SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Ruard Absaroka

BA Hons (Oxon) MMus, PhD (London)
  • Overview
  • Research


Absaroka, Ruard
Department of Music

Senior Teaching Fellow

Dr Ruard Absaroka
Email address:
Thesis title:
Hidden Musicians and Public Musicking in Shanghai
Year of Study:
Began 2006
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

My doctoral research is a multi-sited musical ethnography of an area of central Shanghai. My extended case studies include the jiangnan sizhu ‘silk and bamboo’ instrumental music and the activities of amateur choirs. These studies are complemented by attention to Shanghai’s cosmopolitan jazz and EDM scenes and an online musical community. Together they offer a wide-ranging understanding of music as a technology of the self, and the cultural capital of musicking in contemporary Shanghai. I tie the ethnographic strands together with reference to music and municipal spectacle whereby officials have sought to marshal the musical resources of the city in a fashion consonant with the global projection of the city’s cultural and industrial might. My main goals are threefold. First, following the radical geography of David Harvey, I aim to contribute to the politically-informed debates on the spatialities of music-making. My particular interest is in the relation between the state, municipal authorities and musicking in Shanghai which I treat in terms of ‘uneven musical development’ and the ‘musical rights of the city’. Second, inspired by Ruth Finnegan, Adelaida Reyes and Helen Rees, I argue for the importance of considering the co-existence of over-lapping music-making within a single setting. Third, I apply Lave and Wenger’s ideas of situated learning and communities of practice to music in order to consider the sustainability and adaptability of musical cultures in a swiftly changing urban environment. Combining these approaches raises questions concerning sonic permissibilities, access to, and control of public space, the generational inflection of musical cultures, and the relationship between music, work and leisure in the city.


  • Absaroka, Ruard. 2015. ‘Alienation and Ethnomusicology – revisited.’ FocaalBlog, April 13.
  • Absaroka, Ruard. 2013. ‘Coco Zhao, Shanghai Jazz Singer.’ In Gender in Chinese Music (ed. Rachel Harris, Rowan Pease and Shzr Ee Tan). Rochester: University of Rochester Press.
  • Absaroka, Ruard. 2011. ‘Ritual and Music of North China, Volume 2: Shaanbei by Stephen Jones.’ Ethnomusicology Forum, Vol. 20, No. 3.


  • ‘Where the rocks sing? Acoustic Regimes and the 'Natural' Environment in China.’ ICTM, MEA Chapter, Taipei, Taiwan, August 2016.
  • ‘Hidden Musicians in a Chinese Megalopolis: Pathways, Networks and Sonic Permissibility in Digital Age Shanghai.’ The Hidden Musicians Revisited Conference. Open University, Milton Keynes, January 2016.
  • ‘Alienation and Ethnomusicology, revisited’. ICTM, Astana, Kazakhstan, July 2015.
  • ‘Singing the City: Informal Choirs and the Promotion of the Amateur at the State’s Fingertips in Urban China’. SEM (Society for Asian Music supported panel), Pittsburgh, USA, November 2014.
  • ‘Re-evaluating the Amateur and the Sonic Everyday in the Music-making Practices of Contemporary China’. CHIME Conference, Aarhus, Denmark, August 2014.
  • ‘Meta-analysis of a genre: jiangnan sizhu and its analysts.’ BFE-AAWM Conference, SOAS/IMR, London, July 2014.
  • ‘Havens from regimes of accumulation or tools of a municipally-directed cultural industry? Informal Choirs and the ‘popular’ in Shanghai.’ IACSS Conference, Singapore, July 2013.
  • ‘Being Where? From networks to assemblages to virtual topographies: The Spatialities of Musicking in global Shanghai.’ BFE-ICTM Ireland Conference, Queens, Belfast, April 2013.
  • ‘Legitimate Peripheral Participation and Communities of Practice in the jiangnan sizhu clubs of Shanghai, China.’ BFE Annual Conference, Durham, April 2012.
  • ‘Orchestrating the Soundscapes of a Megalopolis: EXPOsition, Exposure and Hidden Musical Geographies in Shanghai.’ ICTM (MEA) Conference, HK Chinese University, Hong Kong, July 2012.
  • ‘Online Musical Communities and their generational inflections – in, around, and out of Shanghai, China.’ BFE Annual Conference, Falmouth, April 2011.
  • ‘The Sonic Public Sphere in a Chinese Megalopolis in Theory and Practice.’ CHIME Conference, Basel, November 2010.
  • ‘Sonic Permissibility and Public Space in a Chinese Megalopolis.’ The Sensory City Symposium, SOAS, March 2010.


  • British Forum for Ethnomusicology
  • International Council for Traditional Music
  • Society for Ethnomusicology


My doctoral dissertation focuses on urban musical geographies and networks in Shanghai. My current research interests also include the impact of digital technologies on informal, independent musicking, ethnographic methods and multi-sited fieldwork, ethnographic film-making, the music business, sound studies, Jazz, club cultures, and critical realism. I have conducted secondary research while working as a project assistant on the AHRC Research Network ‘Sounding Islam in China’. This has involved workshops in Shanghai and Urumqi and fieldwork trips: to Linxia and Lanzhou in Gansu Province, and in Xinjiang, China. My area studies interests include China and East Asia, Central Asia, Turkey, Poland, Greece, and the musics of the British Isles. I lead the SOAS Chinese Music Ensemble and co-founded the London Xiqu Chinese Opera Network. I am an active musician based in London.