Forging Decolonial Praxis in Contemporary South Africa
Brett Pyper (University of the Witwatersrand)
Mfanufikile Aubrey Motau (Cosmopolitan Collective Secretary & Mamelodi Arts & Culture Forum Chairperson)
Jennifer Mahlangu (Cosmopolitan Collective working group member, jazz appreciator and dancer)
Prince Lengoasa (professional musician, composer and graduate student in the Wits School of Arts)
Pat Ranoto (professional musician and promoter and Cosmopolitan Collective working group member)
Christine Msibi (professional music promoter and graduate student in the Wits School of Arts)
Oladele Ayorinde (Wits postdoctoral fellow and Convener of the Wits Festival Study Group)
Speakers in the video
Kgomotso Moshugi, Wits PhD candidate, vocal arranger & co-musical director
Jennifer Mahlangu, jazz appreciator and dancer
Phillip Ngobeni, composer and musician
Bizza Buthelezi, Cosmopolitan Collective Chairperson
Julian Ngwenya, jazz collector, appreciator and dancer
Mfanufikile Motau, poet, musician & Mamelodi Arts & Culture Forum Chairperson
Pat Ranoto, musician and producer
Thabo Rapoo, choreographer, dancer, musician and co-researcher
Willie Lubise, digger (dancer)
Video footage and production
by Manyatsa Monyamane and Themba Vilakazi with still photography by Themba Vilakazi
The Cosmopolitan Collective gratefully acknowledges the use of the following musical excerpts in the video:
Live performance by Salim Washington, inter alia
Vocals by Denay Willie
Thabo Rapoo with Medumo Art Ensemble
Diga dances by Willie Lubise and Prince Lengoasa
From Cosmopolitanism to Cosmology
Forging Decolonial Praxis in Contemporary South Africa
Our contribution to the ICTM Dialogues emerges from what was originally conceived as an artist residency inspired by Steven Feld’s monograph Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra (2012) and the accompanying music recordings and films. The proposed residency, which was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, was to be supported by our university’s Arts Research Africa (ARA) project. Musicians who feature centrally in Feld’s study were invited to Johannesburg to engage in a pan-African conversation and collaboration about comparative forms of jazz cosmopolitanism in various African cities and regions. The decolonial intention was to enable the subjects of contemporary Africanist research in West and South Africa to engage in direct, pan-African dialogue with peer musicians and cultural activists without relying on the mediation of cultural scholars. This intention was heightened by several other elements of the project. An ensemble comprising both music faculty and students was formed to study the Accra recordings and respond musically from an embodied research perspective, centring musical as opposed to textual modes of research. This yielded an inspiring concert at our university theatre in October 2020 titled “Cosmology.” Furthermore, the Wits Festival Study Group (a student-led initiative premised on the study of African musicology and festival theories and practices) engaged forms of jazz cosmopolitanism in the content of the residency performances as well as in their presentational form, as an action research project. Reaching beyond the academic space, an extensive social partnership with community-based jazz appreciators and cultural organisers came to be called the Cosmopolitan Collective. It brought vernacular curatorial practices and aesthetics to the project in ways that challenged the scholars, festival organisers and the musicians. Our ICTM Dialogues session took place from the home of the chairperson of our community-based jazz collective rather than from our university, underscoring the importance of self-representation and epistemic agency as decolonial values. Although our intention of hosting the jazz experimentalists from Accra remains unrealized, our intended intra-continental, pan-diasporic, intergenerational dialogue yielded unforeseen levels of local collaboration under pandemic conditions that led to the formation of the new collective that is advancing decolonial research, teaching and community-based musical events on an ongoing basis.
The Arts Research Africa (ARA) project in the Wits School of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand has been exploring how artistic research can decolonize knowledge and practice in a highly charged national context. Since 2015, South African universities have again become sites of intensified decolonial activism, scholarship, and attempts to forge transformative praxis, more than a quarter-century after the formal end of apartheid. Challenging not only the enduring legacies of colonialism but also the unfulfilled promises of the post-apartheid era, protests sparked by the under-provision of funding have encompassed wider struggles for social justice by opposing exploitative labour practices and confronting colonial, and to an extent patriarchal and heteronormative, academic institutional cultures. The ARA initiative (documented inter alia in open-source conference proceedings ) continues to engage issues around decolonization in African arts, including music study.
