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Performing Africa

Performing Africa

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Performing Africa
    Book Description:

    Thejali--a member of a hereditary group of Mandinka professional performers--is a charismatic but contradictory figure. He is at once the repository of his people's history, the voice of contemporary political authority, the inspiration for African American dreams of an African homeland, and the chief entertainment for the burgeoning transnational tourist industry. Numerous journalists, scholars, politicians, and culture aficionados have tried to pin him down. This book shows how the jali's talents at performance make him a genius at representation--the ideal figure to tell us about the "Africa" that the world imagines, which is always a thing of illusion, magic, and contradiction.

    Africa often enters the global imagination through news accounts of ethnic war, famine, and despotic political regimes. Those interested in countering such dystopic images--be they cultural nationalists in the African diaspora or connoisseurs of "global culture"--often found their representations of an emancipatory Africa on an enthusiasm for West African popular culture and performance arts. Based on extensive field research in The Gambia and focusing on the figure of the jali, Performing Africa interrogates these representations together with their cultural and political implications. It explores how Africa is produced, circulated, and consumed through performance and how encounters through performance create the place of Africa in the world. Innovative and discerning, Performing Africa is a provocative contribution to debates over cultural nationalism and the construction of identity and history in Africa and elsewhere.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2521-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. OVERTURE Where and When I Enter
    (pp. vii-xx)
  4. INTRODUCTION Performing Africa
    (pp. 1-28)

    Performance!—a ubiquitous term that currently is mapped onto disparate social worlds as if it were transcendent, its meaning immediately apparent. Yet the social life of performance as a concept is worth unraveling to track its significance in creating distinctive regions and different subjects. There is no better place to explore the contours of performance as an idea and as practice than in the context ofAfrica, which has been made into an object through a number of performative tropes. This work examines the ways performance becomes a frame ofenactment, creating moments of “Africa” not justinAfrica but,...

  5. PART ONE Representations / Performances
    (pp. 29-32)

    Cultural theorist Homi Bhabha has suggested that there is something in the nature of stereotypes that makes them easy to utter repetitively (1983). For Bhabha, this repetition can be attributed to the role of stereotypes in the making of the psyche. Yet it is also possible that speakers are caught up in repetitive modes, that is, narrative conventions that encourage them to repeat stereotypes, which allow them to remain in the conversation. Conversations, then, as well as psyches, are constituted in repetitions of their foundational frameworks. These ideas provide a context in which to discuss my interpretative lens for understanding...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Music: Europe and Africa
    (pp. 33-52)

    Upon mere mention of the phrase “African music,” a list of features readily comes to the fore. A sampling of comments: “African music is all drumming”; “It’s rhythm”; “It is the heartbeat that just makes you want to get up”; “It is noise and not music”; “African music is so primal.” This brief list of common refrains in no way gives one a sense that informants agree about the value of African music. Yet attentiveness to the ideas behind some of these statements helps illuminate the sedimented logics that hold in place Europe and one of its Others, Africa. Ideas...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Performances
    (pp. 53-72)

    One evening at Jacob’s Pillow, an exclusive dance theatre in the Berkshires hills of western Massachusetts, a musical concert offered an interlude in the summer’s regular lineup of performances. On stage, in a space normally reserved for the dance, renowned musician Jali Foday Musa Suso appeared along with a North American flutist. Together they offered a concert of Mandinka music. The assembled audience that evening had little familiarity with the type of music performed, but they sat and listened attentively. Perhaps a few had heard of Suso because of his musical collaborations with contemporary musicians/composers Phillip Glass and Herbie Hancock....

