SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Rachel Harris

BA (Oxon); MMus, PhD (London)
  • Overview
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Expertise
  • Publications


Rachel Harris
Department of Music

Reader in Ethnomusicology

School of Arts

Reader in Ethnomusicology, Research Coordinator

SOAS China Institute

Academic Staff, SOAS China Institute

SOAS Centre of Contemporary Central Asia & the Caucasus

Academic Staff, Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies


Dr Rachel Harris
Email address:
020 7898 4513
SOAS University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Russell Square: College Buildings
Office No:
Academic Support Hours:
Friday 11:30-12:30 or email for an appointment


Rachel Harris came to the discipline of ethnomusicology through the MMus at SOAS following a first degree in Chinese studies. Her 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. Her 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.

Rachel has 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. She has 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, Rachel is engaged with contemporary ‘Silk Road’ traditional and fusion recording projects. She is 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 music performance is emphasised as a core method of engaging with musical form and style, complementing our academic teaching and research. Rachel led the Chinese jiangnan sizhu silk-and-bamboo group for several years, and played suona in the SOAS Chinese shawm band. She currently leads a Central Asian group, working with Uyghur musicians in London.


Programmes Convened
Modules Taught
PhD Students supervised
  • Crispin Robinson, Technicians of the Sacred: Generating transcendence in Afro-Cuban orisha worship. An ethnography of praxis in bata drumming.
  • Georgette Nummelin, Using Music to Sustain and Revitalise Ainu Language and Identity
  • Lorenzo Chiarofonte, Songs for the Nats. Constructing identities and conveying meaning through hsaing waing music in Natkana Pwe Ceremonies of Central Burma
  • Maria Rijo Lopes Da Cunha, The Contemporary Revival of Naḥda Music in Lebanon: Politics of Remembrance and Representation
  • Ros Hawley, A Reflexive Study of Music Practice in a UK Paediatric Hospital Setting
  • Ruard Absaroka, Hidden Musicians and Public Musicking in Shanghai
  • Sam Grant, Metal Music and its Relationship to Folk Music and National Identity in the Middle East
  • Xuejiao Fu, Women and Western Art Music in Shanghai during the Republic of China


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.

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).


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For all press and media enquiries please call +44 (0)20 7898 4135 or email

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: Oxford University Press.


Harris, Rachel and Isa, Aziz (2018) 'Islam by smartphone: reading the Uyghur Islamic revival on WeChat'. Central Asian Survey.

Harris, Rachel (2018) '“A Weekly Mäshräp to Tackle Extremism”: Music-making in Uyghur Communities and Intangible Cultural Heritage in China.'. Ethnomusicology, (64) 1. [Forthcoming]

Harris, Rachel (2018) 'Applied experiments in collaboration along the Silk Road'. World of Music, (7) 1+2, pp 37-59.

Wood, Abigail and Harris, Rachel (2018) 'Introduction: Sharing space? Sharing culture? Applied experiments in music-making across borders'. World of Music, (7) 1-2. [Forthcoming]

Harris, Rachel (2017) 'The New Battleground: Song-and-dance in China’s Muslim borderlands'. World of Music, (6) 2, pp 35-56.

Harris, Rachel and Jaschok, Maria (2015) 'Introduction: Sounding Islam in China'. Performing Islam, (3) 1-2, pp 3-13.

Harris, Rachel (2015) 'The Changing Uyghur Religious Soundscape'. Performing Islam, (3) 1-2, pp 93-114.

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.

Edited Books or Journals

Harris, Rachel and Stokes, Martin, (eds.), (2017) Theory and Practice in the Music of the Islamic World: Essays in Honour of Owen Wright. Abingdon; New York: Routledge. (SOAS Musicology Series).

Harris, Rachel and Pease, Rowan, (eds.), (2015) Pieces of the Musical World: Sounds and Cultures. Abingdon: Routledge.

Harris, Rachel and Pease, Rowan and Tan, Shzr Ee, (eds.), (2013) Gender in Chinese Music. Rochester: 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 (2018) 'The Soundscapes Turn in Ethnomusicology: Sonic territoriality and the Islamic revival across Chinese-Central Asian borders'. Music, Dance and Anthropology. London: Royal Anthropological Institute; Sean Kingston Publishing. [Forthcoming]

Harris, Rachel (2018) 'Dissonant Voices in China’s Harmonious Society: From Cassettes to WeChat, Nation to Anashid'. In: Manabe, Noriko and Drott, Eric, (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Protest Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Forthcoming]

Harris, Rachel (2017) 'Theory and practice in contemporary Central Asian Maqām traditions: the Uyghur On Ikki Muqam and the Kashmiri Sufyana Musiqi'. In: Harris, Rachel and Stokes, Martin, (eds.), Tuning The Past: Theory And Practice In The Music Of The Islamic World. Abingdon; New York: Routledge, pp 217-237.

Marriage, Zoe (2015) '"Grande Mestre": Longing and celebration in Capoeira Angola (Brazil)'. In: Harris, Rachel and Pease, Rowan, (eds.), Pieces of the Musical World: Sounds and Cultures. Abingdon: Routledge.

Harris, Rachel (2015) '“Subhan’Allāh” (Glory to God): Listening and Weeping in a Dhikr Ceremony'. In: Harris, Rachel and Pease, Rowan, (eds.), Pieces of the Musical World: Sounds and Cultures. Oxon; New York: Routledge, pp 123-138.

Impey, Angela (2015) '“Song of Akuac”: Audio-letters from South Sudan: Tracing Dinka Networks, Connections, and Intimacies beyond the war zone.'. In: Harris, Rachel and Rowan, Pease, (eds.), Pieces of the Musical World. Sounds and Culture. New York and London: Routledge, pp 195-207.

Harris, Rachel (2013) 'Doing Satan’s Business: Negotiating gendered concepts of music and ritual in rural Xinjiang'. In: Harris, Rachel and Pease, Rowan and Tan, Shzr Ee, (eds.), Gender in Chinese Music. Rochester: 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. Naryn: 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.. Aldershot: 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.

Conference Items

Harris, Rachel (2014) 'Internet rumours and the changing Uyghur religious soundscape: the case of the Snake-Monkey Woman' In: Islamic Soundscapes of China, 10 January 2014, SOAS, University of London.

Harris, Rachel (2012) 'The Geographies of Ritual Practice in Rural Uyghur Society' In: Musical Geographies of Central Asia, 16-18 May 2012, SOAS, University of London.

Book Reviews

Harris, Rachel (2015) 'Review: The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History RIAN THUM'. China Quarterly. [Forthcoming]


Harris, Rachel (2009) 'Aq Beliq. London Uyghur Ensemble.'.


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


Han, Enze and Palmer, James and Barnett, Robert and Bequelin, Nicholas and Millward, James A. and Harris, Rachel and Leibold, James and Bulag, Uradyn E. and Hill, Nathan and Sperling, Elliot and Shakya, Tsering and Yeh, Emily T. (2014) 'Are ethnic tensions on the rise in China? A Chinafile conversation'.

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

Harris, Rachel (2005) 'Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region'.

Harris, Rachel (2004) 'Mäjnun: classical traditions of the Uyghurs'.

Harris, Rachel and Muhpul, Y. (2002) 'Music of the Uyghurs'.

Harris, Rachel (2001) 'Popular music of the Uyghurs'.

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


This list was last generated on Tuesday, 13th November 2018, 23:49 Europe/London.