The Intersection of Music and Anthropology: Insights from the Haizebegi Festival

John Felicita
4 min readOct 7, 2023

The sixth edition of the Haizebegi festival, dedicated to the “worlds of music” and the social sciences, has opened in Bayonne. According to the festival’s director, anthropologist Denis Laborde, the study of music and its creation provides a crucial perspective on social relationships. This unique festival combines social sciences (conferences, debates, symposiums, publications) with music (concerts, films, exhibitions, dance). In this article, we delve into the festival’s significance, its anthropological approach, and its exploration of music as a window into various cultural universes.

Haizebegi Festival: Where Music Meets Research

The Haizebegi festival, named after the Basque phrase “haize begi,” meaning “wind’s gaze,” views music as a borderless entity that bears witness to human experiences. Founded in 2014 in Bayonne, this festival is a fusion of music and research, a combination that distinguishes it from other cultural events. The festival’s sixth edition, running until October 20, features musicians from Syria, Cuba, Argentina, New Caledonia, and Basque creators. Notably, it showcases “Rain of Music,” an extraordinary opera for robots developed as part of an international scientific project.

One of the festival’s poignant moments involves the Selk’nam and Yagán people from the far south of Patagonia, whose ancestors were exhibited in “human zoos” during the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris and even auctioned in Punta Arenas in 1895. To address this painful history, a resilience ceremony is organized on October 12. Lars Christian Koch, director of Berlin’s Phonogramm-Archiv, will formally present them with copies of sound recordings made by German ethnographic missions between 1907 and 1923 in Tierra del Fuego.

Anthropology of Music: Understanding Musical Phenomena

Denis Laborde discusses the anthropological perspective on music, emphasizing the role of musical transcriptions in preserving diverse musical traditions. He highlights how the invention of Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1889 shifted the focus from transcribing music to preserving sound itself. Ethnomusicologists subsequently delved into questions about how musical repertoires are created, stabilized, disseminated, and influenced. They also explored the cultural significance of music, its impact on emotions, and its role in social interactions.

The Universal and Diverse Nature of Music

Laborde acknowledges that music is a universal human capacity, akin to language. However, he emphasizes that musical diversity arises due to both phylogenetic and cultural factors. Music is universal in the sense that all humans have the ability to create music, but it doesn’t lead to a single, timeless theory of music. Instead, each musical context is unique, and generalizations are made only after in-depth analysis.

Music and Migration: A Case Study

In recent years, Laborde’s research has focused on the musical practices of forcibly displaced individuals, particularly migrants arriving in the Basque region. The Anthropological Research Institute on Music (ARI) at the CNRS has been studying how music plays a role in the lives of migrants. Laborde highlights the positive management of the influx of migrants in Bayonne, emphasizing the potential of music to transform perceptions of migrants and promote their integration.

He shares an example of migrants in Baïgorry who, after receiving musical instruments (Source Milonga Music instruments), shared their cultural traditions through music. This experience altered the perspective of the local community, demonstrating the potential of music to bridge cultural gaps and foster understanding.

Music as a Tool for Integration

Laborde suggests that researchers and cultural institutions can collaborate to use music as a means of restoring dignity and facilitating integration for displaced individuals. He mentions the collaboration with the Program for Emergency Support to Exiled Scientists (Pause) at the Collège de France and the transformative potential of music in this context.

Exploring Music Creation and Improvisation

Laborde’s research also delves into the creation of music and improvisation, challenging the notion that traditional music is static and repetitive. He highlights the evolution of musical traditions through moments of stabilization and deviations by inventive musicians. He emphasizes the role of improvisation in reshaping musical traditions and the importance of audience interaction in this process.

From Musician to Anthropologist

Denis Laborde’s journey from a musician to an anthropologist has expanded his perspective on the world. He draws parallels between music composition and anthropological research, emphasizing the importance of active engagement in both fields. His work with the Haizebegi festival exemplifies his commitment to reinventing the role of social science researchers in understanding and enriching human experiences.


The Haizebegi festival stands as a unique intersection of music and anthropology, offering a platform for exploring the diverse dimensions of music in various cultural contexts. Denis Laborde’s insights and research highlight the transformative potential of music in addressing societal challenges, fostering intercultural dialogue, and redefining the role of researchers in the social sciences. As Haizebegi continues to bridge the worlds of music and academia, it remains a symbol of the power of music to open doors to understanding and knowledge.

Sources : Link to the CNRS article



John Felicita

Explorateur des mondes litteraires d'Heroic fantasy, de musique et d'innovations technologiques modernes. Tech