Laudatio - in Honor of Prof.  Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco

Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco, Professor of Ethnomusicology and founder of the Instituto de Etnomusicologia - Centro de Estudos em Música e Dança of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa was the 2013 recipient of the Glarean Preis for music research, offered by the Swiss Musicological Society. The Ceremony took plase at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

Salwa is not only an outstanding scholar, but has also been a good friend friend.
This is the "Laudatio" I had the honor and the pleasure of pronouncing on that occasion: 

I am sure you all expect me to say, right here at the outset, how happy and honoured I am to prononce this Laudatio – that's the traditional way to begin. I am not usually much respectful of traditions, but this is a special case. So, indeed, I will emphatically say, that I am indeed extremely happy to be part of this celebration, where the Swiss Musicological Society is conferring the Glarean Prize to one very significant music scholar of our time: Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco. It is an honor, it is a pleasure, it is also thrilling for me to think how, just like Heinrich Glarean in his Dodekachordon wrote a famous Encomium for Josquin des Préz, here I find myself (poor me) pronouncing my Laudatio in honor of Salwa El-Shawan.

You may have noticed, but if you didn't notice, please do so, I just said of her, she is a “music scholar”. If you wonder why I am not bringing up standard academic label of "ethnomusicologist", just bear with me; here comes the explanation. You see Heinrich Glarean was philosopher, theologian, philologist, historian, poet and, yes, music scholar – in Medieval terminology “musicus”. His cultural horizon was especially wide, even by Renaissance standards. I have no difficulty in imagining him today, interested in the entire spectrum of “musicologies”, in the plural: historical musicology, ethnomusicology, theory and analysis, etc. The word “music” is deceptively simple; but it covers an incredibly wide of behavior patterns involving sound: nature expresses itself in those patterns, long before before they become “culture”. There is too much in them, and to them, for a single discipline to deal with. That is why we have “musicologies”, that is why we need  scholars whose work intersects more than one of them – and this is precisely the case of our Prize Recipient. 

Now, First Things First 

Of course you all know who she is; otherwise you would not be giving her a prize, but you may not know all that I know about her  - although, of course, I am not presuming my knowledge of her is complete.  

Her father was distinguished composer Aziz El-Shawan (1916-1993). No wonder Salwa is, first of all, a musician trained in the Western tradition. She studied piano in Cairo, with the Italian Ettore Puglisi, with whom she spoke French; then continued at the Royal School of Music in London, and at the Manhattan School of Music in New York (by the by, that is the school where Herbie Hancock and Max Roach also studied); no wonder Salwa is interested in jazz – among other things. Well, it is in New York that she later enrolled at Columbia University, and obtained her Ph.D. in musicology. It is in New York that she met her future husband, Professor Gustavo Castelo-Branco, who is a theoretical physicist and, incidentally, he often visits our Country, because of the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN in Geneva.

All I just started telling you, draws on my knowing Salwa, from two different perspectives, “from afar” and “up close”, if I may say so (de loin et de près). Let me now be more specific about the two perspectives. 

Salwa from Afar

Yes, I have known of her for many years, long before there was any personal contact. Salwa began publishing quite early significant contributions about contemporary Arab traditions in Egypt, which appeared in major journals (El-Shawan Castelo-Branco 1980; 1982; 1984). And she continued all along to give us contributions on Egypt and the Arab World. For instance those appeared in The New Grove and the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (El Shawan Castelo-Branco 2001; 2002; 2002a). But when she moved to Portugal, that nation became one major focus of her interests, interests she cultivated with an  unusually broad approach. Her work on Portugal discusses traditional music, urban music, popular, and jazz. Before Salwa, no one had ever worked so extensively in Portugal; and those who had done something were guided by an old-fashioned folkore approach, rather than by the methods of ethnomusicology (Schindler 1941; Gallup 1960).

One extraordinary result of her endeavours is the substantial Encyclopedia of Music in Portugal in the XXth Century, accomplished by her and a team of young scholars under her guidance (El Shawan Castelo-Branco 2010). That was an innovative and unique endeavour: an in-depth scholarly discussion of the musical landscapes of an entire nation. Not a history in a conventional sense, although it has historical significance, but rather a detailed picture of Portuguese contemporary musical life, where all its facettes are considered.  I wish something similar could exist for Switzerland. Another extraordinary accomplishement was the Institute for “Ethnomusicology – Study Center for Music and Dance” of the Nova Universidade de Lisboa (INET), which she founded, and where she is now President and Full Professor.

Few people, like Salwa, had such a considerabe impact on the scholarship of their own Country, because what she did is felt beyond academia. It was thanks to her that in 2011 Fado was recognized by UNESCO as intangible heritage of mankind. I was in Lisbon at the time and, speaking with people, I realized the impact of this accomplishment. It was apparent how this international acknowledgement of Portugal's contribution to the world's culture, helped people feel good about being be Portuguese - precisely at a time of an economic crisis, when the collective identity of the nation needed a boost. 

Salwa El-Shawan Castelo Branco is now the President of  the International Council for Traditional Music, which is the largest, truly international, world-wide association for ethnomusicology; the one founded in London in 1947, whose first presidents were Ralph Vaughan-Williams, Jaap Kunst, and Zoltán Kodály. Incidentally, ICTM has a national committee in Switzerland, also known as Swiss Society for Ethnomusicology, which is represented today by its Chairman Raymond Amman, Britta Sweers who is Member of the Board and Secretary of the “Applied Ethnomusicology Study Group”, me. We are all extremely happy and proud that our President is receiving the Glarean Prize today.

Now, please, bear with me for a few more minutes, so that I can tell you of my personal relation to the Prize Winner.

