituals are divided between cyclic and temporal rituals. Cyclic rituals take place every year and relate to the cycle of agrarian production. Temporal rituals take place, for instance, when a calamity occurs, such as the lack of rain for sowing or crop growth (e.g. the repetition of qallay rain ritual). These temporal rituals need to be invoked by the community council or the collective ritualist, the watapurichiq. Since the watapurichiq is sometimes referred to as machula (meaning grandfather in Quechua), he is considered the ancestors’ representative or the “man of enlacement” (Rösing 1996, 64) who is able to communicate between worlds. The Quechua word watapurichiq literally means “one who makes the year walk” (Rösing 1996, 537). Therefore, he is also called the authority of pacha (especially in the sense of climate/weather) (Vergara Aguilar 2013). Against this background a loss of ritual tradition might be seen as if there is no one making the year walk or proceeding with the cyclic stations of life, thus a situation of being in a vital limbo or of not being able to predict what is going to happen next in life. This feeling of unpredictability is directly associated with climate change. One farmer in Inca Rosa, another Kallawaya community a two-hour hike south of Niñocorin, stated in early March that

we cannot predict weather. This is horrible. It continues raining without end. Look, the problem is, what shall we do? We need to use all these pesticides and everything against fungus, plagues or diseases that appear as never before.

The introduction of new synthetic agricultural technologies is considered necessary to confront climate change impacts, because local, ancestral and appropriate technology apparently reaches its limits. The “unreadability” of meteorological events is also related to the use of local biological indicators. Talking about the whistle of a bird locally known as chiwanku (the glossy-black thrush, Turdus serranus) announcing the proper time of sowing, my host in Niñocorin explains that

the chiwanku is not announcing anymore the correct time of sowing. For us, it is not an indicator anymore, because the chiwanku itself seems to be confused about all these changes. [Laughs.] When, then, should we sow? We do not exactly know this. The only thing we can do is wait for an appropriate time, we have to wait for rain. You know, actually it would be good if the climate once and for all changed, because afterwards we could properly read nature again to make proper decisions. (Feliciano Patty 2014, personal communication)

What my host expresses here, i.e. the wish that the climate finally changes once and for all, can be interpreted as a return to stable and predictable climatic conditions in an unknown future. It might symbolize a re-balancing of the world through a tumultuous turn of adverse climatic events, which can be referred to with the Andean concept of pachakuti (world turning). In this context pachakuti could be interpreted as the restoration of the world’s balance by means of a climatic reversal or turning.


How should these empirical findings be interpreted against the background of a climate justice discourse in relation to indigenous peoples? At first glance, these empirical findings obviously might be interpreted as if less privileged people blame themselves for something to which they have contributed very little, as indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable confronting the most direct impacts of climate change (Burman 2015). Within such (ethnomusicological) contributions to climate change, we see some sort of crisis of (ethnomusicological) knowledge (Salmon 2013). All ethnographic data with regard to climate change and local knowledge run the risk of consequentially being downplayed as a system of beliefs or an inferior and illusive cultural (mis-)representation of one universal reality of climate change already sufficiently explained by positivist climate sciences. This is somewhat similar to what Latour (1991) calls “particular universalism,” stating that one specific “Culture” has privileged access to “Nature.” And this is why the critique also goes like this: Local knowledge may well recognize the existence of climate change, but different “cultural perceptions” may even lead to its denial (see e.g. Baer & Reuter 2015; Milton 1996).

Undoubtedly, in a capitalist world-system that diffuses its economic and rationalist logic into every single corner of the world, scientific knowledge as its epistemological backup also circulates within the Kallawaya region, diffused by national and international actors. While the question of whether these people playing “wrong” musical instruments at “wrong” times are responsible for climate change in that specific local context does not make any sense, if you tie local realties (ontologies) to your theoretical and conceptual framework (an attempt to take the people seriously you work with), it would still be an important question to ask with regard to indigenous peoples, climate justice, and colonialism. Beyond the monolithic concept of climate change as a universal reality, various peoples experience, understand, and address climate changes in local contexts and discuss issues of climate justice in local relational fields, turning into spaces of political struggles, not only about the production of legitimate climate-related knowledge but also over “what there is” (Blaser 2013, 561), about the natures or realities of climate change, and about their legitimate explanations (Burman 2015).

In Latin America, there is a body of scholarly literature discussing issues surrounding epistemic dimensions of continuous colonial domination and the existence of epistemic violence (Burman 2016 and 2015; de Sosa Santos 2012; Mignolo 2009 and 2000). Indigenous peoples are the most vulnerable to climate changes, but indigenous knowledge, although regarded as an alternative and viable source of adaptation strategies for climate change, is rarely seen as being equal compared to “Western” scientific knowledge (Burman 2015). Both might coexist in a certain context, but they do not always assume an egalitarian and symmetric relationship as the word “coexistence” suggests (ibid.). Still, it is not only about how to know, but also about what to know. This is why Burman (2016) argues that there is something missing in the debate about the “coloniality of knowledge” – that is, questions of an ontological nature.

