Music and Modernism in Africa

Authored by: Tsitsi Jaji

The Modernist World

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415845038
eBook ISBN: 9781315778334
Adobe ISBN: 9781317696162


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Africa as a sign of radical difference has been notoriously central to European and American formulations of modernism. Its complex role as antipodal instigator and antinomic exception is a critical commonplace. High modernism as an aestheticized encounter with the Other often drew upon Africa, whether in the negrophilic embrace of African sculpture by painters like Picasso and Braque, or in the negrophobic revulsion of Joseph Conrad’s Mr Kurtz. As Simon Gikandi has explained, modernism’s turn to Africa (whether as the primal, generative source material or primitive opposite of the modern) took the continent’s cultural productions as an epiphany, but this turn was haunted by a contradiction: motivated by an impossible ‘need to merge with the other as the most effective and instinctive rejection of previous forms of consciousness,’ it also ‘could only be represented through the imposition of a frame of reference and set of categories that preceded its discovery’ (2006: 32). This contradiction makes it exceedingly difficult and yet essential to set aside such frames of reference and to reckon with what Africa’s own definitions and contributions to modernism entail.

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