A closer look at Salwa

Only in 2005, at City airport in London, I had my first conversation with Salwa. For a few years I had been living in retirement, almost like a hermit – that's a story you do not need to know. The fact is, that conversation changed my attitude. Intellectual energy is contagious. In a matter of minutes I felt like catching up with lost time. I was especially impressed on that occasion, that it is possible to be extremely productive, without perspiring anxiety, nervousness, or impatience. I guess, it's like what happens in performance. There's pianists who make me feel all the effort it takes them to play Beethoven's Op. 111 - at the end of the piece I am myself exhausted. Others play effortlessly; in which case, at the end, I am ready for more. Salwa is like that, she seems to find time for everythying. Truly, it would be difficult to give you an overview of all her publications, of all the projects she promoted, of all the conferences she organized, of all the committees where she was or is the President, of all the editorial duties she fulfilled, of the many times she was Visiting Professor in prestigious universities, of the many projects she has in the pipeline right now – and there she is, relaxed, approachable, and available to help – even ready to promptly reply to my email messages, of all things!  

A couple of years ago the idea came about that the ICTM Study Group for Mediterranean Music Studies could organize one of its meetings in Portugal. Thanks to Salwa, actually two of those meetings eventually took place there. It was  a fantastic experience, and I am very grateful for the incredible help she gave us on those occasions; it covered the whole range: from the intellectual to the very practical.


As I approach the end of this Encomium, I wish to stress how Salwa represents a form of scholarship that is on time for our time. We live in what I call the "Age of Musicologies": music history, ethnomusicology, music theory, popular music studies, psychology of music, sociology of music, eco-musicology, bio-musicology, zoo-musicology. They all pursue their own agenda, and that makes it difficult to realize how incredibly exciting the whole picture is.

You see, it was 1970, when Charles Seeger published his plaidoyer for bringing together all the different branches of music studies (Seeger 1970). It has not happened. What is happening, however, is that an increasing number of scholars, no longer feel inhibited by disciplinary borderlines (which has nothing to do with the “multidisciplinary approach” fashionable back in the 1960s). It simply means looking for meaning and explanation wherever it is likely to be found. That's how Harry Powers realized modal theory can be better understood cross-culturally (Powers 1980). That is how Robert Cogan explains the contrapuntal style of Bach with the mathematics of fractal configurations (Cogan 2011). That is how Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco showed us that, if one wishes to understand what a nation musically is, one needs to look at all the music layers it contains (Salwa 2010).

Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco is a scholar who is not inhiibited by disciplinary borderines. In giving her the Glarean Prize, the Swiss Musicological Society is giving a signal that Charles Seeger's dream of a unified field of musicology is not an “impossible dream”.

Be always glad you are who you are Salwa. Considering all the people you could have been, you really made a very wise choice! 

Please, applaude and congratulate with me the one and only: Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco!


Cogan, Robert
2011 “The Architecture of Contrapunctus I: A Third Chronotopic Mini-Essay on  Bach”. Sonus, Vol. 32, no. 1, 7-30.
El Shawan Castelo-Branco, Salwa
1980 "The Socio-Political Context of Al-Musiqa Al-'Arabiyyah in Cairo, Egypt:  Policies,  Patronage, Institutions and Musical Change (1927-77)," Asian Music  12 (1),  86-128.
1982 "The Role of Mediators in the Transmission of Al-Musiqa Al-'Arabiyyah in  Twentieth Century Cairo," Yearbook for Traditional Music 14, 55-74;
1984 "Traditional Arab Music Ensembles in Egypt since 1967: 'The Continuity of  Tradition Within a Contemporary Framework'," Ethnomusicology 28 (2), 1984:  271-288.
2001 "Egypt: Western Music." In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and  Musicians, 2nd ed., 7-16.
2002  “ Institutionalization of Music Learning in Egypt”, in Virginia Danielson, Scott  Marcus and Dwight Reynolds (Eds.), Garland Encyclopedia of World Music,  vol. 6, 2002, 321-324.
2002a “Western Music, Colonialism, Cosmopolitanism and Modernity in Egypt,” ibidem, Garland Encyclpedia of World Music, vol. 6, 2002, 607-613.
2010 Enciclopédia da Música em Portugal no Século XX. 4 vols. Círculo de  Leitores/Temas e Debates.
Gallup, Rodney
1960 Cantares do Povo Portugues: estudio critico, recolha e comentario. Lisboa:  Atica, Inst. de la cultura.
Glarean, Heinrich
1547 Dodekachordon, Book III, chapter 24.
Powers, Harold S.
1980 "Mode", in S. Sadie (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians,  vol. 12, 376-450.
Schindler, Kurt
1941 Folk Music and Poetry of Spain and Portugal (Música y poesía popular de  España y Portugal, New York, Hispanic Institute in the United States.
Seeger, Charles
1970 "Toward a Unitary Field Theory for Musicology", Selected Reports, Vol I, no.  3, Institute of Ethnomusicology. Los Angeles: University of California, pp.  171-210; republished in Charles Seeger, Studies in Musicology 1935-1975.  Berkeley: University of California Press 1977, pp. 102-138.
Zbikowski, Larry
1999 “Seeger's Unitary Field Theory Reconsidered,” in Bell Yung and Helen Rees  (eds.) Understanding Charles Seeger, Pioneer in American Musicology.  Champaign:  University of Illinois Press, 130-149.
2004 Review of Taylor Aitken Greer, “A Question of Balance: Charles Seeger’s  Philosophy of Music,” Music Theory Spectrum, 26/2 (Fall 2004): 305-313.