Session 14 – Sound(s)

Saturday 3 September – 14.30-15.45 (Sweelinck)
Chair: Barbara Bleij

Carol Muller – The Sounds of a New Nation?: South African Jazz in Exile

The 1960s is widely recognized as a time of increasing repression in South Africa; it was the decade in which many musicians left the country for Europe and the United States in hopes of finding a more welcoming environment for their music. In contrast, the 1960s elsewhere in the world was a period of rebellion, political turbulence, of the assassinations of key figures like Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the push for freedoms of all kinds, and of a growing sense of political and cultural internationalism. In this paper I discuss the music of two South African jazz ensembles moving around Europe and the US in this period: Dollar Brand, his partner singer Sathima Bea Benjamin and the Dollar Brand Trio on one hand, and Chris McGregor’s Blue Notes and the subsequent Brotherhood of Breath on the other hand. Though neither ensemble was affiliated with any of the liberation movements banned by the apartheid regime, I reflect on their music, and discourse on music-making in this period to interrogate how ideas about a tentatively imagined new South African-ness was articulated in the language of international jazz. I suggest that jazz works as a kind of participatory democracy in which spontaneity is a core musical strategy with political overtone.

Vincent Cotro – Questioning French Jazz Sounds

The history of Jazz in France appears to be particularly rich, be it through the continuous reception of American musicians in this country, or through the genealogy of French jazz musicians that has developed there until today. Equally fruitful is to be considered the large impact of jazz on music and arts in France since the 1920s. For all that, does a French jazz exist? Did the particular (and somewhat advanced) position of France facing American jazz encourage, or delay the emergence of aesthetical
specificities in the playing and/or composing of French jazzmen? On the basis of critical writings (Ekkehard Jost, E. Taylor Atkins) discussing the need for linking closely the universal and the local cultural and musical characteristics of jazz, the paper will examine some new avenues in order to connect the Hot Club de France jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli to its most contemporary developments (Louis Sclavis, Marc Ducret).

Jonathan Eato – Has Anyone Heard Yakhal’ Inkomo? Listening to the voices of South Africa’s Jazz Community

Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s ‘Yakhal’ Inkomo’ (‘The Bellowing Bull’) has become an iconic South African jazz standard, its commercial success making the question ‘Has anyone heard the bellowing bull?’ seem redundant. But we know that for South Africans exactly what, and how, they heard is contingent on who they were (Nkwe, 1968; Ngozi, 2003 in Ansell; Mothle, 2010).

Such combined narratives are historically interesting and appear to include the subaltern’s voice, (Spivak, 1988) but in seeking a postcolonial perspective can we claim these as an expression of Bhabha’s ‘right to narrate’? Bhabha advocates ‘a right of intervention in the telling of histories’ but one that is ‘interdisciplinary, in a basic sense’ (Huddard, 2006). For Bhabha ‘the right to narrate might inhabit a hesitant brush stroke, be glimpsed in a gesture that fixes a dance movement, become visible in a camera angle that stops your heart’ (2003) … and for music it may reside in the ‘tremendous articulateness [that] is syncopated with the African drumbeat’ (West in Bhabha, 1994).

Perhaps, therefore, we should look to Ngozi’s saxophonic intervention, yakhal’ inkomo as rendered in performance. If, as Kofi Agawu insists, ‘African popular music is finally music, not social text or history’ we must therefore ‘give due attention to the musical elements’ (Agawu, 2003). Additionally Agawu requires that we interrogate ‘our love for certain ways of theorizing’ and develop a critical framework that takes cognisance of musicians’ conceptions in order not to impose ‘inappropriate ontological schemes’. So where exactly do we look for these musical interventions? Are the musical sites theorized by contemporary North American analytic methods relevant?

This paper will attempt to answer these questions by drawing on the thinking of a number of South African jazz musicians, both in interviews with the author and as relayed in various secondary sources.

View the full conference schedule.

No responses yet

Leave a Reply