Music Making Space: Musicians, Scenes, and Belonging in the Republic of Macedonia

This dissertation argues that through music-making practices, social actors make space for the existence of senses of belonging that are alternative (but not oppositional) to conceptions of belonging advocated by the powerful. Drawing on 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the Republic of Macedonia between 2011 and 2014, I consider three musical scenes as social formations where what I term “alternative belonging” is made by and experienced through the sonic and social practices of the scenes’ participants. These senses of alternative belonging provide means for people to neither participate in nor overtly oppose the increasingly hegemonic nepotistic network of the ethnocentric nationalist political party that had come to dominate nearly every aspect of everyday life in Macedonia. Though the three scenes overlap with one another (and with other scenes), each one revolves around a central music-making practice: (1) socializing at a club featuring electronic music with roots in 1980s Detroit techno music, (2) performing and recording music multifariously defined as “jazz,” and (3) developing a style known in Macedonia as “etnomuzika” (ethno music) that adapts features of traditional Macedonian music (repertoires, styles, instruments) in new configurations and combinations with contemporary styles. In my analysis of these scenes, I explore their transnational histories and the ways actors draw on those histories to employ and shape various notions of race, ethnicity, musicality, the future, and the past in the service of making spaces for alternative belonging. I introduce the concept of “sociovirtuosity” to describe the multi-layered and seemingly contradictory ways that multiply situated actors exercise agency on the margins of power. In so doing, they make space for alternatives and ensure that hegemony is never total. I also consider the ways that, in each scene, collaborative music making sonically transforms existing places into ephemeral and effervescent spaces for belonging in a process I call the “co-production of acoustemology.” By engaging in these sonic and social practices that make space for alternative belonging, participants in these scenes are able to negotiate and navigate the economic and political challenges of their everyday experience, embracing the many contradictions of life in Macedonia at the beginning of its third decade of independence.