Sven Kirschlager

Sven Kirschlager
Image Credit: © Sven Kirschlager

International Research Training Group "Between Spaces"

Movements, Actors and Representations of Globalisation

PhD Candidate

Field of Activity

Project: "Music in Motion – Musicians on Southern Mexican Rural Buses"


since 01/2010

DFG scholarship holder and member of the interdisciplinary and international Research Training Group “Between Spaces"; Project: “Music in Motion – Corridistas in the Intercity Coaches of Southern Mexico”

02 – 05/2008

Fieldwork in the Guatemalan highlands as a DAAD scholarship holder

10/2001 - 08/2009

Student at Free University Berlin; Majors: Comparative Musicology (Ethnomusicology), Latin American Studies; Magister thesis: “Marimba Indígena – Musikalischer Wandel in Guatemala” (“Marimba Indígena – Musical Change in Guatemala”)

Regional focuses: Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean

Thematic Focuses: The Mexican Corrido; Music and Space; The Marimba in indigenous communities in Guatemala; Music and the construction of identity; Garífuna-Music in Guatemala, Belize and Honduras; Cultura Popular in Mexico; The Mexican Novel of the Revolution; Identity concepts in the literature of the Anglophone Caribbean


Since 2008: International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM)

Since 2009: Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM)

"Music in Motion – Musicians on Southern Mexican Rural Buses"


Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Ingrid Kummels (FU Berlin), Prof. Dr. Susanne Klengel (FU Berlin), Prof. Dr. Sergio Navarrete (CIESAS)


Rural buses in Mexico are not just an important means of public transport. Everyday thousands earn their living onboard these buses, converting them into mobile spaces of informal business. Vendors of soft drinks and natural remedies use buses as a space to tout their goods and musicians perform for the passengers in the hope of making tips. The latter are the protagonists of my thesis. Reflecting the program of the International Research Training Group, 'Between Spaces', my thesis focuses on spatial aspects and forms part of the research area 'Spaces of the Local'. Based on a relational concept of space I address two central questions: How do rural buses and the space they move through influence the musicians? And how do musicians constitute spaces through their performance onboard and outside the buses?

In the course of two fieldtrips I accompanied 25 musicians working on rural buses in the neighboring states of Guerrero, Puebla, and Estado de México. I conducted interviews with musicians, bus drivers, passengers, and agents from transportation companies and recorded performances. My analysis of the material showed that the musicians’ performances are influenced by physical factors, such as the characteristics of the road or the acoustic proportions of specific bus types, as well as by social and spatial orders, such as the transport companies’ checkpoints, regional musical preferences, and the spaces for drivers and passengers. Musicians construct networks of friendly bus drivers, who allow them to perform. Onboard they connect places along the route through their lyrics, which generate spatial correlations. Their performances shape the bus driver’s and passengers’ impression of their bus moving through specific musical spaces.

My dissertation improves understanding of Mexican rural buses, which have not been widely researched to date, and their significance for local actors earning a living onboard.


  • (to be published): 'Corridos und Informationstransfer in der mexikanischen Revolution', in: Bröcker, Marianne (ed.). Berichte aus dem ICTM-Nationalkomitee Deutschland – Band XX/XXI, Berlin: Simon Verlag.

  • (to be published): 'Comercio e identidad – espacios y lugares en el narcocorrido', in: Maihold, Günther (ed.). Cultura, comunicación y crimen organizado, Frankfurt a.M.; Madrid; México D.F.: Vervuert; Iberoamericana; COLMEX.

  • (2012): 'El espacio, lo local y la música en autobuses foráneos en México', in: Kummels, Ingrid (ed.). Espacios mediáticos: Cultura y representación en México, Berlin: tranvía, p. 295-314.

  • (2010). 'Die Marimba, musikalischer Wandel und politische Gewalt in Guatemala', in: Bröcker, Marianne (ed.). Berichte aus dem ICTM-Nationalkomitee Deutschland – Band XVIII/XIX: Musik in urbanen Kulturen / Musik und Gewalt. Münster: MV-Verlag, p. 381-402.