Last year, Kristina M. Jacobsen, associate professor of Ethnomusicology and Anthropology (Ethnology) at The University of New Mexico, traveled to Italy on a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnomusicology. The grant allowed her to live in Sardinia for a year as a visiting researcher and to do ethnographic fieldwork to write songs and a book.


Now back in New Mexico and teaching remotely, Jacobsen has just released an album of songs inspired by her experience and has created a new songwriting focus within the Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts (BAIA) program.

Through the Fulbright award, Jacobsen’s goal was to live in Sardinia, study the Sardinian language, write songs with Sardinian musicians and songwriters for a new album, and do additional ethnographic fieldwork for her second book project on songwriting and Sardinian language reclamation. She studied two versions of Sardinian—one version in the village where she lived, and another in the city—and then did most of her interviews and songwriting in Italian. She also taught workshops and occasional classes at the University of Cagliari, in her capacity as a Visiting Professor of Ethnomusicology. Her ongoing work is also funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and a UNM Research Allocations Committee grant.

As an ethnographer and a singer-songwriter, I am increasingly fusing my training and work as an anthropologist and a singer-songwriter,” Jacobsen explained. “In this sense, I tell stories but I also listen closely to other peoples’ stories, which weave their way into both my ethnographic work and my songs. And, increasingly, I am telling stories—my own and others—alongside other people I have the privilege to meet, in the field or at home.”

At the end of her stay in Sardinia, Jacobsen had recorded an album called House on Swallow Street.

“The album was recorded on the third floor of a large stone house where I was living for the year in the village of Santu Lussurgiu. In this sense, I wanted the album to sound and feel like a field recording, or something that was recorded in situ  ̶  on location. Luckily for me, I found just the right engineer, Fabio Demontis, to collaborate with. Fabio has a portable studio he could take with him anywhere on the island, and voilà, we were able to record in the village.”

Each day, a different cowriter or performer showed up to record.

“The room we recorded in looks out to the principal street in the village, sa Carrela or via Roma, where all the horses race during Carnival, and the sounds of the swallows, heard at the very beginning of the album and at the end, were recorded from the balcony abutting that room. My dog, Nira Jacobsen, was present for all the recording sessions, too,” Jacobsen recounted, adding her gratzias de coro to all the musicians and other people who helped her complete her project. For more on the songs, musicians, and other collaborators, go to Bandcamp.

Jacobsen is also writing a book that the album will accompany.

“The Fulbright project is actually two-fold,” she explained. “It was to support the writing of songs for an album, and also to do the fieldwork for the writing of a book that elaborates on those songs, using them as a springboard to discuss the deeper issues of linguistic belonging, cultural intimacy, and language stigma. The book is a multisensory ethnography that uses songs written in the field as part of its central focus and as a device for storytelling/drawing us into each chapter and the songs are available as downloadable QR codes. Each chapter takes a song and unpacks it, using tools from linguistic anthropology, cultural anthropology, ethnomusicology and arts-based research methodologies to do this analysis. This work closely parallels the very rich work that has been done in the sister field of ethnographic poetry, but brings sound, in the form of melody and chords, into the equation, as well.”

Jacobsen will take her Sardinia experience back to the classroom where she created and is coordinating a brand-new Songwriting Focus area  ̶  “like a mini-major” ̶  within the BAIA program.

“This is the only one of its kind in the country, and is designed as a holistic, humanistic approach to songwriting, centered around a two-semester sequence of courses, Songwriting I and II, that I will be teaching along with my colleague in music theory, David Bashwiner,” Jacobsen said. The courses emphasize weekly songwriting assignments, community building, mindfulness techniques, performance, and recording skills over the two-semester sequence. The sequence is augmented by courses in arts and business leadership (ALBS), theatre and improv (THEA) and private voice and instrumental lessons (MUS). Classes are taught by performing artists, composers, engineers, songwriters and arts management experts." 

She is also creating a new 400/500 level course that “brings together the rich, multisensory nature of this experience, called Music and Soundscapes of the Mediterranean: Sardinia, Italy.

“The hope is that this course will also have a study abroad “field school” component, where I can travel with UNM students to Sardinia to experience the beauty of Sardinian music and life, firsthand. In this way, I am hoping to work with both advanced undergraduate students and graduate students to mentor methods of doing ethnographic fieldwork, studying language reclamation and language ideologies, and engaging arts-based research methodologies in the field,” Jacobsen said.

Pondering her Sardinia project, Jacobsen remarked, “In this time of tremendous uncertainty, for artists, in particular, it’s been an enormous privilege to get to move forward with a piece of my larger artistic project — the CD — and to feel like I’m putting a piece of myself out into the world that reflects the profundity of that experience.”

Images: Kristina Jacobsen and Sebastiano Dessanay in a crype in the village of Ollastra, where they wrote a song.

View from Jacobsen's home in Sardinia.