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Mira BalbergMatthew Leslie Santana

Assistant Professor

Department of Music

Matthew Leslie Santana is a violinist and ethnomusicologist broadly interested the role of performance within movements toward racial, sexual and economic justice throughout the Americas. He completed a DMA in violin performance at the University of Michigan in 2015, and will receive his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Harvard University in 2019.

He is currently at work on a book about gender performance in contemporary Cuba. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, this book examines how cultural workers on the island are using gender performance as a tool to navigate Cuba’s shifting social, political and economic terrain since the fall of socialism.

An interdisciplinary music scholar, Leslie Santana is active in the fields of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, performance studies, and Afro-Latin American studies. In addition to his current book project, he has conducted research on queer performance in his hometown of Miami and written about the reception of queer artists doing hip hop in New York City.

Leslie Santana’s public scholarship can be found in Cuba Counterpoints, “ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America,” and Sounding Board, and he is a contributor to the forthcoming edited collection “Queering the Field: Sounding Out Ethnomusicology.”

He is a founding member of Project Spectrum, a coalition of people of color in music studies, with whom he helped put on the 2018 symposium “Diversifying Music Academia: Strengthening the Pipeline.” As a violinist, Matthew focuses primarily on new music and community-based performance and education.

He was a New Fromm Player at the Tanglewood Music Center in 2013 and has served on the faculty of the Sphinx Performance Academy, a tuition-free summer program for young Black and Latinx string players.


What excites you most about coming to UC San Diego?

I am excited to be teaching at a public university with a history of student activism and a large number of first-generation college students.

Why did you choose your field of study?

Studying ethnomusicology allowed me to think, teach and write about music and social life while still making room for my creative practice as a performer. I am fortunate to be part of a department that takes both sides of that work seriously.

What advice do you have for students who choose to major in arts and humanities?

I would advise all undergraduates to try to find meaningful mentors. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you admire and find out how they got where they are.

How do you view your role relative to the greater regional community?

For me, it is most important to recognize that I live in a borderland and to consider what that means. I come from Miami, which is a Caribbean city in many senses, including that the most meaningful border is the sea. San Diego is very different, and I am eager to listen and learn from people from San Diego and Tijuana about this border, and to try and be useful in some way here.

Tell us something about yourself that is not normally mentioned in your bio.

I am very proud to have been raised by a single mother.