The toyi-toyi is a high-kneed, foot-stomping dance, rhythmically punctuated by chants and call and response. It can be observed at almost any kind of protest in South Africa and Zimbabwe today.
Many people associate it with the South African township protests of the 1980s, when young men toyi-toyied as they confronted police or attended political funerals and protests. But its origins are in fact much further away, and they tell us about a much longer, global history of political and military struggle. This story played out across Africa, moving from north to south, all the way from Algeria to South Africa, with stops in Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, and Zimbabwe along the way.
Moutya, created by slaves of African descent in the Seychelles in the late 18th century, is a combination of song, drumming, and dance. The genre’s current form originated in conjunction with the construction of Seychellois Creole cultural identity after the coup d’état in 1977.
Performances of moutya that have been adapted or revived—mainly in staged performances for official events, for tourists, or as part of the local music industry—demonstrate the creolization processes, revealing the relationship between moutya and other local and regional cultural phenomena, and underlining the need for an expanded and multilayered conceptual approach to the genre.
This according to Le moutya à l’épreuve de la modernité seychelloise: Pratiquer un genre musical emblématique dans les Seychelles d’aujourd’hui (Océan Indien) by Marie-Christine Parent, a dissertation accepted by the Université de Montréal in 2018.
Above and below, a 2020 performance in downtown Victoria.
The discourse surrounding contemporary concert dance in Africa is complex. Writings on the practice suggest that it could be considered both a neocolonial imposition and a contributor to processes of decolonization.
The growth of contemporary dance in Africa was stimulated by the establishment of an inter-Africa dance competition in 1995 by a French-sponsored dance biennale, which at the time was called the Choreographic Encounters of Africa and the Indian Ocean, and has since been renamed Danse l’Afrique danse!
A major controversy about contemporary dance was caused by the departure from the organization soon after its first event of one of its key instigators, the Ivorian choreographer Alphonse Tierou, in protest against the imposition of French artistic criteria by competition judges.
Tierou’s philosophical tenets for contemporary dance in Africa, which had guided the artistic activities leading up to the launch of the competition, were sidelined by the organizers, who set rules that insisted that entrants present new forms of dance that should not be associated with ideas of African tradition, but which still retain motifs or signifiers which a Western audience would perceive as being African. Both African choreographers and scholars feared the competition was a form of cultural neocolonialism.
While these justifiable concerns persist, there is an emerging academic discourse that promotes the ownership of contemporary dance by African choreographers and dance artists. Observing developments in contemporary dance in Nigeria, Chukwuma Okoye suggested that contemporary dance is undergoing a process of indigenization, arguing that when a foreign dance form is absorbed into a society on the terms of the people in that society the resulting practices cannot be considered a mere copy of the form that was appropriated.
This according to “James Mweu & Kunja Dance Theatre: Contemporary dance as African cultural production” by ‘Funmi Adewole (African theatre XVII  3–22; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-60720).
The 2005 film U-Carmen eKhayelitsha is a South African adaptation and reconceptualization of Bizet’s Carmen. The change in culture and context affects the interpretation of the character of Carmen, who emerges as a strong black woman striving for autonomy within a patriarchal and sexist postcolonial South African society.
The film involves an interpretation of identity as a social construct dependent on the interaction between character and place within a specific period of time–in this case, Khayelitsha, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, at the beginning of the 21st century. Its portrayal of the modern Carmen as an emancipated woman within a postcolonial and postmodernist context can be traced by interpreting semiotic signs and specific narrative strategies.
The re-encoding of Carmen’s identity questions intransigent or stereotypical perceptions of Carmen as the iconic femme fatale to which audiences have become accustomed; the indigenized production offers recourse to alternative perceptions of Carmen’s identity. U-Carmen eKhayelitsha does not deny the sensuality and femininity attributed to Carmen in the precursory texts, but it depicts her as an even more complex character than the one in Bizet’s opera.
This according to “The same, yet different: Re-encoding identity in U-Carmen eKhayelitsha” by Santisa Viljoen and Marita Wenzel (Journal of the musical arts in Africa XIII/1–2  53–70; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2016-49747).
In Ghana, hip hop music and culture have morphed over two decades into a whole new genre called hiplife—not merely an imitation or adaptation of hip hop, but a revision of Ghana’s own century-old popular music called highlife.
Local hiplife artists have evolved an indigenization process that has facilitated a dynamic youth agency that is transforming Ghanaian society. These social shifts, facilitated by hiplife, have occurred within Ghana’s corporate recolonization, serving as another example of how neoliberalism’s global free-market agenda has become a new form of colonialism. While hiplife artists are complicit with these socioeconomic forces, they also create counter-hegemonic projects that challenge this context while also pushing aesthetic limits.
