Understanding Social and Political Change through Mutations in Popular Music

Convener: Dr. Denis-Constant Martin (University of Bordeaux, France); e-mail: d.c.martin@sciencespobordeaux.fr

At the time when the independence of the Belgian Congo was negotiated in Brussels, Grand Kallé et l’African Jazz were busy recording “Indépendance Cha Cha”. This song appears today as a landmark in the history of African popular music and provides an example of the bonds that tie popular music and politics. But it is far from being an isolated phenomenon: for almost two centuries, at least, musical innovation has accompanied social and political change in Africa. This has been demonstrated by numerous studies on various parts of the continent. The questions that remain debated, and debatable, are related to the nature of the “accompaniment” music offers, to the role it played, and continues to play, in contemporary societies. This panel will therefore focus not only on the emergence of new genres and styles of African music during the 20th and 21st centuries, but also on the methods which have been, or should be, used in the analysis of the relationship between mutations in music and social and political change. If, as is widely acknowledged, music is not a language but a symbolic form, how is it possible to conduct symbolical analysis? Must musical analysis be used, and how, in the study of music’s social significations, and what lessons should be drawn from ethnomusicology? How can we understand the relationship established within a song between the music and the lyrics? Which lessons should be learned from performance studies? These questions, and many others, even if they are not specific to African music studies, are particularly important because they invite to go beyond the mere admission that there is a relationship between music and politics to find ways to assess the real impact music has on ordinary citizens: how it may influence their

political conceptions and possibly bear upon their political behaviour. In this perspective, the study of popular music in contemporary Africa could shed additional, and original, light on social and political phenomena, and in particular bring new insights into the social representations that citizens entertain about the society and the political system they live in. The panel will be multidisciplinary: ethnomusicologists, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists are invited to participate.