EOL 7 Book Review

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The African Diaspora
A Musical Perspective

Ingrid Monson, ed. 2000. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. vii, 366 pp.

Critical and Cultural Musicology series, vol. 3.

Three photos, 7 musical transcriptions, 1 map, 44 illustrations, notes, bibliography.
$75 US/$113 Canada

This volume represents the changing and shifting paradigms of musicology from a historical and formal analysis of Western “art” music to the study of all music in context.

In her Introduction, Monson offers a well-needed discussion on diasporic studies from a musical perspective. She begins her essay by addressing idealized notions of African diasporic music as racial politics that have flooded previous debates. Under the subtopic “Musical-Centrism?,” Monson asserts that “the idea of transnational black music has been synthesized in opposition to racial subjugation. The forging of a collective identity through opposition to a common enemy contributes, in turn, to the ease with which the complexities of the African diaspora dissolve into a binary opposition between black and white” (2-3). In advancing Paul Gilroy’s take on the “Black Atlantic” (Gilroy 1993), Monson sees the centrality of music as emblematic of transnational identities and global intersections which constitute the complexity of the African diaspora. The remaining part of the Introduction presents an overview of the book’s theme in three sections: “Traveling Music and Musicians,” “Beyond Tradition or Modernity,” and “Contradictory Moment,” thought-provoking essays exploring African diasporic music of West Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States.

Part I, “Traveling Music and Musicians,” consists of four essays which address issues on global circularity of African and African-American indigenous forms. Travis A. Jackson opens this section with “Jazz performance as Ritual: The Blues Aesthetic and the African Diaspora.” He states that there exists limited discussion of jazz alongside other musics of the African diaspora. Rather, jazz has been subjected to “modernist discourse on art and aesthetics…surfacing only in cursory mentions of jazz’s seemingly passive ‘mixture’ of European and African elements” (23). Drawing from the writings of several prominent critics and scholars of African-American music, Jackson links jazz with another form of African-American music, the blues. Here, he proceeds to illustrate the centrality of the blues as impetus to jazz performance as ritual. Based on solid ethnographic research conducted in New York City’s vibrant jazz scene, Jackson asserts that jazz performance as ritual unravels during performance as “frames” by which artists aspire and strive, in an emic sense, to take it (performance) “to another level” or reach a state of transcendence (48, 56). As Jackson observes, “The blues aesthetic shapes the way they [jazz artists] approach those materials, and the material themselves--framed by space, time, tune, and form--are part of ritualized jazz performances” (68).

In Chapter 2, “Communities of Style: Musical Figures of Black Diasporic Identity,” Veit Erlmann examines “Mbube,” a South African classic written and performed by Solomon Linda and his choir in 1939, and its reworkings popularly known in U.S. circles as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Erlmann begins his discussion with references to Spike Lee’s film, Do It A Cappella, which showcases Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Mint Julep, an Anglo-African female, performing Linda’s version and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” respectively. He views the two performances as “endotropic performance, the sonic construction of a black diasporic identity…through the shared experience of style” (84). In reviewing Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s discussion of signifyin(g) concepts of double-voiceness, repetition, versioning, and/or troping of texts idiosyncratic to black literature, Erlmann adapts signifyin(g) to his examination of the reworking or “cover versions” of Linda’s “Mbube” by Pete Seeger and the Weavers titled “Wimoweh” in 1952 followed by the Tokens’ version “The Lion Sleeps at Tonight” in 1962. As he vividly illustrates via transcribed musical excerpts, while there are certain similarities between the original (“Mbube”) and the reworked versions by the Weavers and the Tokens, they revised the original form of Linda’s work with the standard Tin Pan Alley (ABABCB) form. Moreover, it was “the cover versions of ‘Mbube’ by these two groups that later had a considerable impact on endotropic black reworkings of Linda’s song” (89). Furthermore, these reworkings “demonstrate the crucial role the autohypnoses and fiction of identity and global order, with all their contradictory intermixtures and mirrored affinities, play in formulating the rudiments of a politics of twenty-first century” (99).

“Jazz on the Global Stage” by Jerome Harris examines the dissemination of jazz on the international scene and ongoing issues surrounding its global presence. Harris, a prominent guitarist on New York’s jazz scene, defines an ecology of jazz as a web of art makers, art users (audience) and mediators, e.g., conveyers, interpreters. He delineates six factors contributing to U.S. jazz’s movement onto the international sphere: touring, recording, broadcasting, criticism and pedagogy, cross-cultural musical influences, and massive governmental support. His discussion segues to the politics of jazz on the global stage. While he upholds that jazz is a product of African-American culture, as the music moves further into the international arena, “the challenged posed to an exclusively black conception of jazz by white involvement can be viewed as an example of…social dislocation” (199). Elaborating further, the article presents two positions taken on the globalization of jazz, “canon” versus “process.”

