Canberra conference welcome statement

This was the IASPM 2019 Canberra conference welcome statement by Franco Fabbri, the chair of 2017-2019 EC. We thought it should be shared for the whole IASPM community, as it looks back to the history of the association:


It is my turn now to say “Welcome to the Twentieth International Conference on Popular Music Studies”. The title of the first one, held at Amsterdam University in 1981, was slightly different: International Conference on Popular Music Research. It was organised by a Dutch radio programmer, the late Gerard Kempers, by a British librarian and blues scholar, David Horn, and by a British musicologist then teaching in Sweden, Philip Tagg. At the end of that conference, those three pioneers and a few other musicologists, sociologists and music professionals proposed to establish an “International Association for the Study of Popular Music”. The acronym was awkward, but nobody at that time would pronounce it differently from “Iaspm”.

Many things have changed, from the first decade. Some for worse. Article 2.1 of the Statutes said (says) that “The aim of the Association is to provide an international, interdisciplinary and interprofessional organization for promoting the study of popular music”, and among the founders one could find a radio programmer and a professional musician; in the 1980s there were rumours that Peter Gabriel had become a member, and Rock in Opposition founder Chris Cutler was certainly one; if, at that time, one had mentioned Georgina Born, it would probably be because that former member of the avant-rock band Henry Cow and of the Feminist Improvising Group was doing research at the Ircam in Paris; and one thing that the non-African Iaspm members – about twenty – attending the Accra conference in 1987 will never forget was the ceremony held one night in a shantytown near Ghana’s capital city, when several hundreds of people paid homage to the best known local rapper, died just few days before, and the European, North American, Australian and Asian music scholars (there was a very adventurous Japanese, Shuhei Hosokawa, among them, and the Aussie was Marcus Breen) were the only people invited who weren’t part of that African community.

Now Iaspm (for some, Aiaspm) is seen basically as an academic association. As one of the founders once commented, in the first years nobody would have ever foreseen that at some point being a Iaspm officer, even at national level, could become an important qualification for obtaining an academic position, in some countries. On the other hand, Iaspm has grown considerably: it has more than thirteen hundred members all around the world and sixteen active national or regional branches. And it has given impulse, directly or indirectly to a large number of journals, book series, publications. Popular music studies are important in today’s academic world, and other musicological societies are, at least, concerned. For those who for a century (since Guido Adler) had been defining the canon of which music deserves to be studied, and which not, things have dangerously changed; and the good relationships existing between Iaspm and the International Council for Traditional Music, at international or local level, must not make us forget that until the beginning of this century popular music had been the hic sunt leones of ethnomusicology, the region a serious scholar should avoid carefully.

The task of keeping Iaspm alive and growing is not easy, but there are reasons for optimism: we are going to have a great conference here in Canberra, and I am pleased, as Chair, to congratulate the Local Organising Committee and to thank our host, the Australian National University, and the other institutions which gave their support. And we have already excellent proposals for the next conference, which will be discussed at the General Meeting to be held on Thursday morning, at 8:00 am. I warmly invite all conference participants to attend that meeting, which is the main governing body of our association, along with the Executive Committee.

Thank you very much.

Franco Fabbri