  8. PART TWO Professional Dreams
    (pp. 73-80)

    History projects attempt to make a past that answers the challenge of nation-building and political identity. Yet the elements required to generate a sense of national identity and political culture are not clear. The chapters in this part discuss the negotiation of Gambian political culture in the postcolonial era up to the early 1990s, before the shift in political leadership in 1994. I examine the divergent political and cultural projects of those who imagine themselves as its makers: professional historians, government bureaucrats, national elites, and jali. I discuss the social context and cultural frameworks in which these official forays have...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Curators of Tradition
    (pp. 81-113)

    On February 18, 1965, amid the cautions of many anxious observers, The Gambia raised its flag as an independent nation. The tiny country in transition, so obviously a colonial port of call, with its thin strip of riverside territory, could not present the mass of a former empire or the solidity of an ethnic homeland. Some, no doubt, felt that the country would fold into the encompassing nation of Senegal. A place so small and with so few resources, they reasoned, would by necessity require the protection of a more substantial nation-state. As people wondered about the feasibility of this...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Personalistic Economy
    (pp. 114-133)

    Early in the morning on any given weekday in the capital city of Banjul, people made their way to offices and to the markets. The slow opening to the day had taxi vans and buses making their way through the main street bringing people from the surrounding areas to work. Some of the men, civil servants, were dressed in dark Western-style suits and others in gray nationalist “African” suits and plain cotton shirts and trousers. Scattered among the civil servants in their modern attire were jali, many of whom appeared distinctive because they were wearing brightly colored, elaborately embroidered robes....

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Interview Encounters: The Performance of Profession
    (pp. 134-162)

    Jali musaloo Sakiliba must have spotted us at a distance for we could hear someone singing praises, seemingly in our direction.¹ Preoccupied with thoughts about how this interview might go, and the fatigue of our long trip, I did not see her. We had started early in the morning from Serrekunda, and now in the heat of the day, shaking loose the tight feeling after a three-hour busride upcountry, a transfer by ferry, and finally a truck ride, we were tired; and yet the day had really only just begun. We had met Jali Sakiliba several months before at the...

  12. PART THREE Culture as Commodity
    (pp. 163-166)

    Many contemporary social analysts have suggested that the distinctive feature of late capitalism is consumption. These analysts have traced how consumerism surrounds us, marketing our identities, lifestyles, and sense of belonging through consumption. One key feature of this globalized consumption is tourism: tourists, particularly from the global North, want to travel everywhere to consume the heterogeneity and richness of culture. In The Gambia, tourism is important; it shapes local articulations of culture both within and beyond the practices of jali.

    This third part consists of two chapters that revisit the salient themes of the book: the circulation of Africa through...

  13. CHAPTER SIX Travel Stories
    (pp. 167-188)

    In July of 1994, the thirty-year reign of Sir Dawada Jawara came to an end as a new political regime rose to power: the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC). During this transition, installed as president was Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, elected through a peaceful, although not invited, shift in power. The former president, Jawara, had been elected head of state since the end of colonial rule, but the democratic elections that periodically marked the postcolonial political era did not create a shift in political leadership. Many felt it was time for a change.

    One of the first agenda items that...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN Tourists as Pilgrims
    (pp. 189-212)

    Africa captures the imagination and travel itineraries of a range of consumers, among which are African American tourists. Several West African countries have attempted to develop an aspect of their tourist ventures by making explicit the connection between African Americans and Africa. Some of these ties are facilitated with the help of multinational sponsorship that rarely leads to sustained interest on the part of the company in participating in the dreams of African national projects. This final chapter describes and analyzes a corporate-sponsored homeland tour for the purposes of exploring both the context and the specificity of contemporary transatlantic imaginings...

  15. CODA
    (pp. 213-216)

    September 26, 2000. Protestors stage another action aimed against the agenda of globalization as promoted through the policies of wealthy Northern countries and corporations. The scene: the World Economic summit held in Prague, Czechoslovakia. With their persistent outcries and violent confrontations, demonstrators capture the attention of the powerful leaders and global financiers and the world spectatorship. They express their outrage. Among the protestors, Bono, the lead singer of the prominent Irish rock band U2, manages to gain the ear of The World Bank’s president, James Wolfensohn. He requests a meeting with Wolfensohn for the purpose of stressing the urgent need...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 217-224)
    (pp. 225-236)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 237-244)