Folded modes of musical knowing:
Performing research in post-apartheid South Africa
In this paper I report on my participant-observation in acts of maskanda musicking in South Africa between 2008 and 2015. Maskanda emerged in the early twentieth century from an experience of forced labour migration in a colonial economy. Currently, this experience remains an important trope in the ways maskanda is judged, performed, recorded, and disseminated through live performances, broadcasts and youtube channels. Maskanda musickers actively ‘re-spell’ existing gourd bow techniques, Nguni song, jazz, R&B, and hip-hop idioms as maskanda. In this way, they not only participate in a global flow of musical style exchange after the cultural boycott during the apartheid years, they also ‘re-ground’ this flow as ‘African’ and hence normative in the world. The status of maskanda musicians as (hi)story tellers, spokespersons for the community, and bearers of custom accounts for their cultural authority that is comparable to the status of academics in many urbanized metropoles within and outside South Africa. By reporting on how I, as an academic outsider from Europe, came to know maskanda and how I came to know the world through maskanda, I present my historiographical, music analytical and interpretative knowledge of maskanda as a range of performative acts that ‘re-spell’ the music in similar ways as maskanda musicians ‘re-spell’ the musical idioms they encounter. In this way I foreground how modes of knowing are folded into each other, and I downplay the a priori difference that is often assumed between academic and musical knowledge formation.