Part II, “Beyond Tradition or Modernity,” explores the transformation of traditional West African musical forms within contemporary context. This section begins with an illuminating work by Lucy Durán in which she addresses the shifting gender roles and boundaries of hereditary and non-hereditary musicians of Mali. In discussing the role of women musicians in traditional Mande society, Durán presents an overview of Mande’s social hierarchy: free born/nobles (horonw), artisans (nyamakalaw) and slaves (jonw). Among the artisans are hereditary musicians or jeliw, (known as griots in French), whose performance duties are divided along gender lines. Durán notes that males do not normally sing but recite family histories, whereas women sing at life-cycle ceremonies. Durán observes that by the 1970s a new form of professional music emerged in western Mali called wassoulou. Unlike past tradition, both men and women perform as wassoulou singers. Wassoulou, which is traced to Wasulu, an area in southern Mali, is known for its hunters. Celebrating this connection, wassoulou singers recall the hunter’s style and its musicians perform on the kamalengoni (youth harp), whose playing style is similar to the hunter’s tradition. More importantly, Durán points out that while traditionally women never “narrated hunters’ tales in their songs,” they now exploit hunters’ idioms, “address women’s issues and transgress certain boundaries of proscribed behavior,” and “use hunters’ songs as backdrop for praising individual politicians” (141, 164). Because of the popularity of wassoulou singers like Salif Keita and female performers like Oumou Sangare, female bards (jelimusow) including Kandia Kouyate and Ami Koita now incorporate hunters’ melodies when singing someone’s praises, which in turn promotes their being regarded as master musicians. As Durán concludes, “the mere presence of a lead woman singer is in itself a potent symbol, placing wassoulou and jeliya [the art of the jeli] in the arena of a ‘new social movement’” by which women can move past ethnic and gender boundaries (178).

Lasiné Kaba and Eric Charry’s article, “Mamaya Renewal and Tradition in Maninnka Music of Kankan, Guinea (1935-45),” continues to offer insight about the Mande diaspora of Guinea and its musical movement known as Mamaya. Described as a dance event, Mamaya makes use of xylophones (bala), a bass drum (dundun) with a female chorus. Alongside the movement or dance event is a song, “Mamaya,” composed by the renowned Kankan bala player and jeli, Sidi Djéli Dioubaté. For readers who are somewhat unfamiliar with Mamaya’s birthplace, the authors provide background information about the rich cultural and religious life of Kankan, during and after French control, and profile important Guinean figures of the time. Kaba and Charry discuss the significance of “Mamaya” as standard repertoire among Maninnka’s jeli community. Accordingly, Mamaya inspired popular musical movements among the Maninnka in other West African capital cities including Abidjan, Bamako, Conakry, and Dakar. Evidence of transformation in Mamaya includes the use of the kora and guitar. Finally, Kaba and Charry recognize the special place Mamaya holds in Maninnka traditional music and culture. Among the present-day generation, Mamaya recalls and symbolizes the rich music and culture of past generations.

Akin Euba, discusses the origins and significance of the Yoruba folk opera in Chapter 7, “Concepts of Neo-African Music as Manifested in Yoruba Folk Opera.” He traces the source of the folk opera to two souces: Yoruba music theater, particularly alárìijò (traveling) theater, which emerged between 1610 and 1650; and the Independent African Church movement, circa 1940s. While the Yoruba music theater is without doubt embedded in Yoruba ritual masquerade, the Independent African Church movement grew in response to Christian missions’ superimposition of Western style theatrical. Rather, African clergy “advocated the indigenization of theatrical entertainment” (209). Euba points out that the Yoruba folk opera was initially termed “native air opera,” whose text was entirely sung. In the Yoruba folk opera, the text is partially sung and spoken. The final section of Euba’s essay presents musical-textual analyses of “The Palmwine Drinkard” by Ògúnmólá in the neo-African church style; “Oba Kò So” by Dúró Ládípò, a “native air opera”; and Euba’s folk opera, “Obalúayé.” While representing three different styles, the operas are inextricably linked by their employment of the Yoruba belief system.

The final essay in Part II is Steven Cornelius’s “They Just Need Money Goods and Gods: Power and Truth in a West African Village.” In Chapter 8, Cornelius provides insight into the coexistence of tradition, as represented by juju (malevolent power or sorcery) and modernity, as symbolized by the West. His discussion centers around Kopeyia, the Ewe village in southeast Ghana, home of master drummer and dancer Godwin Agbeli. Agbeli’s musical reputation exceeds beyond his village to the metropolis of Accra and United States. Because of his travels and teaching abroad, Agbeli acquired a very good living as evident with his “compound of cement-block houses with tin roofs,” compared to the neighboring villagers’ whose homes are made of “dried mud and thatched roofs” (246). Additionally, Agbeli established the Dagbe Cultural Institute, where many students from abroad came to study with him. In further probing the coexistence of “tradition “ and “modernity,” Cornelius draws attention to a juju incident while awaiting a drum lesson with Agbeli. He unveils the entrance of “religious cult” known as Kokushio, who alleged that Agbeli was a victim of juju. They offered to find and deactivate the juju for a price of 10,000 cedis, one chicken and two bottles of liquor, in which Agbeli complied. In an attempt to distort the incident, Agbeli told Cornelius that the Kokushio’s tactic was merely a bribe. Drawing from the works of E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Barry Hallen and J. O. Sodipo, and LiPuma Edward, Cornelius, in turn, concludes that while “attacks of juju are motivated by greed or jealousy,” it reveals the competing layers of ancient and modern that coexist within Kopeyia….” (258; 260).