This according to The hiplife in Ghana: The West African indigenization of hip hop by Halifu Osumare (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
The Field Band Foundation
(FBF) is a South African national nonprofit organization that has reached more
than 40,000 youth since its inception in 1997. Modeled initially on the
American-style marching band, the FBF’s performance style, choreography,
rehearsal techniques, and uniforms draw on local traditions and practices
resulting in a uniquely South African musical phenomenon.
As local musicking, FBF rehearsals support the locally defined values of discipline and empathy. The distinctions that FBF members and leaders make between local or global processes or qualities are discernible in the military associations and echoes of local cultural expressions manifested in rehearsal management techniques, uniforms, and choreography. The localizations of musical processes and products and the meanings and values to which these link contribute to the achievement to the FBF’s goals, which the organization aims to articulate in terms of local values.
This according to “Rehearsing values: Processes of
distinction in the Field Band Foundation of South Africa” by Laryssa
Whittaker, an essay included in The Routledge companion to the study of
local musicking (New York: Routledge, 2018, pp. 251–63).
Above and below, FBF groups in action.
Comments Off on The Field Band Foundation and local values
The creative hybridity of Ephraim Amu’s choral composition Yɛn ara asase ni contributed to the emergence of national consciousness in Ghana.
Originally composed for a colonial holiday in 1929, this piece spread through schools, radio broadcasts, and live performances, and was heard throughout the country around the time of Ghanaian Independence. Yɛn ara asase ni ultimately disrupted colonial categories and prepared the way for an independence movement informed by Pan-Africanism and Christianity.
This according to “African musical hybridity in the colonial context: An analysis of Ephraim Amu’s Yɛn ara asase ni” by Steven Spinner Terpenning (Ethnomusicology LX/3 [fall 2016] pp. 459–83).
Today is Ephraim Amu’s 120th birthday! Below, a performance of Yɛn ara asase ni in 2016.
It is not uncommon for African musicians to use the adjective sweet to characterize a positive musical experience. Ewe-speakers may characterize singing and drumming that is performed expertly as vivi (sweet)—generating strong feeling and conveying a meaningful message.
Not a quality of cloying sentimentality, “sweet music” has a presence that moves a listener, often in a profound way. Listeners feel musical beauty through the interplay of the phenomenal surface of musical sound and the theoretical underneath of musical syntax.
African musicians are aware of the expressive opportunities afforded by musical syntax, and intentionally create music within known systems. The evaluative term sweet can open a path towards the scholarly articulation of musical syntax and culturally relevant statements about aesthetic judgment in Ewe agbadza.
This according to “Sweetness in agbadza music: Expressiveness in an item of agbadza singing and drumming” by David Locke, an essay included in Discourses in African musicology: J.H. Kwabena Nketia Festschrift (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2015, pp. 98–123).
In the mid-1990s South African apartheid ended, and the country’s urban black youth developed kwaito—a form of dance music (redolent of North American house) that came to represent the post-struggle generation. Kwaito developed alongside the democratization of South Africa, a powerful cultural phenomenon that paradoxically engages South Africa’s crucial social and political problems by, in fact, seeming to ignore them.
Politicians and cultural critics criticize kwaito for failing to provide any meaningful contribution to a society that desperately needs direction, but these criticisms are built on problematic assumptions about the political function of music. Artists and fans aren’t escaping their social condition through kwaito, but are using it to expand their sensory realities and generate new possibilities. Resisting the truism that music is always political, kwaito thrives on its radically ambiguous relationship with politics, power, and the state.
This according to Kwaito’s promise: Music and the aesthetics of freedom in South Africa by Gavin Steingo (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
The widespread preference for buzzy timbres in African traditional musics has been notably borne out in the Mandé region of West Africa.
The two main types of buzzing mechanisms in Mandé music are metal buzzing rattles, which are attached to the neck or bridge of various string instruments, and mirlitons (vibrating membranes), which are placed over small holes on the resonating gourds of wooden xylophones.
Over the last seventy to eighty years, an older and rougher buzz aesthetic within Mandé music has become increasingly endangered, with buzzing largely disappearing from instruments such as the kora and the ngoni in favor of a more “clean” Western aesthetic. Considered in a wider cultural context, the incorporation of buzzing sounds within Mandé music might be connected to forms of esoteric, supernatural, and spiritual power.
This according to “The buzz aesthetic and Mandé music: Acoustic masks and the technology of enchantment” by Merlyn Driver (African music X/3  pp. 95–118).
Above and below, kora playing with nyenyemo (metal rattle attached to the bridge).
Seven strings/Сім струн (dedicated to Uncle Michael)* For thee, O Ukraine, O our mother unfortunate, bound, The first string I touch is for thee. The string will vibrate with a quiet yet deep solemn sound, The song from my heart … Continue reading →
From 4 to 8 October 2021, The Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation hosts the virtual conference Responses in Music to Climate Change. The event brings together scholars, performers, composers, and activists, with the goal of exchanging … Continue reading →
Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black … Continue reading →
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →