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Berber Culture on the World Stage

From Village to Video

Jane E. Goodman

Publication Year: 2005

"[S]ure to interest a number of different audiences, from language and music scholars to specialists on North Africa.... a superb book, clearly written, analytically incisive, about very important issues that have not been described elsewhere." -- John Bowen, Washington University

In this nuanced study of the performance of cultural identity, Jane E. Goodman travels from contemporary Kabyle Berber communities in Algeria and France to the colonial archives, identifying the products, performances, and media through which Berber identity has developed. In the 1990s, with a major Islamist insurgency underway in Algeria, Berber cultural associations created performance forms that challenged Islamist premises while critiquing their own village practices. Goodman describes the phenomenon of new Kabyle song, a form of world music that transformed village songs for global audiences. She follows new songs as they move from their producers to the copyright agency to the Parisian stage, highlighting the networks of circulation and exchange through which Berbers have achieved global visibility.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

This work would not have been possible without the generous assistance, hospitality, and interest of a great many people. I take this opportunity to thank them. In some cases, I omit their last names to protect their privacy. Fanny Colonna introduced me to Algeria and welcomed me into her home on numerous occasions. Without her support, I may never have chosen Algeria...

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Note on Orthography and Translation

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pp. xiii

Kabyle Berber orthography uses a modified version of the Roman alphabet and follows a phonemic system, with one letter representing one phone me. I adopt the orthographic conventions set forth in J. M. Dallet’s Dictionnaire kabyle-français (Kabyle-French Dictionary) (Dallet 1982, xxvi–xxxii), with the following exceptions. For proper names, I retain the spellings used by the individuals...

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pp. 1-25

September 17, 1993. I grab my camcorder and set off with two young male college students, who have arranged for me to video tape the performance of a children’s chorus called Tilelli, a neologism meaning “Freedom.” The chorus was the creation of a newly formed Amazigh (Berber) cultural association, one of over 1,000 that had sprung up in Algeria’s Kabyle Berber region since 1989,...

Part One: Circuits

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pp. 27

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1. The Berber Spring

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pp. 29-48

The above account is drawn from a history of the Berber identity movement produced on six hand-lettered posters by the Tafrara Cultural Association. Entitled “Chronology of the Contemporary Berber Struggle,” the posters graced the walls of the Mouloud Mammeri Cultural Center during the week of April 20, 1993, in what has become an annual commemoration of the 1980 Berber Spring. I sat in front of the posters, copying by hand their account of what transpired.1 The chronology begins on March 10, 1980, when Kabyle scholar and...

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2. Refracting Berber Identities

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pp. 49-68

In 1973, the song A vava inouva1 (“Oh my father”) galvanized the Algerian population. Composed by a young, unknown musician who called himself Idir (“to live”), from a text penned by poet Ben Mohamed, A vava inouva is built around the sung refrain of a story told by old women throughout Kabylia. Idir’s song depicts a grandmother seated at the hearth, spinning tales far into the night...

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3. The Mythical Village

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pp. 69-93

One of the most striking displays at the April 20, 1993 cultural exhibit in Tizi Ouzou was a model of the Kabyle village Taksebt. Placed on a large table in the middle of its own room and made of plaster of paris, the village was perched atop a mountain, the whole structure measuring perhaps a foot-and-a-half high by two-and-a-half feet long and wide. At the mountain’s crest, a smattering of tiny brown houses were situated on several intersecting roads. Along the bottom, next to a key indicating that the model had been designed on a 1:1000 scale,...

Part Two: Texts

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pp. 95

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4. Collecting Poems

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pp. 97-119

Collecting poems and proverbs, songs and stories, hardly seems like a political act. Yet for more than a century, indigenous texts have served as lenses through which Berber identity and difference have been construed. They have been put to the service of almost every military, political, or ethnographic initiative toward or by Berbers since the conquest of Kabylia in 1857, from civilizing missions to ethnographic enterprises to the development of nationalist and subnationalist aspirations. Ben Mohamed and Idir were able to imagine that a village story about a monster in the forest might be a place in which Kabyles could see...

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5. Authoring Modernity

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pp. 120-144

What is entailed in lifting a village song to a universal dimension? How does a song become simultaneously “profoundly Berber” and “readable everywhere”? How, in short, do village songs need to be reconfigured for a world stage? Ben Mohamed and Idir, creators of A vava inouva, reworked several women’s texts to imbue them with an aura of universality. When these songs were reconstituted as world music, they refracted back onto their sources, enabling women’s village songs to be reinterpreted as objects of tradition and signs of locality.

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6. Copyright Matters

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pp. 145-161

Recall what may have seemed a minor point in the last chapter: Idir’s politicized “misreading” of the first verse of Ben Mohamed’s text Isefra. Imagine such a reading by a radio censor charged with eliminating political references to Berber culture—a daily occurrence in Algeria throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Picture Ben playing him the tape of the old woman singer from Ait Hichem, where those very lines appear. Now envision a related dispute in the copyright agency,...

Part Three: Performances

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pp. 163

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7. Staging Gender

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pp. 165-183

July 21, 1993, Tamkant. Said, the oldest son of my host family, was getting married, and his friends in Amkan’s four-year-old village cultural association had been preparing a surprise. For several months, they had been working with village boys and girls to create a chorus that would animate the evening urar at Said’s wedding. Although I feigned interest, I failed to share their anticipation,...

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8. Village to Video

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pp. 184-196

May 1994, Paris. The curtain of the Olympia Theater rose to reveal a traditional Kabyle Berber village. Before a painted backdrop of mountains, five chorus women—myself and four Kabyles—sat surrounding a water fountain. We were cloaked in the region’s brilliant red and yellow colors. Eight chorus men, all Kabyle, occupied an outdoor square where the public assembly ...

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pp. 197-199

As I write in Bloomington, Indiana, in the summer of 2004, Berber cultural movements have become a force to be reckoned with by states across North Africa and the diaspora. In 1995, following a region wide boycott of public schools in Kabylia, Tamazight began to be taught on a limited basis in some Algerian public schools. On November 28, 1996, the Algerian Constitution was amended...


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pp. 201-217

Works Cited

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pp. 219-232


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pp. 233-239

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111456
E-ISBN-10: 0253111455
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253346292

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2005