Marié Abe

Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology

Department of Music


B.A. (Ethnomusicology/Cultural Anthropology), Swarthmore College, 2001
M.A. (Ethnomusicology), University of California, Berkeley, 2004
Ph.D. (Ethnomusicology), University of California, Berkeley, 2010


I am a scholar of music and sound with ongoing ethnographic commitments in Japan, Okinawa, Ethiopia, and the US. Broadly speaking, my research explores the political and affective affordances of (musical) sounds in contexts ranging from everyday life to social movements, primarily in contemporary Japan. My scholarship is driven by my interest in exploring how auditory culture produces social space, and how sound’s materiality and ephemerality are entangled with affect and sociality. In other words, I investigate how the culturally particular ways in which people listen to and make (musical) sounds elucidate the relationship between power, human difference, and understandings of space.

Two insights ground both my scholarly and pedagogical work: how engaged and critical listening helps us hear the unevenness and interconnectedness of invisible social relations, silenced memories, and distant places; and how active performance and musical interaction with others can inspire creative social intervention. Methodologically, I take seriously long-term ethnographic engagements and ethical considerations that come with nurturing sustained and equitable relationships with interlocutors. My theoretical inspirations are drawn from locally grounded epistemologies gleaned from my interlocutors, vernacular literatures in the field, and multidisciplinary thinkers across cultural anthropology, cultural geography, sound studies, and beyond.

My first book, Resonances of Chindon-ya (2018), investigates the intersection of sound, public space, and sociality in contemporary Japanese urban life through ethnographic analysis of street musical advertisement practice. The book examines, in the context of a long-term economic downturn and the visually and sonically saturated urban streets of contemporary Japan, how chindon-ya—a seemingly outdated means of advertisement—has gained traction as an aesthetic, economic, and political practice after decades of inactivity. Drawing on analytical insights from my interlocutors, my book intervenes in larger debates on sound and political dissent, postcoloniality in East Asia, understandings of cultural memory in neoliberal societies, the role of sound in the spatial practices of urban cities, and the affective politics of multicultural Japan in a time of social and nuclear precarity.

I am currently developing two new projects with a shared focus on militarization and circulation of sonic imaginaries, though in two different geographical contexts. The first project, located across East Asia and East Africa, examines the desire to want to hear oneself in others through the notion of “mishearing.” I trace the unlikely aesthetic resonances and cultural affinities between Japan and Ethiopia through encounters of people, musical artifacts, and imaginaries mediated through militaries during the Korean War. The second project probes postcolonial questions in Trans-Pacific Asia by examining acoustic manifestations of ecological, gendered, and military violence surrounding the US bases on Okinawa through an analytical focus on the ocean. The project draws from thinkers in critical ocean studies, particularly from Indigenous studies and Trans-Pacific studies.

In my graduate advising, I value learning with, and alongside, graduate students as they develop the creative and analytical framings for their research project, regardless of geographic specialization. While on the faculty at Boston University for twelve years, I advised over a dozen doctorate students on a wide array of topics in various places, from Senegal to Ghana, Switzerland, Cambodia, Japan, Korea, and beyond. I strive to support students in generating rigorous research questions and analytical frameworks that are both creative and generative, designing sound, ethical, and collaborative research methods, and co-creating long-term writing strategies that cater to students’ individual writing styles, work habits, and wellness.

Public-facing work and performance are integral to my scholarship. I am committed to public ethnomusicology through curatorial practice, media, and community engagement. In 2008, I co-produced the Peabody Award-winning National Public Radio program “Squeezebox Stories,” an audio documentary on the social histories of the accordion in multicultural California, funded by the California Council for the Humanities. As a curator and artistic director, I founded and organized the BU Global Music Festival in Boston (2018-2023), an annual music festival that is offered free of charge, open to the public, and accessible to all ages on the university campus. I firmly believe in equitable redistribution of resources from university campuses to artists and community members through fostering sustained relationships, and I look forward to exploring similar opportunities in the Bay Area.

Being an active performer and improviser is my joy and medicine. Classically trained on the piano, I have turned to the accordion as my primary instrument in early 2000s. I have performed, recorded, and internationally toured with various groups, from indie pop to Ethiopian jazz and free improvisation, appearing at major venues and national and international festivals, including New Orleans Jazz Festival, Bonaroo Festival, Rokskilde (Denmark), and SESCE (Brazil).

Prior to joining the Berkeley faculty in 2023, I taught at Boston University (2011-2023) and Harvard University (2010-2011, 2016). I have held fellowships at the Reischauer Center for Japanese Studies, Harvard University (2010-2011), the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College (2013-2014), and the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, Japan (2018-2019).