January 14th, 2009

Traditionally Modern

Since Canyon is bugging me to follow thru on my promises to make pdfs the new mp3s, and b/c Chief Boima put up a provocative post that inspired me to upload a couple of my favorite ethnomusicological articles about African music, I figured I should share them here too.

Here’s what I wrote on Boima’s site:

Great post, Boima! You raise a lot of points that ethnomusicologists were discussing in the 80s and 90s — often times around the marketing of “world music” and the constraints created by discourses of authenticity. For some listeners, the real Africa could never be represented by guitars and synths — just “tribal” drums, right? I’m definitely heartened by the kind of approaches that resist and push against false dichotomies between the traditional and the modern. Which reminds me of one of my fave ethno articles from the 90s (1990 to be exact) —

Christopher Waterman, ‘ “Our Tradition Is a Very Modern Tradition”: Pan-Yoruba Music and the Construction of Pan-Yoruba Identity’

While I’m uploading ethno pdfs (= the new mp3s!), I may as well add another interesting, relevant article, Tom Turino’s account of how mbira ironically came to be ascendent in / representative of Zimbabwe:

Tom Turino, “Mbira, Worldbeat, and the International Imagination”

I mean, if you’re gonna invoke academic discourse about African music, I gotta represent for my field, knamean.

That’s me, a card-carrying ethnoid — at least until I’m not.


  • 1. zunguzungu  |  January 14th, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks for those links. This fight rages in other cultural fields too, of course. When people argue what “the African novel” is supposed to be, you run into the same sort of problem of trying to decided whether a particular form (the “long prose fictional narratives”) is somehow “European” and therefore un-African because that form first emerges in Europe. It’s rarely a productive line of inquiry when people accept those as the terms for discussion.

    Good luck with continuing to carry your card; bad times all around…

  • 2. Raquel Z.  |  January 14th, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    I love this PDFs as the new mp3s!

    The discussion in Boima’s post (and comments) is great. Lots of food for thought for me.

    Have you seen Timothy Brennan’s Secular Devotion: Afro-Latin Music and Imperial Jazz? It came out 2008. The first chapter is called “World Music Does Not Exist”. I’m slowly making my way through it. I still haven’t made up my mind how I feel about his arguments, though.

  • 3. wayneandwax  |  January 14th, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Hah — funny you should mention that article, Raquel. I upped it to my pdf folder a while back in order to bring it into a discussion over at MuddUp.

    I agree with a lot of what Brennan charges in that piece. I think he loses focus in a weird way when he gets into the whole East-West rap beef thing. And I haven’t read the new book in which it (re)appears, so I can’t speak to the Afro-Latin/roots context. But I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the reference.

    Perhaps we’ll see some hot pdfs over at reggaetonica before too long? Still waiting on that Beth-Sarah Wright piece. No doubt many of my & your readers would be into “Speaking the Unspeakable: Politics of the Vagina in Dancehall Docu-videos.” Get ur scan on —

  • 4. Canyon Cody  |  January 15th, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    PDFs are great for airplanes!

    But the Brennan thing kinda bothered me. I like some of his ideas (and I did learn the word “Samizdat”), but something makes me uncomfortable when I read about hip-hop written by from passer-byers. To use his own words against him, his essay is a “remarkable illustration of the miserably ill-informed writing of other wise intelligent American men and women on the subjects and styles of rap.” That sentence there, he footnotes (#6) with the concession that sometimes rappers are also real-life gangsters, which he demonstrates with the example of (!) Sean Combs. For real? And I know we’re gettin into pedantic semantics, but really, would you ever spell it KRS1?

    Brennan: “The feud between East and West Coast … is a fight over who is being true to the South Bronx and who is putting on a show for the Man” Really? The way I remember it, someone got shot 5 times in an elevator and then released a song bragging “Thats why i fcked your btch you fat-motherfkcer”. That was the beef. And I don’t remember Biggie ever givin props to the Bronx — get your boroughs right.


  • 5. sharon k  |  January 19th, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks for posting these articles, Wayne. They are important reading when thinking about “authenticity,” and “tradition”. Whenever these issues pop up, they raise my heart rate and make me so totally antsy. In most cases, it seems to me that the question of authenticity is a futile one to ask. From where I stand, and it seems like Boima and I are aligned here, authenticity is a constructed category that, in the case of the West African musical and dance forms with which I am most familiar, is not all that meaningful. West African drummers and dancers may correct your movement or where you place the downbeat in a rhythmic pattern, but they will never call one iteration of a rhythm, movement, dance more or less authentic than any other. I suspect that this issue of ‘authenticity’ and ‘tradition’ stems from Western colonial obsessions with placing the exotic Other on display. The only way that display could be of any interest was if it was in some way proven to be ‘authentic,’ ‘traditional,’ ‘authentically traditional’. In any case, I think that it is about time to move on from concerns with these categories to consider the categories (what some may call the “stylistic metalogics”) that the players of certain musical or dance forms themselves use.

  • 6. wayneandwax.com » T&hellip  |  January 22nd, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    […] agree with Sharon and Boima, searching for authenticity is a good way to miss the forest for the trees. In other […]

  • 7. wayneandwax.com » M&hellip  |  January 24th, 2009 at 11:02 am

    […] the conversation continues about trad v modern in African music, and since we read something germane about it for class yesterday, and since […]

  • 8. going glocal: a transloca&hellip  |  March 7th, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    […] Marshall, W (2009, January 14). Traditionally Modern [Web Log Comment by author].  Retrieved from http://wayneandwax.com/?p=1184 […]

  • 9. wayneandwax.com » V&hellip  |  January 27th, 2012 at 12:28 am

    […] noting that it sounds a lot “like reggae” — not to mention, of course (as also shared 3 years back), Christopher Waterman’s classic article about jùjú, “Our Tradition Is a Very Modern […]

  • 10. Very African and Very Mod&hellip  |  February 1st, 2012 at 10:21 am

    […] despite also noting that it sounds a lot “like reggae” — not to mention, of course (as also shared 3 years back), Christopher Waterman’s classic article about jùjú, “Our Tradition Is a Very Modern […]


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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