Sonorous Present

  • Music
  • Chicago, IL

Artist-scholar-producer, Alex E. Chávez is the Nancy O’Neill Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, where he is also a Faculty Fellow of the Institute for Latino Studies. His research explores articulations of Latinx sounds and aurality in relation to race, place-making, and the intimacies that bind lives across physical and cultural borders. He is the author of the multi-award-winning book Sounds of Crossing: Music, Migration, and the Aural Poetics of Huapango Arribeño (Duke University Press, 2017)—recipient of the Alan Merriam Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology (2018), the Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology’s Book Prize (2018), and the Association for Latina and Latino Anthropologists Book Award (2018).

Supported by the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, Sounds of Crossing represents the first extended study of huapango arribeño music and explores how “Mexican sounds” resonate across physical, aural, and cultural borders and what they reveal about transnational migrant lives lived across them. In 2016, he significantly extended the reach of this research through collaboration with the Smithsonian, serving as lead producer of a Smithsonian Folkways recording of huapango arribeño entitled Serrano de Corazón for inclusion in the world-renowned Tradiciones Music Series.

An accomplished musician, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, Alex E. Chávez has been in the music industry for over two decades, having recorded and toured with his own projects, produced albums, composed documentary scores for Emmy Award-winning films, and collaborated with acclaimed artists—including Grammy Award-winners Quetzal and Grupo Fantasma and members of Grammy Award-nominated Black Pumas and Antibalas.

His primary musical project is the Chicago-based Latinx quintet Dos Santos, who in 2021 released their critically acclaimed “City of Mirrors” LP on the International Anthem record label. And his most recent musical consulting efforts include the feature documentary film “Chavela” (2017, Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi, directors) and “Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance”—an experimental chamber opera by composer Graham Reynolds (2017). In 2019 he produced the 4th studio album by hip-hop artist Olmeca.

While he has experience in an array of musical styles—ranging from R&B to traditional Latin American folk—Chávez is most active in the Latinx alternative music scene, having collaborated with and performed alongside Latinx artists across the United States. A highly visible member of Chicago’s Latinx music community, Chávez has collaborated with a range of local Latinx creatives: he has released records with the boutique (((SONORAMA))) label; collaborated with the high-powered “Future Rootz” DJ crew; and performed in a diversity of spaces, ranging from the legendary rave-like “¡CumbiasSazo!” get downs to the Old Town School of Folk Music’s concert hall with Latin Grammy Award-nominated Sones de México.

He has published widely—including in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Latino Studies, the Journal of American Folklore, and the Latin American Music Review—has contributed to numerous prominent edited volumes, and his writing has also been featured in public venues such as the Huffington Post and Revista Contratiempo. He is co-editor of the recently published volume Ethnographic Refusals / Unruly Latinidades, which grows out of an Advanced Seminar he co-chaired at the School for Advanced Research in 2019. In 2020, he was named one of ten Mellon Emerging Faculty Leaders by the Institute for Citizens and Scholars, and also recently concluded a National Endowment for the Humanities Long-Term Fellowship at the Newberry Library in Chicago. He currently also serves as a National Trustee of the Recording Academy.