Knowing the world through music in southern Africa

Barbara Titus (speaker), Universiteit van Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
Shishani Vranckx (speaker), vocalist/songwriter, Namibian Tales (The Netherlands)
Bart Fermie (speaker), percussion, Conservatorium van Amsterdam; Codarts University of the Arts

Session introduction
There are many ways to engage with music as an activity – ways that Christopher Small collectively indicated with the gerund verb ‘musicking’ (Small 1998, 9). This umbrella term enabled him to conceptualize the relationships between playing, singing, listening, organizing, researching, producing, broadcasting, criticizing or dancing, to mention but a few musicking acts. When music researchers say they engage in musical participant-observation, they almost invariably mean singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument, i.e. those musicking acts they do not regard as their academic core business. Whereas, in the wake of Small’s musicking concept, the critique, dissection, analysis, history and aesthetic interpretation of music, among others, have long been acknowledged as performative, embodied and culturally situated (Butler 1988, Taruskin 1995, Turino 2008, Cook 2013), the implications of this acknowledgement for the constitution of subject positions and agencies in music research and musical performance have remained largely unaccounted for, with gaps between various performative trades, communities, epistemic traditions and regimes that prove to be difficult to bridge.

This session engages with these gaps through the presentation of a number of musico-cultural encounters that thrive on the ways in which musical individuals from various communities appropriate, re-spell, and re-ground the ideas, skills, thoughts and practices they encounter through various acts of musicking. Subject positions, such as being a musician or a researcher, or being privileged or marginalized, crystallize through various modes of knowledge inscription (sonic, verbal, visual, gestural) on various bodies of knowledge (human bodies, instruments, social bodies, repertoires). The session deliberately focuses on a part of the world in which such crystallizations have acquired extremely violent dimensions in colonial, apartheid and global industrial times, namely Namibia and South Africa, but the tensions and disjunctions as well as the moments of community and togetherness that emerge from these encounters are by no means unique to these countries. They invite us to ask questions about the roles of music researchers and music performers, about modes of (symbolical or indexical) signification, about modes of (musical, verbal, visual) textualization, and about ways in which we ground, position and orientate ourselves through acts of musicking.