International Council for Traditions of Music and Dance

A Non-Governmental Organization in Formal Consultative Relations with UNESCO

Winners of the 2020 ICTM Prizes

The International Council for Traditional Music is pleased to announce the inaugural awards for Best Article, Best Book, and Best Documentary Film or Video. Details on each of the winning submissions are followed by comments from the members of the three subcommittees.

Prize Committee: J. Lawrence Witzleben (chair), Brian Diettrich, Lee Tong-Soon, Razia Sultanova, Louise Wrazen

Article Prize Subcommittee: Brian Diettrich (chair), Clare Chan, Adriana Helbig

Book Prize Subcommittee: J. Lawrence Witzleben (chair), Beverley Diamond, Kirsty Gillespie, Lee Tong-Soon, Sean Williams

Documentary Film or Video Prize Subcommittee: Razia Sultanova (chair), Sergio Bonanzinga, Leonardo D’Amico

Best Article

“One or Several Gamelan? Perpetual (Re)construction in the Life of a Balinese Gamelan Semara Pagulingan,” by Tyler Yamin (Ethnomusicology 63/2, 2019: 357-392.) 

  • “This article is very impressive. It takes classic topics in ethnomusicology and redefines them with ideas in ontology, agency, and Indigenous studies.” 
  • “The article redirects and shifts organology and ethnomusicology in innovative ways, including proposing a novel theoretical stance, ‘metabolism,’ as a means for scholarly research for ‘reassessing humanity’s place in the world.’” 
  • “This approach engages with arguments in critical organology that argue for a biography of instruments and is very relevant to present interests in ethnomusicology.” 
  • “Yamin brings on a fresh and new perspective toward how ethnomusicologist can examine their research areas. Rather than examine musical instruments for sonic qualities and the musician as an agent to the music produced, Yamin looks at the instrument as a non-human, subjected to issues involving humans who created music on it.” 
  • “The article is at once in-depth in its focus on gamelan semara pagulingan of Kamasan village, Bali, but also expansive in its theoretical breadth and the proposing of not only new ethnographic material, but new ideas of how we consider music and instruments.” 

Best Book


Musical Minorities: The Sounds of Hmong Ethnicity in Northern Vietnam, by Lonán Ó Briain (Oxford University Press, 2018)

  • “Ó Briain’s study is well-structured, clearly articulated, and comprises all the ingredients of solid traditional ethnographic work and contemporary reflexive writing: fieldwork, musical analysis/examples, and a focus on the individual and groups of individuals balanced with a broader overview of music and community.”
  • “This is a classic piece of ethnomusicological work, including notations, close musical analysis, and references to the Hornbostel-Sachs system. It has an excellent structure and is very well written.” 
  • “Although focused on one minority group in a remote part of Vietnam, the issues addressed are major ones: majority attitudes toward and policies on minority ethnic groups, the role of the state in music performance and education, music as propaganda, folklorization.” 
  • Ó Briain “allows the complexity of minority representation to shine. The ethnographies here are really cogent. We get to know individuals, venues, different populations. The sonic detail is excellent. Transcriptions are used well and not just inserted.”
  • “I really like the range of audio/video recordings, from field recordings to music videos. Many of these examples correspond to thick descriptions in the text—the text and AV materials are integrated in a way that is all too rare.”

Honourable Mention

The Legacy of Tanzanian Musicians Muhidin Guromo and Hassan Bitchuka: Rhumba Kiserebuka!, by Frank Gunderson (Lexington Books, 2018)

  • “This is an evocative ethnography which describes music well via the lives of the musicians that make it; it is fresh and innovative. The author writes passionately and enthusiastically which makes for engaging reading.”
  • “He leaves no doubt about his commitment and depth of knowledge.”
  • Gunderson “draws on a tremendous amount of information from numerous sources and enlivens his narrative in a way that keeps the reader interested to know more.”
  • “His camaraderie with the two musicians is a model for other researchers, and he goes out of his way to let their voices be heard.”
  • “The author clearly knows the field extremely well and is thus able to craft the various parts of the narratives--interview transcripts, vignettes, descriptions, etc.--in a rigorous and seamless manner that allows readers to understand the broader contexts and issues.”
  • “In an era where we struggle to decolonize scholarship, we commend Gunderson for writing a bilingual book that local non-English speakers will appreciate.”

