Michael O'Brien

Department Chair and Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology

Address: Cato Center, Room 206
Phone: 843.953.0431
E-mail: obrienms@cofc.edu

Michael O'Brien is an ethnomusicologist whose work has principally focused on the intersection of Latin American popular music and cultural politics. He has been conducting field research in Buenos Aires, Argentina for more than fifteen years, including studies of contemporary tango and folk music, schools of popular music, and most recently the Carnival tradition of murga porteña. He has also published on the role of music and sound in contemporary U.S. politics.

Dr. O'Brien has published articles and reviews in journals including Ethnomusicology, MUSICultures, IASPM@Journal, Latin American Music Review, Gender & Society, Revista Hispánica Moderna, and Music and Politics. He has also presented his research at conferences in the U.S., the U.K., Mexico, Chile, and Argentina, including the Society for Ethnomusicology, the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, the Latin American Studies Association, and the International Symposium on the Sociology of Music Education. He serves as a Contributing Editor to the Handbook for Latin American Studies, published by the Library of Congress.

Dr. O'Brien is also active as a performer, composer, and arranger of music based on Latin American popular idioms, particularly the tango. His compositions have been published by FJH Music, Latham Music, Ludwig Masters, and the National Cello Institute.

Dr. O’Brien is also a faculty affiliate of both the Women’s and Gender Studies Program and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program.




  • Ph.D. and M.M. in Ethnomusicology, University of Texas at Austin
  • B.A. in English and B.M. in Music Education, Lawrence University

Research Interests

  • Music and Cultural Politics
  • Popular and Folk Music of Latin America
  • Sound Studies
  • Carnival and the Carnivalesque

Courses Taught

  • FYE 128: Borrowed, Sampled, Stolen, Remixed? Cultural Perspectives on Theft and Ownership of Music
  • MUSC 131 Music Appreciation
  • MUSC 222 Special Topics: World Music Cultures
  • MUSC 222 Special Topics: Music in Latin America
  • MUSC 363 Latin American Music Ensemble
  • MUSC 444 Selected Topics in Music History


Recent Publications

O’Brien, Michael S. 2020. “From Soccer Chant to Sonic Meme: Sound Politics and Parody in Argentina’s ‘Hit of the Summer.’” MUSICultures 47: 116-138.

McReynolds-Pérez, Julia, and O’Brien, Michael S. 2020. “Doing Murga, Undoing Gender: Feminist Carnival in Argentina.” Gender & Society 34(3): 413-436.

O’Brien, Michael S. 2018. “El Bombo Loco: Sounding Alterity and Populism in Buenos Aires.” Ethnomusicology 62(3): 439-469

O’Brien, Michael S. 2018. “#MMLPQTP Politics: Soccer Chants, Viral Memes, and Argentina’s 2018 ‘Hit of the Summer.’” Sounding Out! The Sound Studies Blog.

O’Brien, Michael S. 2016. “El corso sigue: apuntes sobre tango, murga, y lo carnavalesco.” In Tango: ventanas al presente II: De la gesta a la historia musical reciente. Eds. Mercedes Liska and Soledad Venegas. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Desde la Gente.