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Department of Music

Dr Rachel Harris



Rachel Harris
Department of Music

Reader in Ethnomusicology

School of Arts

Reader in Ethnomusicology

Centre of Contemporary Central Asia & the Caucasus

Academic Staff, Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus

SOAS China Institute

Academic Staff, SOAS China Institute

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies


Dr Rachel Harris
Email address:
020 7898 4513
020 7898 4699
SOAS, University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Russell Square: College Buildings
Office No:
Office Hours:
Wednesdays 11am-1pm


I came to the discipline of ethnomusicology through the MMus at SOAS following a first degree in Chinese studies. My Ph.D. (now published as ‘Singing the Village’, OUP) focused on a small minority people in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, exploring issues of identity, musical change, and the musical construction of place. My research continues to centre on the region of Xinjiang, and especially on the music of the Muslim Central Asian Uyghurs, but also encompasses broader perspectives on Chinese music, including an edited volume on gender in Chinese music.
I have over ten years experience teaching ethnomusicology at all levels of the curriculum at SOAS, including our core theoretical survey courses for undergrduate and postgraduate students. I have developed an introductory course for 1st year undergraduates, and regional courses in Chinese and Central Asian music, focusing on musical traditions as well as pop and politics.
On the practical or applied side, I am engaged with contemporary ‘Silk Road’ traditional and fusion recording projects. I am actively engaged with Chinese music performance and research in Europe, hosting concerts and workshops at SOAS, acting as Chair for the London Jingkun Opera Society, and serving on the board of CHIME. At SOAS we emphasise performance as a core method of engaging with musical form and style, complementing our academic teaching and research. I led our Chinese jiangnan sizhu silk-and-bamboo group for several years, and played suona in the SOAS Chinese shawm band. I currently lead a Central Asian group, working with Uyghur musicians in London.


Programmes Convened
Courses Taught
PhD Students supervised
  • Cloris Lim, A Study of Nanyin Activities in Jinjiang Region of Fujian Province, China.
  • Crispin Robinson, Technicians of the Sacred: Generating transcendence in Afro-Cuban orisha worship. An ethnography of praxis in bata drumming.
  • Gavin Walker, Music, meaning and persuasion in South African public health compaigns.
  • Great Lekakul, Prachan: Music, Competition, and Conceptual Fighting in Thai Culture.
  • Jutamas Poprasit, The role of music in the Thai funeral ritual in contemporary Bangkok: its history, performance and transmission.
  • Maria Rijo Lopes Da Cunha, Discourse and practice of Tarab music in Lebanon.
  • Maureen Pritchard, The Dialogic Imagination: Art, Ethnicity and Social Suffering in Contemporary Kyrgyzstan
  • Min Yen Ong, Kunqu in contemporary China.
  • Nan (Leo) Ma, Revenue protection of the Chinese music industry.
  • Ruard Absaroka, Musical Networks and the Spatialities of the Digital Age City: Hidden Musicians and public musicking in Shanghai, China.
  • Thomas Staniforth, Movements of the Thunderbolt: 'Cham Choreography and Transmission in the Himalayan Region.


My research projects include the canonisation of traditional repertoire: a modern history of the Uyghur Twelve Muqam which situates the modernisation of this repertoire in the context of similar nationalist projects across the Islamic world. In my work on globalisation and pop, I trace the contemporary transnational flows of styles like reggae, flamenco and Hindi film music into the region of Xinjiang (once a hub of the ‘Silk Road’). Forthcoming articles focus on the Uyghur diaspora and music on the internet. I am an active fieldworker: another current project focuses on Muslim women’s ritual practices in rural Xinjiang, framed within anthropological approaches to the performance of emotion.

I currently lead the AHRC Research Network, ‘Sounding Islam in China’, which uses sound as a key medium through which to explore the shifting nature of religious practice, meaning and power in contemporary China. http://www.soas.ac.uk/music/events/islamic-soundscapes-of-china/

Research students I have supervised include:

  • Ruard Absaroka (Musicking in the Digital Age in Shanghai).
  • Shino Arisawa (Continuity and change in Japan’s Jiuta-Sôkyoku tradition).
  • Sau-Ping Lim (Nanyin activities in the Jinjiang region of Fujian).
  • Min-Yen Ong (Heritage or Heresy? Safeguarding Kunqu in China Post‐2001).
  • Will Sumits (The evolution of the maqam tradition in Central Asia: from the theory of 12 maqam to the practice of shashmaqam).
  • Sun Zhuo (The Chinese zheng: 20th and 21st century transformations).
  • Shzr-ee Tan (Eco-systems of Taiwanese Aboriginal song).


For help in contacting SOAS academics and advice on services to business and the community, please contact SOAS Enterprise on +44(0)20 7898 4837 or email enterprise@soas.ac.uk.
For all press and media enquiries please call +44 (0)20 7898 4135 or email comms@soas.ac.uk

Available for
  • Briefings
  • Special Study Programmes
Regional Expertise
  • Central Asia
  • East Asia
Country Expertise
  • China


Authored Books

Harris, Rachel (2008) The Making of a Musical Canon in Chinese Central Asia: The Uyghur Twelve Muqam. Aldershot: Ashgate Press.