Gage Averill and Yuen-Ming David Yih introduce Part III, “Contradictory Moment” with “Militarism in Haitian Music.” They hold that while militarism is viewed as a repressive agent in Haiti’s history, it nevertheless appears in Haitian expressive culture. For example, they locate militarism in the iconography of Vodou, particularly in Petwo, which is considered “more militaristic, fiery and violent than its counterpart, Rada.” Other manifestations of Haitian militarism include drum signal music ochan and rasanble transformation and reinterpretation of French military drum music. Additionally, there is a section on kò mizik mennwat, a small ensemble tradition composed of a fiddle and two large frame drums, popular in Haiti’s southern peninsula. Kò mizik mennwat’s name is derived from corps de musique and the French menuet. Finally, there is a section on the rara and carnival bands (bann apye) and their use of military nomenclature.

In Chapter 10, Julian Gerstin offers ethnomusicology an alternative way of studying new social movements. In his essay, “Musical Revivals and Social Movements in Contemporary Martinique: Ideology, Identity, Ambivalence,” Gerstin advances de Certeau’s treatment of “new social movements” (NSMs) as “tactics.” Based on his research in Martinique from 1993 to 1995, Gerstin observed that “virtually no one in publicly visible political or media positions invoked indigenous Martinican musical genres (either traditional or popular) as representations of nationality or ethnicity” (296). The author views a lack of political fervor as indicative of Martinique’s ambivalence toward its dependence on France. For instance, Gerstin finds that while some Martinicans are content with the financial benefits of coloniality and felt much well-off than the other Caribbean nations, others resented the country’s continued dependence on France. Gerstin sees such sentiments played out in two Martinican musical genres, bèlè, a traditional dance and drumming style, and Carnival, which were revitalized in the 1980s and 1990s by young urban performers. These ambiguities are played out in musical performance and thus encapsulate the ideology of the NSMs in Martinique. Gerstin notes that the “NSMs involve interest groups that are not political parties, that seek social changes rather than electoral power. They seek cultural as well as political change; not only political self-determination but also control over identities and their symbolic expression" (297).

Gerstin traces the source of the NSMs ideology to two prominent figures in Martiniques’s history Aimé Césaire and his négritude movement and Edouard Glissant, and his concept antillanité. As explained, the former embraces blackness as Other while promoting white stereotypes about blackness; the latter saw difference only by regarding Martinicans as reflected in diversalité. Glissant’s philosophy was embraced by young Martinicans artists and activists redefined as créolité, the racial and cultural mixture of French and African-Caribbean. Gerstin finds that creolistes present “a flexible sense of identity that allows people to resist yet accommodate to the dominant realities of modernity, hybridization and assimilation” (304).

Chapter 11, “Art Blakey’s African Diaspora” by Ingrid Monson examines Blakey’s often-cited position about jazz and its non-relationship to Africa. While Blakey, like many African-American jazz musicians, experimented with African diasporic music and belief systems, his assertion that jazz “doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Africa” or ”I feel that African thing,” may in fact reveal more about his uneasiness or paradoxical perception of an African idea (329). Monson traces historical moments of black politics, social movements, organizations, and jazz during the 1940s that looked beyond America’s borders for solutions and inspirations. For example, during the 1940s. jazz artists such as Dizzy Gillespie collaborated with Afro-Cuban music, engaged with Pan-African politics, and flirted with Islam such as the Ahmadiyya movement. Moreover, during the 1940s, Art Blakey traveled to West Africa to study religion and philosophy. The essay proceeds to discuss Blakey’s travels to Africa and his conversion to Islam, which occurred during “his African sojourn” (326). To further complicate Blakey’s contradictory moments, Monson discusses several of Blakey’s musical projects, including “Ritual,” “Toffi,” and “Split Kick,” which all incorporate African diasporic themes and elements. As a final point, Monson locates Blakey’s position on Africa as bordering the “trickster” or “musical signifier.” In so doing, she engages both Gates’ treatment of trickster and James Scott’s “hidden transcript.” Thus, “Blakey…disguises his sense of belonging to an African diaspora community,” while his drumming and musical projects are indicative of his “diasporic connection” (348).

I found The African Diaspora: A Musical Perspective to be refreshing and above all, stimulating. This volume offers scholars a reading on various musical genres and the manner by which each mirrors aspects of identity, tradition and modernity, local musical traditions, and the effects of globalization--all important agents in the shaping and making of the African diaspora. After reading the entire volume, I have decided to use it as a primary text for my graduate seminar on African-American music. Furthermore, I certainly foresee its merit as a seminal text in diasporic, cultural criticism, and music scholarship. Hence, I unequivocally recommend The African Diaspora as an important work in the understanding of African diasporic music and culture.

Cheryl Keyes

References cited
Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The Black Atlantic Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard

finalized 26 November 2001

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