Listening for Africa: Freedom, Modernity, and the Logic of Black Music's African Origins.
In its scope, theory, method, and conclusions, David F. Garcia's Listening for Africa contributes significantly to contemporary academic discussions of music and race across a number of related disciplines and fields of study. Based on extensive historical research, it presents a critique of modernity and its construction and reification of race that considers both the limits and emancipatory possibilities of the logic of African origins. Garcia's study situates the tendency on the part of academics, intellectuals, performers, and audiences to hear and justify the African origins of black music since the 1930s within a broader social and historical context. In examining archival documents (newspaper articles, lectures, field notes, films, recordings, concert reviews, correspondence, etc.) relative to an impressive array of interdisciplinary theories of identity, he outlines the origins, implications, and limits of "listening for Africa" in black music, revealing how individual desires and motivations behind this logic implicate modernity.
Listening for Africa is well organized and consists of a preface, introduction, five chapters, conclusion, extensive endnotes, and a bibliography. The preface and introduction contextualize Garcia's approach, while the conclusion presents his overall argument regarding the relative agency of black music in contesting and escaping the limits of modernity's insistence on African origins. Chapters 1-3 consider how the practices of analyzing, listening to, and embodying black music implicate the alienating and racializing moves, both spatial and temporal, that are implied in the theory of African origins. Chapter 4, in contrast, examines instances of defiance to this logic in the work of dancer and scholar Katherine Dunham, jazz musician Duke Ellington, and filmmaker Harry Smith. Chapter 5 brings the perspectives of the previous chapters to bear on an analysis of the mambo and its reception in the United States, Cuba, Peru, and Mexico during the 1950s.
Garcia's treatment of the subject is thoughtful and thorough. Though lengthy, the respective chapters (approximately fifty pages each) explore, through archival documents and correspondence, the motivations and desires of scholars and musicians involved in the construction and maintenance of views on the African genesis of black music. Chapter 1, for example, analyzes letters, lectures, and papers relative to the broader social and political context of the time to illustrate how the research activities and perspectives of Melville J. Herskovits and his contemporaries during the late 1920s and 1930s reflect both a desire to counter racism and an instance of its reification. Herskovits's project and his urgent attempts to bring fellow comparative musicologist Mieczlaw Kolinski to the United States were, in part, motivated by the need for scientific support to combat racism in the face of Jim Crow in the US and the rise of the Third Reich in Europe. In chapter two, Garcia uses field notes, newspaper articles, lectures, concert and album reviews, and album-cover art to show how the desire on the part of scholars, concertgoers, and consumers to hear African elements in black music was linked to modern sensibilities. Chapter 3, in contrast, draws on these types of resources as well as on society reports to contextualize the work of such US immigrant African musicians, performers, and activists as Modupe Paris and Asadata Dafora. In so doing, Garcia shows how their respective engagement with modernity and the notion of African origins, while not without its contradictions, was likewise linked to personal as well as transnational desires and ideological attempts to defy the racializing effects. Chapters 4 and 5 likewise analyze historical and archival documents as well as recordings and film to demonstrate the boundaries of modernity and the limits and emancipatory possibilities of the logic. By focusing on an array of performers (such as Dunham, Ellington, and Perez Prado) and expressive mediums (dance, jazz, and film), Garcia shows how the views on African roots likewise provided spaces and opportunities for black defiance of their alienating effects. In contrast, chapter 5 explores transnational discourses surrounding mambo's reception and situates them relative to the broader historical context of the burgeoning cold war.
Already recognized by the Society for Ethnomusicology and the British Forum for Ethnomusicology for its contributions to the field, Listening for Africa is certain to be of interest to scholars and students in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, history, sociology, anthropology, black and Africana studies, Latin American studies, and other related areas. Garcia's interdisciplinary and transnational approach, deep analysis, and thoughtful treatment of the subject provide them with a model for future research and writing. His insights and conclusions, which are quite timely and relevant, are certain to make Listening for Africa a standard text for future black-music scholars and teachers wanting to update and inform their own research. The endnotes and bibliography themselves will be of interest to scholars and graduate and advanced undergraduate students pursuing research in this area.
Although the book is a must-read for scholars, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates, the level of Garcia's analysis and writing may make it less accessible to undergraduates unacquainted with the theoretical literature upon which Garcia builds his major arguments. This is not to judge the appropriateness of Listening for Africa for libraries of teaching institutions, however. Indeed, if anything, the impressive breadth of disciplinary perspectives upon which he draws speaks to the complexity of the subject matter (i.e., race and modernity) as well as to the research and writing conventions and standards already established in the literature treating this topic. Educators in particular will find Listening for Africa an invaluable resource in helping shape curricular perspectives. Indeed, given the growing demand across departments in higher education for curriculum diversification, Garcia's book will be a welcome addition to libraries at institutions hoping to expand existing course offerings and programs of study. As such, the timely nature of Listening for Africa all but guarantees its relevance and significance for scholars and students across the spectrum of higher education.
Listening for Africa is a remarkable study of great interest and a good teaching resource for those desiring to stay current on the latest research and theory on the music of the African diaspora. Novel in its approach and insightful in its arguments, this book is certain to become a model for similar future studies of music and race. Whether for research or teaching purposes, Listening for Africa will be well received and much consulted by scholars and students alike in the years to come.
Francisco D. Lara
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|Author:||Lara, Francisco D.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2019|
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