Best Documentary Film or Video


Home Coming—The Ethnography of Dong (Kam) People’s New Year, directed by Qiaoqiao Cheng (Shanghai Music Publishing House and Shanghai A&V Electronic Literature and Publishing House, 2019)

  • “The Dong/Kam people located in Guizhou province (Southwest China) are a little known Chinese ethnic group renowned for rich culture and various traditional songs performed for the most important holiday in China—the Spring New Year Festival. The good choice of the documentary plot is showing China through the prism of cultural survival. At the beginning the well detailed ethnography exceeded music which later appears in abundance, indicating various instruments, genres, performances, etc.—everything in excellent editing display.”
  • “The complex musical system associated with the Spring New Year Festival offers Qiaoqiao Cheng the chance to investigate different aspects of social and cultural identity: relations between different generations, gender issues, persistence and change of musical form and behaviour, etc. Through an effective shoot/reverse of interviews and contextual performances the young author shows a deep knowledge of the local ethnography, constructing a beautiful ‘scientific’ documentary.”
  • “The documentary is focused on the Kam/Dong, an ethnic minority located in Guizhou province, famous for the polyphonic choir singing called kgal laox in the Kam language (侗族大歌 Dòngzú dà gē in Mandarin Chinese, Kam Grand Choir or Grand Song in English, inscribed in 2009 on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity). In Xiaohuang village, people form a choir to mark their passage through stages of life, especially for women. Through singing, they learn knowledge, search for spouses, and interact with allied villages, which nowadays mostly happen during the New Year’s ritual.”
  • “Shot in observational style, the camera follows the social and musical life of a Kam female singer living in between the intense working life in the city and the festive rituals of the village. Despite her young age, the Chinese ethno-filmmaker demonstrates familiarity with the cinematographic language as well as the requirements of the ethnomusicological insights; in particular the representation and construction of Kam cultural identity through different generations, musical/cultural changes and transformations of the traditional Grand Song facing with processes of exoticism and hybridisation with pop-songs and dance. The film is constructed on a balanced narrative of interviews and performances intercut with images that contextualize the ritual event.”

Honourable Mention

Voices of the Rainforest, directed by Steven Feld (Documentary Educational Resources, 2019).

  • “Steven Feld defines Voices of the Rainforest as ‘an eco-rockumentary, a cinema for listening concert of day in the life of the rainforest and the music it inspires in Bosavi, Papua New Guinea.’ Produced and directed by Feld, who recorded the original (1991) Voices of the Rainforest CD with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, the film stems from a 2018 return to Bosavi, with filmmaker Jeremiah Richards, to gather images for the recomposed soundtrack (Dolby 7.1) with the precious collaboration of sound editor Dennis Leonard (Skywalker Sound).”
  • “This film returns to field research carried out by Feld forty years ago among the Bosavi people. Feld’s ethnographic contribution on the subject is well known, with a great number of publications (books, articles, CDs, etc.). The work in Bosavi led Feld to develop a theoretical frame which was very innovative, by expanding the object of study far beyond what was deemed to be relevant under a ‘musical’ profile: from the inflection of the spoken language to ‘voices’ of birds, from the sounds produced during work to the ones typical of the natural setting. Starting from an ‘anthropology of sound,’ he has then conceived a new discipline: acoustemology, which links acoustics and epistemology. The whole elements of his conception have been generating an original approach in which the ‘aesthetic dimension’ is supported by a distinguished ethnographic deepness.”
  • Voices of the Rainforest is an outstanding example of ‘poetic restitution’ of an ethnographic experience and, at the same time, a valuable case of ‘repatriation practice’, as all film screening and future sale proceeds benefit the Bosavi Peoples Fund, advocating for environmental and cultural justice in a remote part of Papua New Guinea."
  • Voices of the Rainforest is an experiential documentary about the ecological and aesthetic coevolution of Papua New Guinea’s Bosavi rainforest region and its inhabitants. Through sounds and images, the film immerses viewers in the rainforest, and makes audible myriad connections between the everyday sounds of the biosphere and the creative practices of singing by the Bosavi people.”
  • “The author has chosen an impressionistic style to create a narrative constructed mainly on sounds and images: still pictures and short videos of the Bosavi people’s daily life and their environment, intercut with short musical performances, accompanied by their songs in the background. Astonishing images and the remarkable sound recordings make this film a valuable contribution to the 21st century documentary films heritage.”