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Fernando Rios

Fernando Rios Profile Photo

Division Coordinator & Associate Professor, Musicology & Ethnomusicology

(301) 405-8585

3110E The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
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Ph.D., Ethnomusicology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research Expertise

Latin America
Musicology & Ethnomusicology

In his research and teaching, ethnomusicologist Fernando Rios examines how musical expressions engage with sociopolitical projects, from nation-building to protest movements. His first book, "Panpipes & Ponchos: Musical Folklorization and the Rise of the Andean Conjunto Tradition in La Paz, Bolivia" (Oxford University Press, 2020), illuminates how Bolivia’s preeminent “national music” ensemble tradition, the Andean conjunto (a type of urban folkloric group whose repertoire focuses on stylized versions of rural indigenous music), obtained this canonical status, revealing its complex links with nation-building ideologies and transnational artistic trends. A number of his other publications discuss related topics, including the articles that he wrote for the journals Ethnomusicology, Latin American Music Review and Ethnomusicology Forum. The cultural dimensions of nationalism also represent the subject of a graduate seminar that he regularly teaches, “Music and Nation-Building,” which uses case studies from various world areas and introduces students to the work of key figures in the interdisciplinary field of nationalism studies.

Reflecting his fascination with the rich diversity of Latin American and US Latino/a folkloric, indigenous and popular music, he offers the area study courses “Mexican and Mexican-American Music,” “Music of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador,” and “Music of Latino/a Communities in the US,” while prior to his appointment here, he taught a course on the music of the Hispanic Caribbean (i.e., Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic) at another university. In the near future, he plans to develop a course on the music of Central America (concentrating on El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama) and Central American neighborhoods in the US.

Rios’s current book project focuses on the local Latino/a (predominantly Salvadoran) communities of the DC Metro area. This new line of investigation will shed light on how DC-based activist musicians, in particular but not exclusively those of Latin American heritage, fostered public support for the Central American Peace and Solidarity Movement in the 1980s. 

As his research and teaching interests inform and complement each other, he has recently created a graduate seminar that explores the musical dynamics of social movements in the US context and abroad, “Music and Social Movements,” and for the undergraduate general-education course “The Impact of Music on Life,” has added extended sections on the timely subjects of “Music and Social Protest/Commentary,” and “Music and Immigrant or ‘Ethnic’ Identity in the US.” 

For ethnomusicology graduate students, besides offering the seminars and area study courses already mentioned, every spring semester he teaches “The Anthropology of Music,” which elucidates how the theoretical paradigms of socio-cultural anthropology have shaped key directions in ethnomusicological research among US-based scholars from the 1960s onward.

An active member of the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM), Rios has presented numerous papers at the annual national conference, and often chaired and organized panels. He has also been elected to the SEM Council, held the chair position for the Latin American and Caribbean Section of SEM (LACSEM) and served as vice-president for the Mid-Atlantic Chapter (MACSEM). Currently, he sits on the editorial board for the journal Ethnomusicology.

Research Expertise: Latin American and US Latino/a music (including folkloric, indigenous and popular music styles); music and political movements; folklorization; nationalism; globalization


MUSC 210 The Impact of Music on Life

MUSC 438D Music of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru

MUSC 438L Music of Latino/a Communities in the US

MUSC 438M Mexican and Mexican-American Music

MUSC 632 The Anthropology of Music

MUSC 679A Readings in Latin American and Latino/a Music

MUSC 679G Music and Globalization 

MUSC 679M Music and Social Movements

MUSC 679N Music and Nation-Building


Las Kantutas and Música Oriental: Folkloric Music, Mass Media, and State Politics in 1940s Bolivia

Fernando Rios's article is published in Resonancias: Revista de Investigación Musical.

School of Music

Lead: Fernando Rios

In writings on the early history of mass-mediated Bolivian folkloric music, the La Paz-based female vocal duo Las Kantutas is almost invariably mentioned as one of the most pioneering acts. This recognition, however, rarely extends beyond the mere listing of the group and its members, alongside the names of contemporaneous artists. This essay fills this void in the historical literature on Bolivian music, not only by providing many details on the career of Las Kantutas in their heyday of the late 1930s and 1940s, but also by exploring the ways in which the group’s musical activities intersected with the tumultuous political developments of the populist Villarroel-MNR period (December 1943–July 1946) and conservative-reactionary sexenio era (July 1946–April 1952). I also examine the western highland fashion for eastern lowland folkloric genres (known as música oriental), a trend that reached new heights in La Paz city in the Villarroel-MNR years, and represented an important countercurrent to Bolivian musical indigenismo. As leading folkloric-popular music artists of the 1940s, Las Kantutas, ever present on nationally broadcast La Paz radio shows, played a critical role in establishing lowland genres as mainstays for highland criollo-mestizo musicians, although this aspect of their legacy has long been forgotten.

From Elite to Popular: Estudiantinas in La Paz, Bolivia, 1880s–1940s

Fernando Rios's article is published in Diagonal: An Ibero-American Music Review.

School of Music

Lead: Fernando Rios
Dates: -


In recent years, the estudiantina (a type of plucked-­‐string orchestra of Spanish origin) has become a topic of increased interest among music historians, including Latin Americanists. The Bolivian case, however, has not been the focus of detailed historical research, even though music scholars long have acknowledged that in the early-­‐to-­‐mid twentieth century the estudiantina represented one of Bolivia’s most popular ensembletypes and served as an important vehicle for the performance of typical criollo-­‐mestizo musical expressions. This article traces the trajectory of La Paz’s estudiantina tradition, from its emergence in the 1880s as an upper-­‐class criollo form of music making that centered on European repertoire, to its peak of popularity in the late 1930s and mid-­‐1940s, when working-­‐class mestizo musicians predominated in the milieu and most ensembles performed local genres (e.g., huayño, cueca) and indigenista (Indigenist) works. The principal goal of this essay is to document this major shift. In the pages that follow, I discuss various groups, but devote special attention to the Orquesta Típica La Paz. Founded in 1945, this estudiantina represents the earliest instance of a Bolivian state-­‐sponsored music group whose establishment formed part of a broader state attempt to court urban blue-­‐collar workers

Panpipes & Ponchos: Musical Folklorization and the Rise of the Andean Conjunto Tradition in La Paz, Bolivia

Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology Fernando Rios's book has been published by Oxford University Press.

School of Music

Lead: Fernando Rios

Since the late 1960s, the Andean conjunto has served as Bolivia’s paramount expression of “national” folkloric-popular music. This book illuminates how this musical tradition obtained such an elevated status in Bolivia, arguing that it represented the culmination of over four decades of criollo-mestizo musical activities that framed Andean indigenous music as the roots of national culture. More broadly, Panpipes & Ponchos offers the first book-length study of the Bolivian folkloric music movement that chronicles how it developed in close dialogue with state projects and transnational artistic trends for the critical period spanning the 1920s to 1960s.