Esther Viola Kurtz

Esther Viola Kurtz

Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology
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, A Serious Game: The Racial Politics of Capoeira Angola in Backland Bahia, is an ethnographic study of a group of capoeira Angola, an Afro-Brazilian musical fight-dance-game. The book examines capoeira Angola as a practice of Black resistance and liberation that has also become a site of multiracial inclusion and potentially an object of white co-optation. Exploring the tensions between these understandings of capoeira, the book argues that while capoeira Angola players reinscribe racist-colonialist relations to some extent within their music-movement practice, they also originate sonic and embodied ways of knowing that have the potential to unsettle coloniality. Thus with its unflinching examination of racialized power relations in an African diasporic music-movement practice, the book brings a critique of whiteness without centering white practitioners’ world views, and it shows how incremental political change can take place at a bodily, sensory level. 


    Professor Kurtz has presented at national and international conferences, including at annual meetings of the Brazilian Studies Association, the Society for Ethnomusicology and the Dance Studies Association (formerly the Congress on Research in Dance).


    Her work has been supported by the 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