Meet Krishan Meepe, Ethnomusicology student at the University of Melbourne

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Krishan Meepe, BMus (Ethnomusicology). By Giulia McGauran.

Melbourne Conservatorium of Music student Krishan Meepe says Ethnomusicology has given him the tools to unpack some of the complex intersections of music, and politics.

When I was younger I thought everyone in the creative industries was really open-minded and progressive but I’ve come to understand that’s not always the case. I’ve been working in the music industry as a sound engineer and bassist for a few years and ran into one too many situations where being a person of colour meant I wasn’t taken seriously, or was undermined.

I wanted to investigate how and why racism pervades the music industry, and the ways in which music had shaped my own life. I was looking at options for further study and when I came across the Honours in Ethnomusicology, it just made sense. I want to develop my theoretical understanding of music over my practical abilities at this point in my life and uni has given me the space to learn and grow.

I’ve always had an affinity for politically minded musicians, or “artivists”, and right now I’m obsessed with JPEGMAFIA. I really admire the way he's developed a unique sound and that he’s willing to call out things that people try to sweep under the rug. In my mind, he represents what it’s like to be comfortable with subverting expectations and speaking truth to power no matter the consequences. I think he’s at the forefront of a lot of important conversations we need to have and his music never fails to get me pumped up.

I’m really interested in looking at the intersection of politics and music and understanding how it can be used as a tool for change. As an ethnomusicology student, I’m currently writing a thesis about the politics of Kendrick Lamar and why they’ve shifted over his last couple of albums. I also recently did a project about how musicians combat “toxic masculinity” in queer spaces, and the role music can play in spreading feminist ideals. Learning about how power shapes our world and what artists can do to create change is endlessly fascinating to me.

I wasn’t too sure what I was getting myself into, studying at the Conservatorium, but I’ve developed a new framework for understanding music’s affective qualities and that’s made me both a better musician and a better person. It’s also given me a complete identity crisis and opened the door to a whole new understanding of the world around me.

I’ve become more open to new directions in my personal practice and constantly learn new skills. Writing a thesis can force you to stay inside and obsess over theory but getting out into the world to actually do ethnographic field work is a really exciting and social experience – you basically get to learn how to talk to people you’re interested in getting to know. My teachers here have been really great, and I get a lot of support from my supervisor Nick Tochka, who encourages me to look into the things I’m interested in rather than what’s easy or expected.

Learning how to think like an ethnomusicologist can be a difficult process and will force you to question your own beliefs and the forces that shape our lives. I think it’s an area of musical education that people tend to neglect but I’ve found it so helpful both personally and professionally. Just be ready to have your world turned upside down and read as much as you can in search of “the truth”.

Music can be a competitive field these days and there’s a lot of pressure to do everything yourself and build a personal brand, but ethnomusicology can be a good way break out of that mindset and remember the real impact music can have on people.

Find out more about Ethnomusicology at the University of Melbourne.