Ukusukela emasikweni nasezizweni ezahlukahlukene, ukuya endalweni, ukwakha inkambiso yokuqeda ukuthunjwa eNingizimu Afrika yezikhathi zamanje
[With thanks to Mfanufikile Motau for this translation into isiZulu]
Ukulahlela kwethu itshe esivivaneni senkulumo mpendulwano yeICTM uqobo lwayo kusukela emkhakheni wezokuvakashelana ngobuciko, ngogqozi lomculu kaSteven Feld, Ingqubevange ye Jazz eAccra (Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra) nokufaka ngaphakathi umculo onyathelisiwe nemidlalo yezithombe. Isicelo saloluhlelo lezokuvakasha, elakhinyabezwa yinhlekelele ye COVID-19, lalufanele lixhaswe yiNyuvesi yethu ngaphansi kohlelo lweArts Research Africa Project (Ichazwe ngenhla). Osomculo abawela ngaphansi kwemfundo kaFeld kade bemenywe eGoli/Johannesburg ukubandakanya enkulumeni nasebudlelwaneni bobuAfrika, Pan-African conversation and collaboration pheqelezi, mayelana nezilinganiso noma ukufanisa izinhlobo zomculo weJazz emadolobheni aseAfrika namaphethelo ayo. Inhloso yokuhlakazwa kokuthunjwa bekuwukwenza ukuthi izifundo ezimayelana nokufunisisa kweAfrika yezikhathi zamanje, pheqelezi Contemporary Africanist research, eNtshona naseNingizimu Afrika, kube khona ukubandakanya ngqo, inkulumo mpendulwano ngobuAfrika nontanga kwezomculo nezobushoshovu kwezamasiko, ngaphandle kokuthembela koqhwepheshe noma izifundiswa zezamasiko. Lenhloso yaqiniswa amagaja athize walomsebenzi. Iqembu elaliqukethe izinyuvesi zombili nabafundi bazo yabunjwa ukuze kufundwe ukunyathelisa eAccra bese kuphendulwa ngokomculo futhi okusukela ekubukeni komzimba wokufunisisa, kugxilwe emculweni kungahambelani nokufunisisa ngokwezincwadi. Lokhu kusilethele umdlalo womculo onogqozi eshashalazini lenyuvesi yethu ngoMfumfu 2020, isihloko “Cosmology”, pheqelezi. Nangalokho, iqembu lemfundo lomgidi womculo waseWits, umkhakha oholwa ngabafundi ngaphansi kwesifundo seAfrican Musicology and Festival Theories and Practices ngamafuphi. Babandakanye izinhlobo zengxubevange zomculo weJazz, hhayi emkhakheni wezokuvakasha nokudlala umculo, kodwa ekuzindlaleni kwazo, njengomsebenzi wokufunisisa. Nangaphezukomkhathi wezifundo eziphakemeyo, ubudlelwano obunabile namaqembu omphakathi wabalandeli nabancomi beJazz, nezinhlangono zobuciko namasiko ezibizwa Cosmopolitan Collective ngamafuphi, ilethe ubumkhaya nezifundo zobuciko kulomsebenzi ngezindlela eziqhudela nokwahlulela izifundiswa, abahleli bomkhosi womculo kanye nabosomculo. Inkulumo mpendulwano yethu yeICTM yenzeke ekhaya lomgcini sihlalo wenhlangano yethu yomphakathi yejazz kunokuthi yenzeke eNyuvesi yethu, kwaveza ubumcoka bokuzimela nobumcoka bokuhlakazwa bokuthunjwa, Nanoma inhloso yethu yokwamukela abadlali beJazz abavela eAccra kungafezekanga, inhloso yethu yenkulumo mpendulwano yezwekazi laseAfrika isilethele amazinga angakabonwa wokusebenzisana kwabomkhaya ngaphansi kwenhlekelele yeCOVID, ebangele ukuhlonywa kokusebenzisana mayelana nokuqhubekisa nokufunisisa kokuhlakazwa kokuthunjwa, isize nangokufundisa, nangokwenza kube khona imigidi yomculo emiphakathini njalo nje.
