Category Archives: Africa

Moroccan insult contests

Marrakech

A performance that occurred almost daily in a public square in Marrakech in the early 1980s traded on ethnic identity for fun and profit.

The performance began with an Arab duo singing in Arabic; as a crowd began to gather around them, a Berber—a member of a rival ethnic group—leaped into the circle with a song in Tashlit. After a few moments of cacaphony a shouting match began, with the Berber and one of the Arabs trading insults while the other Arab took one side and then the other, upping the ante.

“Monkey, block-headed windbag, long-fingernailed King Kong, hick, salt stealer, son of a whore!” Each string of insults was preceded by an ethnic designator, and audience members were encouraged to contribute money to the aggrieved party to demonstrate their own ethnic pride. Occasionally fisticuffs between audience members ensued.

The high point of the performance came when the monetarily losing antagonist was figuratively turned into a donkey and the winner climbed onto his back and called for his instrument; victory, however temporary, meant both being on top and singing one’s own song there.

This according to “Saints, prostitutes, and rotten sardines: The musical construction of place and ethnicity in a Moroccan insult contest” by Philip D. Schuyler, an essay included in Ethnomusicological encounters with music and musicians: Essays in honor of Robert Garfias (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011, pp. 249–259). Above and below, examples of street music in Marrakech.

Related article: 50 best literary insults

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Humor

Performing Islam

Launched by Intellect in 2012, Performing Islam is the first peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal about Islam and performance and their related aesthetics. It focuses on the sociocultural, historical, and political contexts of artistic practices in the Muslim world.

The journal covers dance, ritual, theater, performing arts, visual arts and cultures, and popular entertainment in Islam-influenced societies and their diasporas. It promotes insightful research of performative expressions of Islam by performers and publics, and encompasses theoretical debates, empirical studies, postgraduate research, interviews with performers, research notes and queries, and reviews of books, conferences, festivals, events, and performances.

Below, UNESCO’s introduction to the semā ceremony of Turkey’s Mevlevi order.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, New periodicals

Tarzan redux

Of the many Hollywood films made about Africa, the Tarzan films are among the most influential in creating stereotyped notions of African peoples, geography, and social organization.

An examination of the portrayal of Africa and Africans in Cedric Gibbons’s Tarzan and his mate (1934) provides a window into how music has been used to generate these stereotypes and calls into question the degree to which these (mis)conceptions, under the same or different guises, have survived into the 21st century.

This according to “When hearts beat like native drums: Music and the sexual dimensions of the notions of savage and civilized in Tarzan and his mate, 1934” by Clara Henderson (Africa today XLVIII/4 [winter 2001] pp. 90–124).

Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and the apes, the first Tarzan story, is 100 years old this year! Above, an early dust jacket for this classic; below, the original 1934 trailer for Tarzan and his mate.

BONUS: The film’s notorious river scene, for which the Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim temporarily replaced Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane.

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Film music

World & traditional music

Part of the British Library’s Sounds project, World & traditional music features tens of thousands of recordings by ethnomusicologists and collectors, including those of the pioneering Africanists Peter Cooke (b.1930), Kenneth Gourlay (1919–95), Hans-Joachim Heinz (1917–2000), Arthur Morris Jones (1889–1980), David Rycroft (1924–97), and Klaus Wachsmann (1907–84). This online resource is available free of charge for noncommercial research, study, and private enjoyment.

Related articles:

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Traditional Ghanaian sampling

The Ewe of Ghana have a long history of incorporating musical elements from other cultures into their traditions.

Recent developments among the Tagborlo family in the master drumming for agbadza funeral dancing (above), influenced to some extent by contacts with Western popular music, involve humor (including graphic sexual jokes), taunts, and quotations from popular songs in a manner resembling sampling procedures in rap music. These innovations are entirely within the tradition—the basic rhythmic structure, cultural context, and instrumentation remain the same.

This according to “’My mother has a television, does yours?’ Transformation and secularization in an Ewe funeral drum tradition” by James Burns (Oral tradition XX/2 [October 2005] pp. 300–319). Below, agbadza drumming and dancing at a funeral in Atsiekpui, Ghana; the master drummer on the far left conveys verbal messages through references to speech rhythms and tones.

Related post: Dagomba dance-drumming

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Southern African & Zimbabwean music connection

Created by Daniel Gritzer in 2000, Southern African & Zimbabwean music connection provides annotated and unannotated bibliographic listings for writings on music from Angola, Botswana, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, as well as links to Internet resources for most of these countries.

This post is part of our series of celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.

Below, a demonstration of the mbira of Zimbabwe.

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J.H.K. Nketia, Ghanaian ethnomusicologist

Ever since the publication of his African Music in Ghana (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1963), Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia (b.1921) has been reknowned among ethnomusicologists. His distinguished career has included many fine publications on music in Africa and its diaspora. The first volume of his collected papers, Ethnomusicology and African music: Modes of inquiry and interpretation, was issued by Afram Publications in 2005.

Nketia’s extensive background in musicology gave him the tools to revolutionize the analysis of African drumming, and since the 1980s he has produced landmark articles on more general aspects of ethnomusicological theory. He is also a composer—he studied with Henry Cowell in the late 1950s—who has written works for both Western and African instruments.

This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.

Below, a performance of Nketia’s Monna n’ase (1942).

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South African audio archive

Established by Flat International in September 2010, South African audio archive is a not-for-profit visual archive of rare and sometimes unusual South African audio documents. The project aims to provide a resource for those researching South African audio history.

The database is searchable by artist, label, company, and genre, and the website includes a bibliography and a chronology of sound recording in South Africa. High-quality reproductions of album covers or record labels are provided for each entry, along with full discographic notes and annotations.

This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.

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Dagomba dance-drumming

Created by the ethnomusicologist David Locke, Dagomba dance-drumming presents sound recordings, staff notation, and text materials on the dance drumming of the Dagomba people of northern Ghana.

The recordings and historical narratives—including a personal narrative of training in drumming—were collected from Alhaji Abubakari Lunna, an expert on Dagomba performing arts and culture. The story of Lunna’s life conveys the scope of the knowledge that a great drummer learns, the way this heritage is transmitted, and a glimpse into the Dagomba drumming scene during the second half of the twentieth century. The website is hosted by Tufts University.

This is the first in our series of posts celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.

Below, an excerpt from a performance of Takai, a Dagomba dance that involves the striking of metal rods in the dancers’ hands and swirling movements that are enhanced by their flaring costumes.

Related post: Traditional Ghanaian sampling

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Filed under Africa, Dance, Resources

Bokoor African Popular Music Archives

Established in 1990 by the journalist, writer, and musician John Collins, the Bokoor African Popular Music Archives is a Ghanaian NGO that aims to preserve, promote, and disseminate Ghanaian and African popular and traditional performance, and to act as a facilitator, consultant, and resource center for various African arts projects in Ghana and the international African community. It also maintains a database and archive of contemporary African arts and performance traditions, and assists and networks with other collectors and organizations doing similar cultural, educational, and archival work. The Archives include freely accessible books, articles, and sound and video recordings.

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Filed under Africa, Ethnomusicology, Popular music, Resources