Geoff Baker is Professor of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Director of Research at the music charity Agrigento. He is Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded project “Music for social impact: practitioners’ contexts, work and beliefs.” He is also a founding board member of SIMM (Social Impact of Making Music) and a member of the scientific committee of the French music education program Démos.
He studied modern languages at Oxford University and early music performance at the Utrecht Conservatorium and the Royal Academy of Music. Having gained experience as a performer of Renaissance and Baroque music, including working for Live Music Now (which serves people experiencing social exclusion or disadvantage), he went on to complete a PhD at Royal Holloway under the supervision of Dr Tess Knighton. He joined the music department at Royal Holloway as a Leverhulme Research Fellow in 2003 and a Lecturer in 2005.
He specialises in music in Latin America, and he has published extensively on colonial Peru. His book Imposing Harmony: Music and Society in Colonial Cuzco (Duke University Press, 2008) won the American Musicological Society’s Robert Stevenson Award in 2010. He co-edited Music and Urban Society in Colonial Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2010) with Tess Knighton, and he has contributed essays to several journals and collected volumes. Imposing Harmony was published in Spanish translation in 2020 by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, under the title of Armonía dominante. Música y sociedad en el Cusco colonial.
Geoff also works on Latin American popular music, and he has a particular interest in contemporary urban music, above all in Cuba. He has published a number of essays on rap and reggaetón in Havana, and his book Buena Vista in the Club: Rap, Reggaetón, and Revolution in Havana (Duke University Press, 2011) was published in the series Refiguring American Music.
More recently, his research has focused on childhood musical learning and music education in Cuba and Venezuela. He was co-investigator on the three-year project “Growing into Music,” funded through the AHRC’s Beyond Text scheme, and made a series of documentaries and short films about young musicians in Cuba and Venezuela. This project culminated in festivals in Bamako (Mali) and Havana in early 2012. All the films may be viewed here.
He held a British Academy Research Development Award in 2010-11 and undertook extensive fieldwork in Venezuela on the country’s famous orchestral music education program, El Sistema. This research project culminated with El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth (OUP, 2014). More recent publications on El Sistema include a guest-edited special issue of Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education 15, no. 1 (2016) and a chapter in the book Artistic Citizenship: Artistry, Social Responsibility, and Ethical Praxis.
From 2011-13 he worked on a group project entitled “Music, Digitization, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies.” This research programme, based at the Faculty of Music at Oxford University and led by Professor Georgina Born, examined the changes to music and musical practices afforded by digitization and digital media. He focused on the digital cumbia and folklore scene in Buenos Aires, in particular the label ZZK Records. Two essays based on this work appeared in 2015, and further publications are forthcoming.
He was Director of the Institute of Musical Research from 2015-17.
He was awarded an AHRC Leadership Fellowship from 2017-19 to work on music, citizenship, social development, and urban renewal. He spent a year carrying out fieldwork in Medellín, Colombia, and in 2021 he published a new book, Rethinking Social Action through Music: The Search for Coexistence and Citizenship in Medellín’s Music Schools. He is currently continuing to research issues around music and social action, dividing his time between the AHRC project and Agrigento.
For more information about his academic publications and projects, please visit:
For articles on El Sistema, go to Projects > El Sistema > El Sistema – key resources.