The genesis of this special issue of the Black Music Research Journal can be traced back to a number of discussions between Samuel Floyd Jr. and myself in 2007. What, we asked ourselves, were some of the prominent theoretical concerns in recent interdisciplinary scholarship that connected current research on black music most clearly with ongoing work in a broad variety of other fields? Near the top of the list was the concept of diaspora and its theorization. This topic, we agreed, was more than substantial enough to merit not just an entire conference, but a series of conferences and/or conference sessions designed to stimulate further thinking and writing about the intersection between black music research and the theorization of “diaspora.”
With this in view, Dr. Floyd and I crafted a one-paragraph statement (actually, a series of questions), giving it the title, “Reassessing the Black Music Diaspora: What Is It, Why Is It Important, and How Should It Be Understood?” Among the questions posed was the following: “Is it worth the effort to define the black music diaspora in a way that sets it apart from its semantic neighbors [e.g., “migration,” “Pan-Africanism,” “transnationalism,” and “globalization”] and allows it to become a true field of intellectual study, rather than the empty designator that it now sometimes appears to be?” Another question centered on the importance of distinctly “musical” concerns: “If we attempt to theorize the concept of diaspora from a specifically musical perspective, how might our understandings differ from, or converge with, those emerging in other contexts and disciplines?” This brief document served as the point of departure for a projected series of conferences and sessions meant to address the theme of “black music diaspora” from multiple perspectives, to be held in a number of musically important diasporal locations.
During 2008–09, the Center for Black Music Research brought this projected series of events to fruition, assigning several special sessions in [End Page v] its 2008 National Conference on Black Music Research in Chicago to this general topic and organizing two regional conferences over the following months (one in New Orleans and the other in Puerto Rico) that were given over entirely to more localized explorations of the meaning of “black music diaspora.”1 In 2011 the series was completed with a conference in Lecce, Italy, sponsored by the newly launched European branch of the CBMR at the University of Salento.
The present issue consists entirely of articles culled from the 2009 Puerto Rico conference, which was titled Reassessing the Black Musical Diaspora: Focus on the Caribbean.2 As in the other conferences in the series, participants in the Puerto Rico conference were asked to give careful thought to ways in which specific topics of their choosing might be used to help advance thinking about the relationship between “black music diaspora” and broader conceptualizations of “diaspora.” Participants were also directed to the sociologist Rogers Brubaker’s recently published overview of proliferating uses of the diaspora concept in the social science literature (Brubaker 2005), in the hope that this might spur an engagement with some of the larger questions currently occupying theorists of “diaspora” in various disciplines. In that article, Brubaker speaks of the “‘diaspora’ diaspora,” pointing to the runaway dispersion of the term in recent academic literature and the lapses in semantic and theoretical rigor that have resulted and proposes, notably, “to treat diaspora not as a bounded entity but as an idiom, stance and claim” (12).
The participants in the Puerto Rico conference, all of them Caribbeanists, came from a wide range of disciplines, and this is reflected in the articles presented here, the authors of which include a sociologist and artist (Rivera), a scholar in American studies and religion (McAlister), an anthropologist and cultural historian (Allen), an ethnomusicologist and musician (de Jong), and a leading scholar in the field of folklore (Abrahams). The articles span all four of the major linguistic zones in the Caribbean (Hispanophone, Francophone, Anglophone, and Dutch-speaking), although, in a reversal of the usual pattern, the Anglophone territories are barely given consideration here (in Abrahams’s article, and then only in passing), while the Dutch-speaking Caribbean...