UCL News


Spotlight on... Dr Hélène Neveu Kringelbach

9 December 2021

This week we meet Dr Hélène Neveu Kringelbach, who is Associate Professor in African Anthropology and Vice-Dean Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for the Arts and Humanities Faculty. Here, Hélène chats to us about taking up samba drumming and her love of music.

Dr Hélène Neveu Kringelbach

What is your role and what does it involve? 

I am an Associate Professor in African Anthropology, with a post shared between the School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS) – where I teach courses on Anthropology and Literature as well as Music, Film and Media in Africa – and the Anthropology department – where I teach on Kinship and Gender, as well as Music and Performance.  

In addition, since 2019 I have served as Vice-Dean Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for the Arts and Humanities Faculty. 

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role? 

I have been at UCL since 2015. Before that, I taught Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Oxford, where I completed my DPhil in Anthropology. 

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of? 

I am probably most proud of the students I have taught or supervised over the years, who have written back after completing their degrees to say how much my teaching helped them to understand the world differently. Anthropology often has this effect on those new to it; it is a bit like seeing the world through new glasses, and afterwards you can never quite unsee it again. 

I guess I am also very pleased by the Royal Anthropological Institute award I received for my book on dance and social change in Dakar, Senegal. 

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list? 

I am trying to write my second anthropological monograph, which is a book on love, binational marriage and transnational family relationships between Senegal and Europe – with a main focus on France and the UK. It has been difficult to find research time in the past few years, but this is my top priority for the next academic year. It’s about migration and the effects of racist immigration policies on people’s relationships, but also about the complexities of ‘family’ in such different contexts. The book builds on multi-sited fieldwork over the past 10 years as well as historical research. 

What is your favourite album, film and novel? 

I love music and I listen to a lot of different stuff so it would be impossible to give a complete list here. But some of my favourite musicians include Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, Alicia Keys, Adele, Macklemore, Mario Biondi, Lauryn Hill, Khaled, Youssou Ndour, Salif Keita, and Orchestra Baobab. I also love listening to salsa and flamenco, but these styles make me want to dance and I have not had time to practise them for a while now. 

One film I loved this year was CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). I found it incredibly moving, and a beautiful homage to the power of music to bring people together across all kinds of boundaries. I also appreciated the fact that you were not left feeling sorry for the deaf characters. And one series that lifted me up in the middle of lockdown was Ted Lasso

I do not read nearly as many novels as I would like to, but I have really enjoyed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and her Americanah, as well as Abdulrazak Gurnah’s By the Sea. I was thrilled when I heard that he had won the Nobel Prize this year. He came to UCL for a conversation with Tamar Garb at the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) a few years ago, and this was one of the highlights of that year. 

In my younger days I was blown away by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Hundred Years of Solitude and by Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)? 

I am not good at remembering jokes out of context. I prefer the comic side of particular situations, when something funny happens unintentionally. 

Who would be your dream dinner guests? 

I have friends in many different countries and my big dream would be to have them all gathered together for a big dinner and party. But I would also have loved to have Nelson Mandela as a dinner guest, and among the living, Barack Obama and French ballerina Sylvie Guillem. And I would want to sit down with some of the many indigenous leaders and others around the world who are campaigning for radical changes in our economic systems so that we stand a chance to save our planet. Solutions won’t come from politicians having to worry about re-election every few years. We need far longer-term thinking. We probably need a peaceful revolution. 

What advice would you give your younger self? 

I would advise myself to be more confident, to follow my passions, and to worry less about the possibility of failure. I did a first degree in Business Studies because the French education system pushed me in that direction, but I wasn’t cut out for that, not at all. 

What would it surprise people to know about you? 

People are often surprised to know that I made a radical career change when I went back to university in the UK to study Anthropology. Before that I worked for a few years as a Marketing executive in industry in Denmark. 

Some might also be surprised to hear that I used to dance a lot (ballet, jazz, flamenco, contemporary dance, West African dances…), and that I am now learning to play West African djembe and dundun drums in my spare time. I have recently taken up samba drumming, too, within environmental activism. Progress is slow and I do not practise nearly enough (partly out of consideration for my neighbours), but it is incredibly energising, and I love it! 

What is your favourite place? 

Two of my favourite places are the Gorée Island, in Senegal, and Ojai in southern California. Gorée has a tragic connection to the Transatlantic slave trade but it is a magical place, especially in the evening after all the tourists have left with the last boat to Dakar and the island returns to being a village.