Esther Viola Kurtz

Esther Viola Kurtz

Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology
Performing Arts Department (Affiliate) 
Department of African and African-American Studies (Affiliate) 

(On leave the entire 2023-24 academic year)
BM, Eastman School of Music
MM, Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands
Ph.D, ethnomusicology at Brown University
research interests:
  • Afro-Brazilian music and dance
  • racial politics
  • ethnographic ethics
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    Professor Kurtz’s research focuses on Afro-Brazilian music, sound, movement, and dance practices. She teaches courses on topics such as ethnographic methods, ethnomusicology, sound and dance studies, and (Afro-)Latin American music.

    Esther Viola Kurtz received her B.M. at the Eastman School of Music (1998), her M.M. at the Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands (2003), and her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at Brown University (2018).

Her current book project, Groundwork: The Racial Politics of Capoeira Angola in Backland Bahia, is under contract with University of Michigan Press on the Music and Social Justice series. The book is an ethnographic study critically evaluating the limits and possibilities for capoeira Angola to forge a multiracial community allied in anti-racist activism in Brazil. Capoeira Angola is an Afro-Brazilian musical fight-dance-game widely understood as a practice of Black resistance and a site of multiracial inclusion. Yet with white people now outnumbering Black people in many capoeira groups, some question whether capoeira has also become an object of white appropriation and co-optation. Exploring the tensions between these understandings of capoeira, the book argues that white practitioners occupying space in capoeira divert attention from Black members’ concerns and reproduce colonialist logics of extraction, albeit unintentionally. The book thus complicates claims, common in music and dance studies, that shared music/dance unite across difference. Yet while these contradictions hinder capoeira’s potentials to improve Black lives, they do not negate them. The book ultimately proposes that as a site of complex racial tensions, capoeira may still lay a groundwork for collaboratively contesting racist coloniality and imagining a more just world. 

    Professor Kurtz has published in Women & Music and presented at national and international conferences, including at annual meetings of the Brazilian Studies Association, the Society for Ethnomusicology, the Dance Studies Association, the Collegium for African Diasporic Dance, and the Analytical Approaches to World Music Conference.

    Her work has been supported by the Center for the Humanities Summer Faculty Research Grant (WUSTL), Mellon Foundation’s Graduate Dissertation Workshop, the Professor James N. Green Grant for research in Brazil, Brown University's Office of Global Engagement Global Mobility Graduate Research Fellowship, and the Mellon Summer Seminar in Dance Studies.




    Music, Sound and the Body

    American Popular Music and Media

    History of Jazz

    Introduction to Ethnomusicology



    Methods and Ethics of Music Ethnography