Stobart (2006, 52) argues in the context of Northern Potosí that the “use of musical instruments to influence atmospheric phenomena was conceived at a highly practical level.” This is indeed true, but concrete and situated practices are embedded in concrete places in a “dwelt-in-world” (Ingold 2011, 42) and are therefore ontologically informed and materially conditioned (Burman 2016). Knowledge and reality, Burman (2016) argues, are mutually formative, playing major roles in constituting each other. The local and situated musical “knowledge practice” correlates with the constitution of a certain ensounded reality. This raises further ontological questions about the natures of climate change and the particular reality, which is constituted by music as a local and situated knowledge practice. Obviously, “climate change” discussed by indigenous peoples such as the Kallawayas is not the same thing as “climate change” discussed by scientists or environmentalists. Here, “climate change” emerges as a different reality depending on the (knowledge) practice under consideration (Mol 2002).

I prefer to frame these empirical findings in terms of the political dimensions of potential ontological conflicts. Drawing on the ontological turn in social theory (e.g. Escobar 2007) and on the project of political ontology (e.g. Blaser 2013), an ontological conflict is not a conflict between different cultural perceptions about one single, objective, and universal nature; rather, it is about conflicts between different worlds in what Strathern (2004) calls the “pluriverse.” Similar to the coloniality of knowledge, Burman (2016) argues that there also exist ontological dimensions of continuous colonial domination. Drawing on Viveiros de Castro’s (2014, 10) notion of “war of worlds,” Burman (2016, 10) states that a dominant reality “imposes itself on other realities in an ontocidal process of colonial ontological warfare.” In this sense, ontology is not “just another word for culture” (Carrithers et al. 2010), as culture is somehow taking for granted its own ontological status (in terms of Cartesian metaphysics) (Blaser 2013); rather than thinking about ontology in the same manner as culture – i.e. as objective, reified, discrete, and mutually excluding – ontology could instead be conceptualized as a constant and ongoing formation of premises, which “overlap, intersect and connect” (Burman 2016) and which form “complex interplays” and “multiple engagements” (Jensen & Morita 2012, 365). Hence, it might be better to talk about “ways of worlding” (Blaser 2013, 551) in a processional sense. Understood in its epistemological dimension, music making is always knowledge making about a particular world (“acoustemologies”). But understood in relation to its ontological dimension, music making, consequentially, also has to be musical worlding.

Another aspect of the concept of ontology might be of consideration here. Holbraad (cited in Blaser 2013, 551) states that ontology as a concept

gets us out of the absurd position of thinking that what makes ethnographic subjects most interesting is that they get stuff wrong. Rather, on this account, the fact that the people we study may say or do things that to us appear as wrong just indicates that we have reached the limits of our own conceptual repertoire.

As a heuristic device, Salmon (2013) refers to an “ontological delegation,” which forces the scholar to risk the robustness and transportability of one’s own ontological assumptions by letting them be counter-analyzed by indigenous knowledge practices with their own requisites, propositions, and postulates (see also Viveiros de Castro 2014). But why should it be necessary to do so, apart from “betraying otherwise the existing multiplicity of words or realities” (Blaser 2013, 551)?

If the environmental crisis – and its most profound manifestation: climate change –  is first and foremost a “crisis of reason” (Plumwood 2002) of a dominant anthropocentric culture believed to have privileged access over nature (see also Allen 2014 and 2011), then issues of epistemic and ontological violence (including acts of disobedience from the subaltern) should be addressed in order to properly discuss social and climate justice in relation to indigenous peoples. Such peoples’ knowledge may well serve for climate change adaptation, yet too often their reality of climate change is not allowed to exist (Burman 2016). As Burman (2016) argues (drawing on de Sousa Santos 2012), there cannot be global social and climate justice without global cognitive justice (i.e. epistemological and ontological justice). The ontological turn in social theory is surely debatable and controversial. But I think that it is worth asking if  a radical critique of the capitalist world-system necessarily should be articulated form within ontological premises underpinning unsustainable mechanisms (i.e. unequal ecological exchange or environmental waste disposal) and the social organization of production and consumption of that very capitalist world-system (Burman 2016).

While in the confines of this essay I cannot address fully this ongoing anthropological debate, I do think that ecomusicological perspectives do well to overcome the naturalist cradle of its foundation in order to a) actively participate in contemporaneous and interdisciplinary academic debates relating to the environmental crisis and sustainability, and b) to do justice to the discipline’s critical outlines ultimately aiming at transcending the academic sphere in order to be fruitfully informed by other-than-academic, critical, and disobedient musical artists and thinkers from the subaltern. Ontological questions do very much inform ecomusicological research: the “Natures” we talk about are indeed very important.


[1] PhD Candidate in the Music and Geography Departments, Royal Holloway University of London.

[2] “Briefly defined, participatory performance is a style of artistic practice in which there are no artist-audience distinctions, only participants and potential participants performing different roles, and the primary goal is to involve the maximum number of people in some performance role. Presentational performance, in contrast, refers to situation, where one group of people, the artists, prepare and provide music for another group, the audience, who do not participate in making the music or dancing.” (Turino 2008, 26)

[3] Turino (2008, 28) overtly argues against such a distinction, but considers it as somehow existing.

[4] Against the background of a certain musical performativity, it is worth looking at the repercussions of such exogenous dynamics on the sound of qantu music during processes such as folklorization, a theme which I explore in detail elsewhere (Hachmeyer 2015). Because of the framework of this essay, it is not possible to go further into detail. The main repercussions are: Substitution of musical instruments, performance techniques, harmony, rhythm and tempo, as well as change of music’s communication strategy.


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