FSU professor explores history of dance music in Tanzania through Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award  

A Florida State University College of Music professor is spending nearly a year in Tanzania cataloging the history of dance music of the East African nation after receiving the most prestigious appointment in the Fulbright Scholars Programs — the Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award.

Frank Gunderson presenting my recent monograph about Tanzanian musicians to the former President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete.
Frank Gunderson presenting monograph about Tanzanian musicians to the former President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete.

Professor of Musicology Frank Gunderson is leading “Oral History Narratives of ‘Musiki wa Dansi’ (dance music),” a group digital humanities initiative at the University of Dar Es Salaam (UDSM) in Tanzania, Africa, during his 10-month stay.

“The College of Music is proud of Dr. Gunderson and his research efforts as he continues to be engaged in exciting work in Tanzania,” said Todd Queen, dean of the College of Music. “Being awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award highlights the importance and excellent quality of his research.”

Gunderson and his team of graduate students are interviewing various musicians and other related professionals for firsthand accounts of dance music during the 1960s-1980s. Their narratives will be edited, interpreted and published with Mkuki na Nyota Press — a prominent Tanzanian press with an international distribution network.

“The opportunity to teach graduate students in an African university is something I have always wanted to do in this spirit of giving back,” he said. “This oral history-based project will investigate, showcase and interpret firsthand accounts of personal histories, life stories, anecdotes and narrated experiences of musicians associated with this genre of music.”

Gunderson’s research objectives include musical intersections with Intangible Cultural Heritage and sonic repatriation, African history, Islam, musical labor, veterans’ issues, biographical approaches and documentary film.

Throughout his career, Gunderson has threaded the act of repatriation — “returning” or “giving back” — to either physical materials or sharing experiences in various educational opportunities into most of his work.

Frank Gunderson and wife, Leyla Meghji, sporting Fulbright merchandise in Dar es Salaam.
Frank Gunderson and wife, Leyla Meghji, in Dar es Salaam.

“In my own experience, this has entailed everything from teaching in a Kenyan secondary school, returning recordings made earlier in my career to the communities from which they originated, publishing my work in an East African press and participating in East African conferences,” he said.

Gunderson, who has previously conducted research in East Africa, has published more than 50 articles and reviews in Ethnomusicology, Africa Today, History and Anthropology, Soundings and African Music.

“Dr. Gunderson’s return to Africa this year continues his exploration of music and its place in society that will further enrich our FSU campus community moving forward,” said Greg Jones, associate dean of the College of Music. “He is also sharing our musical traditions and practices with the people of Tanzania, which is central to the dual purpose of Fulbright as it increases global awareness and understanding.”

Gunderson is currently General Editor of the SEM academic journal Ethnomusicology and is co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of the new SEM Journal of Audiovisual Ethnomusicology. Gunderson also has won awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright-Hays and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

For more information, visit music.fsu.edu.