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Lucy Durán (PhD SOAS, BMus MMus King’s College, London) is Professor of Music in the Department of Music, School of Arts. Her main regional interests are in West Africa and Cuba. She has been researching music in Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Mali and Cuba for four decades, and is widely published on Mande traditional and popular music, women singers of Mali, the kora, oral transmission of musical knowledge in Mande jeli (griot) families, and Cuban son and rumba. All these are topics she teaches at SOAS, also drawing on her media experience in film, radio and music production.
Apart from her academic research and teaching, Lucy has a long career as a radio broadcaster on BBC Radio from 1987-2013, winning a Sony Award for her BBC World Service programmes ‘Latins in the USA’. She was the regular presenter of World Routes, BBC Radio 3’s flagship world music programme, for the duration of its life on air (2000-2013). This involved researching and recording music on location in over forty countries including Cuba, Bolivia, Madagascar, Mali, Equatorial Guinea, Azerbaijan, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, which gave her first-hand insight into the changing contexts of music of oral transmission. Her course ‘Presenting World Music on Radio’, which teaches script-writing and presentation skills with a focus on world music, is unique in this country and was awarded the SOAS Director’s Teaching Prize in 2009.
Lucy is an acclaimed music producer, with more than twenty albums to her name, featuring leading musicians from West Africa including Bassekou Kouyaté, Kassé Mady Diabaté and Toumani Diabaté, for whose albums she has received three Grammy nominations. Her latest album production, Ladilikan, featuring the renowned Kronos Quartet and the Malian Trio Da Kali, was released on the World Circuit label in September 2017 to worldwide critical acclaim. It has won many awards including fROOTS Critics Poll Album of the Year (2018), and Songlines Best Fusion album of the Year (2018).
left to right: co-producer Nick Gold, Hank Dutt (viola), John Sherba (violin), Hawa Kasse Mady Diabaté (singer, holding fROOTS award), David Harrington (violin and artistic director, Kronos Quartet) Lassana Diabaté (balafon and artistic director, Trio Da Kali), Sunny Yang (cello) and Lucy Durán (co-producer, music). May 2018
In 2015 Durán was hired by the production team of ROOTS – the remake of the famous TV series based on Alex Haley’s best-selling book – to advise on Mandinka music and culture along the Gambia river in the 18th century. The series was broadcast in the UK in 2016. In recognition of her important contribution, the ROOTS production team donated several scholarships to SOAS’s Music Department to enable music students to conduct research on Mande music. To date, four scholarships have been awarded at undergraduate and PhD level, supporting field work and performance study in Mali, Senegal and Gambia.
Lucy was Principal Investigator of the film-based research project, ‘Growing into Music’, funded by Beyond Text (Arts & Humanities’ Research Council) and conducted in Cuba, Venezuela, Mali, Azerbaijan and north India between 2009-12 by a team of four ethnomusicologists. This resulted in unique in-depth documentaries that document the musical progress of children in specialist musical families. Her own films follow children in leading Mande jeli (griot) families in Mali and Guinea; of which ‘The Voice of Tradition: Bako Dagnon and Family’ won the prize for Best AHRC/AHRB- funded film since 1998 in the AHRC’s Research In Film awards, 2015. They are available for viewing online.
During 2015-16, with a grant from the British Academy Newton Advanced Fellowship, Durán supervised a multi-media project on Afromexican music from the Costa Chica, Oaxaca, Mexico resulting in a documentary film SOMOS NEGROS DE LA COSTA and a CD, FORONTO - AFROAXACA, which she produced with local musicians and two of the members of Trio Da Kali in a mobile studio on a farm outside Llano Grande. The album was released in August 2019.
Her most recent documentary film, on the endangered tradition of girls’ handclapping songs in Mali, TEGERE TULON- HANDCLAPPING SONGS OF MALI, was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet and premiered at their festival in San Francisco in June, 2019. In recognition of Durán’s work, Kronos inducted her into the Kronos Hall of Fame at the end of the festival.
My research focuses primarily on music from/within the Mande cultural region and its diaspora, and is driven by my interest in promoting better understanding of and safeguarding oral traditions from the region. My outputs have therefore included radio documentaries (BBC Radio 3), film (Growing into Music in Mali) and CDs (various) released through the world music industry, as well as written outputs in both academic and non-academic journals. I am interested in the following topics with reference to the Mande world: gender and music; the role of women singers; songs as story and history; notions of musical mastery; weddings as a locus of performance and contestation; methods of oral transmission; creativity and music production in the recording studio; local forms of 'popular' music; conversations with the blues. In addition, I work on (and teach) the popular music of Cuba, and its ongoing connections across the Atlantic.
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Durán, Lucy and Topp-Fargion, Janet and Wallace, Marion (2015) 'Crossings: Word and Music across the Atlantic'. In: Durán, Lucy and Topp-Fargion, Janet and Wallace, Marion, (eds.), West Africa : word, symbol, song. London: British Library, pp 72-99.
Duran, Lucy (2015) 'Soliyo: song and memory in Mande music'. In: Harris, Rachel and Pease, Rowan, (eds.), Pieces of the musical world: the study of music in culture.. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp 27-44.
Duran, Lucy (2006) 'Mali: gold dust by the river'. In: Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark and Lusk, Jon, (eds.), The Rough Guide to World Music. 3rd edition. Africa and the Middle East. London: Penguin, pp 219-238.