Harris, Rachel (2004) Singing the Village. Music, Memory, and Ritual amongst the Sibe of Xinjiang. Oxford University Press.

Edited Books

Harris, Rachel and Pease, Rowan and Tan, Shzr Ee, eds. (2013) Gender in Chinese Music. University of Rochester Press. (Eastman/Rochester Studies Ethnomusicology)

Bellér-Hann, Ildiko and Césaro, Cristina and Harris, Rachel and Smith-Finley, Joanne, eds. (2007) Situating the Uyghurs: between China and Central Asia. Aldershot: Ashgate Press.

Book Chapters

Harris, Rachel (2013) 'Doing Satan’s Business: Negotiating gendered concepts of music and ritual in rural Xinjiang.' In: Gender in Chinese Music. University of Rochester Press.

Harris, Rachel (2013) 'Harmonizing Islam in Xinjiang: sound and meaning in rural Uyghur religious practice.' In: Bellér-Hann , Ildiko and Brox, Trine, (eds.), On the Fringes of the Harmonious Society: Tibetans and Uyghurs in Socialist China. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, pp. 293-317.

Harris, Rachel (2012) 'The Uyghur Muqam.' In: Levin, Theodore and Kuchumkulova, Elmira, (eds.), Music of Central Asia: an Introduction. Aga Khan Trust for Culture & University of Central Asia, pp. 251-260.

Harris, Rachel (2009) 'National Traditions and Illegal Religious Activities in Chinese Central Asia.' In: Nooshin, L., (ed.), Sounds of Power: Music, Politics and Ideology in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Aldershot: Ashgate Press, pp. 165-185.

Harris, Rachel (2009) 'Abdulla Mäjnun: Muqam Expert.' In: Rees, H., (ed.), Lives in Chinese Music. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Harris, Rachel (2007) 'Situating the Twelve Muqam: Between the Arab World and the Tang Court.' In: Beller-Hann, I. and Cesaro, M. C. and Harris, R. and Smith Finley, J., (eds.), Situating the Uyghurs between China and Central Asia. Ashgate, pp. 69-88.

Harris, Rachel (2001) 'Cassettes, Bazaars and Saving the Nation: the Uyghur Music Industry in Xinjiang, China.' In: Craig, Tim and King, Richard, (eds.), Global Goes Local: Popular Culture in Asia. University of British Columbia Press (Vancouver), pp. 265-83.

Marriage, Zoe 'Longing & celebration in Capoeira Angola.' In: Harris, Rachel, (ed.), Pieces of the world. Routledge. (Forthcoming)


Harris, Rachel (2014) 'The Oil is Sizzling in the Pot’: Sound and Emotion in Uyghur Qur'anic Recitation.' Ethnomusicology Forum, 23 (3). pp. 331-359.

Harris, Rachel (2012) 'Tracks: temporal shifts and transnational networks of sentiment in Uyghur song.' Ethnomusicology, 56 (3). pp. 450-475.

Harris, Rachel (2011) 'Invitation to a mourning ceremony: perspectives on the Uyghur internet.' Inner Asia, 13 (1). pp. 27-49.

Harris, Rachel (2005) 'Reggae on the Silk Road: the Globalisation of Uyghur Pop.' The China Quarterly, 183 (1). pp. 627-643.

Harris, Rachel (2005) 'Wang Luobin: Folksong King of the Northwest or Song Thief? Copyright, Representation and Chinese Folksongs.' Modern China, 31 (3). pp. 381-408.

Harris, Rachel and Dawut, R. (2002) 'Mazar festivals of the Uyghurs: Music, Islam and the Chinese State.' British Journal of Ethnomusicology, vol. 1 . pp. 101-118.

Harris, Rachel (2000) 'From Shamanic Ritual to Karaoke: the (trans)migrations of a Chinese folksong.' CHIME, 14/15 . pp. 48-60.


Harris, Rachel (2012) Borderlands: Wu Man and Master Musicians from the Silk Route. Smithsonian Folkways.


Harris, Rachel (2009) 'Lessons for Schools, 1: China. The production of melody in Chinese teahouse music: “adding flowers to the skeleton”.' Classroom Music, summer term 2008/9.

Harris, Rachel (2005) 'Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.' In: Continuum encyclopedia of popular music of the world. Vol. 5. New York; London: Continuum.

Harris, Rachel (2004) 'Mäjnun: classical traditions of the Uyghurs.' SOASIS 06 (production and sleeve notes).

Harris, Rachel and Muhpul, Y. (2002) 'Music of the Uyghurs.' In: The Turks, Vol.6. Istanbul: Yeni Turkiye Publications. pp. 542-549.

Harris, Rachel (2001) 'Popular music of the Uyghurs.' In: Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, 6. Routledge.

Harris, Rachel (2000) 'Uyghur Musicians from Xinjiang: Music from the Oasis towns of Central Asia.' Ace Records.

This list was generated on Fri Mar 6 00:33:18 2015 GMT.