Eric J. Schmidt


Lecturer of Musicology






OFAC 2002

Eric J. Schmidt is an ethnographer interested in how people make and remake social worlds through musical and sonic expression. His research focuses on the entanglements of music and global capitalism across northwest Africa’s arid Sahel and Sahara regions. Accordingly, his scholarship attends to the global circulation of Sahelian music, the interplay of cultural heritage and popular culture, and the transformation of social values in the face of environmental and economic injustices.

His current project locates music at the center of how Tuareg communities reimagine themselves over a multigenerational transition from nomadic life to urban settlement. While Tuareg guitar music originated in subversive protest anthems that helped foment Tuareg rebellions in Mali and Niger in the 1990s, his work concerns the trajectory of Tuareg music as a post-rebellion popular music. Artists like Tinariwen, Bombino, Mdou Moctar and many others have contributed to a vibrant Sahelian and trans-Saharan guitar culture while also tapping into Global North narratives of rock music as protest, expanding the commodification of Tuareg culture in transformative ways.

Schmidt’s interdisciplinary research engages with scholarship in economic ethnomusicology, the anthropology of value, sound studies and research on youth cultures and media in Africa. Informed by fieldwork in Niger, Mali, and the United States, his work has been supported by Fulbright, the West African Research Association, the Fowler Museum, Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships, the Critical Language Scholarship, and the UCLA Graduate Division.

Schmidt serves as Lecturer of Musicology in the Meadows School of the Arts and as Chair of the Association of African Studies Programs. Prior to joining SMU, he was Assistant Director of the African Studies Center at Boston University where he held additional teaching appointments in the College of Fine Arts and Pardee School of Global Studies.


Ph.D., Ethnomusicology, University of California, Los Angeles
M.A., Ethnomusicology, University of California, Los Angeles
B.A., Music: Jazz Studies with University Honors, American University

Recent Work

Selected Publications:

In Review. “Playing with Class: Honor, Griotisme, and Professional Artists in the Tuareg Music Economy.” For Music and Imagination in West Africa, edited by Babacar M’Baye, Fallou Ngom, Alioune Willane, and Khadimou Rassoul Thiam.

  1. “Arid Fidelity, Reluctant Capitalists: Salvage, Curation, and the Circulation of Tuareg Music on Independent Record Labels.” Ethnomusicology Forum 28(3): 260–282.
  2. “Tuareg Guitar Music.” Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, Volume XII, edited by Heidi Carolyn Feldman, David Horn, John Shepherd, and Gabrielle Kielich, 545–548. New York: Bloomsbury. 


Postdoctoral Fellowship, West African Research Association, 2023

African Libraries Student Paper Prize, Society for Ethnomusicology, 2017

Fulbright US Student Fellowship, Niger, 2016

Professional Experience:

Currently Chair of the Association of African Studies Programs, an affiliate of the US-based African Studies Association.

As Assistant Director of the African Studies Center at Boston University, managed over $4.6 million in grant awards from the US Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and supported implementation of additional awards funded by the British Library. Led the writing of BU’s 2022 Title VI National Resource Center and Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships proposal, awarded $2.4 million over four years.

Served as an inaugural member of the Pardee School of Global Studies Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, 2021-23.

Course list

Music in World Societies  

Music in History and Culture

Introduction to Graduate Studies