Umsebenzi weArts Research Africa (ARA) eWits School of Arts eNyuvesi yaseWitwatersrand beyisebenzana nokubheka ukuthi ukufunisisa kwezobuciko kungaluhlakaza kanjani ulwazi nenkambiso yokuthunjwa ezingeni eliphezulu lesizwe. Kusukela ngo2015, amanyuvesi waseNingizimu Afrika abengamashashalazi obushoshovi obuqinile bokuhlakaza ukuthunjwa, nezezikole, nemizamo yezinguquko ngaphezu kweminyaka engamashumi amabili nanhlanu, emveni kokuguqiswa kobandlululo. Kungaqhudeli kuphela izinsalela zengqindezelo nokuthunjwa kuphela, kodwa nezithembiso ezingafezwanga emveni kombuso wengqindezelo. Umzabalazo obangelwe nangukuswela ukuxhaswa ngezimali zemfundo ngumbuso, ihlanganise ngobubanzi imizabalazo yobulungiswa esizweni, nokuphikisana nenkambiso yengqindezelo kwezemisebenzi,
Nokuqhudelanisana nokuthunjwa, nobulisa/ubulili nemithetho engasile yamasiko ezemfundo ephakeme. Umkhakha weARA (umculu wayo ohambelana nenkambiso yengqungquthela yomthombo ovulekileyo), iyaqhubeka nokubandakanya nezindaba ezimayelana nokuhlakazwa kokuthunjwa ebucikweni base Afrika, okufaka nezifundo zomculo ngaphakathi.
One way into the extensive literature on South Africa’s “Campus Spring” (also cited in other respects during our presentation by Oladele Ayorinde) is Francis B. Nyamnjoh’s #RhodesMustFall: Nibbling at Resilient Colonialism in South Africa. Bamenda, Cameroon: Langaa Research & Publishing CIG.
Classic book-length studies of jazz cosmopolitanism in South Africa include Gwen Ansell’s Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music, and Politics in South Africa, New York: Continuum (2004); Christopher Ballantine’s Marabi Nights: Jazz, ‘Race’ and Society in Early Apartheid South Africa, 2nd edition. Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press (2012 (1993)); and David Coplan’s In Township Tonight! Three centuries of South African black city music and theatre, 2nd edition. Johannesburg: Jacana (2007 (1985)).
On jazz cosmopolitanism in Ghana, see Steven Feld’s Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra: Five Musical Years in Ghana, Durham, NC: Duke University Press (2012) and the accompanying recordings and films (see https://voxlox.myshopify.com).
Oladele Ayorinde’s references to Francis Nyamnjoh’s writing during our ICTM Dialogues panel discussion were as follows: Nyamnjoh, Francis B. “Blinded by Sight: Divining the Future of Anthropology in Africa,” in Africa Spectrum Vol 47, No 2-3 (2012): 63-92; and “Incompleteness: Frontier Africa and the Currency of Conviviality,” in Journal of Asian and African Studies (2017) 52(3):253-270.
Further readings are forthcoming by members of the Mamelodi Arts & Culture Forum’s heritage working group, including Aubrey Mogase’s self-published book on the history of Mamelodi and a book and short film honouring jazz veteran Bra Abbey Cindi.
The process of co-creating the presentation and engaging in dialogue with interested colleagues around the world was inspiring and generative for our group in various ways. It was the first time that we participated in an academic presentation off-campus from a setting in the community of practice in which we work. The experience gave us confidence to continue to engage from wherever we are under prevailing pandemic conditions. These positive experiences have strengthened our resolve to develop and present the outcomes of our work collaboratively, wherever possible. Moreover, several members of our group took an interest in attending subsequent ICTM Dialogues over the course of the year. In light of our ICTM Dialogues session, we received an invitation to present our ongoing collaboration to the Austrian Chapter of the ICTM in November 2021 on a panel titled “Sustainable Solutions for Participatory Research in Ethnomusicology. Also in the light of our ICTM Dialogues, we developed an exchange relationship with colleagues based in Rio de Janeiro who have similar interests. We hope this exchange relationship will yield reciprocal visits and transnational collaborations in 2022.
Questions to Consider
Participating in the 2021 ICTM Dialogues was inspiring but also raised expectations as to how we can sustain this level of transnational critical dialogue into the future.
The value of building communities of practice/praxis across institutional, national and regional settings has been affirmed throughout the 2021 ICTM Dialogues and raises the question as to how socially engaged music research can more purposefully play an active role in enabling this.
The specific genre on which we focus (in our case, jazz) seem less important than the kinds of cultural politics for which they can serve as a vehicle. Musical expressions may originate externally (even in former colonial centres) and potentially become vehicles for transmitting Indigenous values. Understanding the many ways in which this dynamic is manifesting today is one of the broad questions the series both posed and answered.