Project studying how Mekong Delta farmers fight climate change through music wins £1.75m grant

Dr Alexander Cannon will lead a five-year research programme investigating how playing music could increase farmers’ uptake of new technologies.

Dr Alexander M. Cannon.

Dr Alexander M. Cannon.

The European Research Council has awarded a 2-million-euro Consolidator Grant to the project, called SoundDecisions, which will use ethnographic and econometric methods to capture and measure how traditional music practice among local farmers in southern Vietnam helps to build trust. As well as opening them up to new ideas on managing and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

“Rising sea-levels, extreme weather events and Chinese damming upstream are causing salinization, flooding and erosion of farmers’ land along the Mekong and Bassac Rivers,” explains Dr Cannon. “Farmers in the region are resilient, but no one has yet explained how.”

Can Tho Musicians

Can Tho Musicians

The Vietnamese and Khmer Krom’s widespread custom of playing music together could hold the key. Musicians describe entering an ‘ecstatic state’ when playing, where past history and imagination are brought to the fore, which can help build a vision of sustainable development of the region. 

Even distributors of new farming technologies know about this. Playing an instrument and singing a few tunes are the best ways of exploring the potential effectiveness of any new technology or technique.

Dr Alexander M. Cannon - Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Birmingham.

Ethnomusicology and Southern Vietnam - Alexander Cannon

An ethnomusicologist specialising in southern Vietnamese traditional culture, Dr Cannon has just recently won an RMA/Cambridge University Press Outstanding Monograph Book Prize for his book, Seeding the Tradition: Musical Creativity in Southern Vietnam. The prize committee praised its “finely balanced blend of historical-contextual and music analysis” and “the author’s extensive fieldwork over more than a decade, including learning traditional instruments such as a plum blossom flower lute”.

Dr Cannon now plans to recruit a team of post-doctoral and doctoral researchers for SoundDecisions, who will work with 50 local farmers over five years, building up a picture of their personal histories and assessing how music practice influences their decision-making.

“Ultimately, I hope the research will demonstrate the importance of music practice wherever these decisions around climate change behaviour are being made, encouraging local and national governments to invest in and provide more spaces for music,” says Dr Cannon.