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Paper Session
Nov 11, 2021 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211111T1400 20211111T1450 America/Chicago Transcontinental Africa AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org
“What Up, G(od)?”: Uncovering the Oral Archives of American Islam in Popular Musics
Individual Paper 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 20:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 20:50:00 UTC

When reconstructing the histories of enslaved West Africans, Hartman (2008) declared, "scandal and excess inundate the archive"--the scandal of silencing those in captivity and the excess of slavers' preserved narratives. Within American Islamic history, a similar theme emerges as worshiping bodies devoted to "Allah" are forced into silent submission to "God." Even though "Allah" and "God" name the same Higher Power within Abrahamic faiths, enslavers demanded enslaved Muslims submit only to "God," assuming that "Allah" was a satanic, paganistic deity from West Africa. In the 1950s during the rise of the Nation of Islam, mainstream media depicted "Allah" as an anti-white man deity whose followers actively sought to destroy the fabric of democracy in the United States. Today, utterances of "Allah" and other Islamic terminology are deemed "suspect" by federal surveillance agencies who then code Muslim bodies as "terrorist." Thus, within the institutionalized archives of American history, there is the recurring scandal of criminalizing Islamic worship practices juxtaposed with the excess of Anglo-Christian domination. In this paper, I argue that these criminalized sounds did not disappear from the "American soundscape" but rather were archived as key popular music idioms.  For example, the criminalized utterance of "Allah" is preserved as the microtonal musicality of the field holler or blues "bent note," which mirror the athan (Islamic call to prayer) and Qur'anic recitation. Therefore, within the silences of institutionalized archives, popular music serves as the device to (re)hear the "scandal" of Muslim bodies over the "excess" of Anglo-Christian sonic assimilation. Drawing from ethnographic and archival research in Chicago, I trace how the musical utterances of American Muslims narrate the histories erased from institutional archival holdings. This historical (re)hearing spans from those enslaved in West African chattel slavery to multi-racial, multi-sect partnerships among Muslims on the South Side of Chicago to current archives of surveillance through programs such as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Within this project, I assert the necessity for musicologists to move beyond the written histories preserved in institutionalized archives and recognize American popular musics as a public archive of Islamic American oral histories.

Presenters
AA
Aliah Ajamoughli
Indiana University
Experimenting with Exoticism: Ocora Records and the Postcolonial Avant-Garde
Individual Paper 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 20:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 20:50:00 UTC

As Independence movements swept across the African continent during the mid-twentieth century, newly established national radio networks amplified their message. While these stations were formally autonomous, the French radio attempted to maintain ownership over its counterparts in former colonies by archiving African recordings. The French government later released these recordings as Ocora Records, one of the first commercial world music labels. In their original context, these broadcasts were influential on local African musical practices. As Ocora LPs, this influence extended all over the globe. These recordings' origins as radio broadcasts were often obscured, and liner notes rarely included the names of performers and technicians. Ocora sold hundreds of thousands of records featuring music from over 50 countries throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 


This paper traces how these African recordings shaped the development of mid-century experimental music in Europe and North America. While appropriation and exoticization of African music by western musicians has been a pervasive problem for centuries, Ocora's African discography, disseminated during the so-called "golden age" of the LP, is significant because of its unprecedented global reach. These recordings inspired avant-garde composers, including György Ligeti and Pierre Boulez. Some composers, like Pierre Schaeffer and Jean-Louis Florentz, even produced Ocora records. In popular music, Ocora sparked the "Burundi Beat" fad that generated the "world beat" and New Wave genres. Following this music's geographic and cultural circulation and mediation across multiple formats-radio broadcast, LP, musical quotation, and sample-allows us to disentangle the genre transformations that occur as a result of this process. I argue that the influence of these recordings reflects a newer, postcolonial form of exoticism and appropriation through which European and North American musicians and audiences tried to distance themselves from their colonial past by embracing African culture, while ultimately continuing to extract and consume musical material from former colonies. Ultimately, like most nonwestern music co-opted by western audiences, the adept integration of African music into mid-century European experimentalism reveals more about the entrainment of a colonial habitus within the "postcolonial" global north than it does about African musical life.


Presenters
SB
Sophie Brady
Princeton University
IN MANDELA’S SHADOW: APARTHEID PIANO PRODIGIES OF COLOR HIDDEN FROM NATIONAL EXPOSURE
Individual Paper 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 20:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 20:50:00 UTC

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) and Milton Oersen (1918-2016) were almost exact contemporaries. Unlike Mandela, Oersen was never imprisoned for his political principles. Oersen practiced the piano obsessively for an audience of one: British music examiners who traveled all over the world to examine graded and professional music exam recitals.

Black piano prodigies living in exile during apartheid enjoyed political freedom, advancing their career opportunities outside South Africa.  By contrast, Black piano prodigies like Milton Oersen, and others, were prohibited from access to competitions, radio and tv exposure, and national public concert appearances or tours.  In a free country, these opportunities validate and sustain a public concert career.  

Instead, the isolation and the lack of national exposure caused Black piano prodigies to be "hidden musicians" in apartheid South Africa.  Ruth Finnegan's pathbreaking study on hidden musicians, provide the theoretical ground for me to re-interpret her theory of amateur music practice.  My re-interpretation of Finnegan's theory maintains that varied musical expressions contrast yet overlap in an African national colonial and globalized context. I argue that ironically, Black piano prodigies in South Africa used their training in classical music to validate accomplishment and aim at "social uplift" in a land of 146 dehumanizing neo-Nazi-inspired laws.

These societally-hidden Black piano prodigies suffered the lack of national and international career opportunities, while their white compatriots--including a winner of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition--enjoyed unlimited professional advancement.

Black South African exiles like Abdullah Ibrahim, Trevor Jones [co-soundtrack composer of The Last Mohicans (1992) and film composer of Excalibur (1981)], and Gordon Jephtas [New York-based répétiteur to Pavarotti, Sutherland, Tebaldi, Caballé, etc.] proved that their potential as Black piano prodigies outside apartheid South Africa could be fulfilled.  

By contrast, the hidden Black piano prodigies who remained inside apartheid South Africa joined the amateur musicians of sacred, popular, and concert music, contributing to the practice of music-making, answering what it means to live in hidden segregated urban and rural spaces, and ultimately to help us understand what it means to be human, as Finnegan's initial work laid bare.

Presenters
JB
Johann Buis
Wheaton College, Illinois
Wheaton College, Illinois
Indiana University
Princeton University
University of California, Berkeley
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