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  • Public Enemy, Or, Sensing Censorship:Musical Performance and Semiotic Disobedience—Popular Music Censorship in African Music (2006) in Perspective
  • Daniel Avorgbedor
Popular Music Censorship in Africa. Ed. Michael Drewett and Martin Cloonan. Aldershot, Hampshire, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006. 219 pp. Index, bibliog. Hardcover.

Prelude to Play

There is a growing sociocultural and sometimes psychological space in contemporary African societies; this space is resonating cumulatively with new levels of self-consciousness. The "self," which, among other things, includes histories, habits, attitudes, aspirations, and musical preferences is thus continuously being redefined in response to the sensory data and challenges emanating from Africa's continuing encounters with the rest of the world. The title and contents of the publication Popular Music Censorship in Africa, which provides the platform for this review essay, captures some of these developments and challenges. Nevertheless, the volume also reveals some significant shortcomings that are addressed in this review; and these have to do with the contributors' [End Page 220] methods of inquiry, their sites of evidence, their interpretive frameworks, and the practical ends they seek. First, a number of critical questions must be stated in this preliminary observation.

What is "popular music" and what is the musical and social significance of the outside world in the creation and re-creation of this genre in Africa? Where are the ideas of, for example, cultural/digital commons, intangible cultural property, and human rights coming from and how do they complement and interrogate pre- and postcolonial traditions of governance, law and jurisdiction in Africa? Who is qualified to write on the subject of censorship (and popular music) and what disciplinary backgrounds and perspectives are implicated? And, finally, what contributions does this volume bring to the general discourse on censorship, worldwide, and how will they help the condition and status of musicians and their audiences, including their historical-cultural legacies?

Popular Music Censorship in Africa has fourteen chapters by various contributors: An overview; cultural boycott, and hate speech in Apartheid South Africa; popular media and genocide in Rwanda; media control in Zimbabwe; popular music and repression in Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya Zaire, Algeria, and Ghana. The general overviews are nicely balanced by several case studies focusing on the countries listed above. The main rationale for compiling this volume, as stated in the introduction, is driven by a lack of attention to Africa in the world context of censorship discourse. The editors also hope that the contributions will enrich and illuminate the complexity of the subject.

The contents of the essays range from discussions of specific bans and country acts or legislations, individual musicians who have been banned, arrested or jailed (e.g., Sam Muraya , Franco Luambo Makiadi, Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi) to specific media outlets such as national radios, newspapers and, now, the Internet. In regard to the music itself, live performances, song texts, and sound recordings are discussed at various lengths, including specific court cases. All the contributors, by default, locate the problems of censorship in African popular music in the contexts of colonial, postcolonial, and missionary experiences, but with emphasis on contemporary national politics and related identity crises. Most essays recount missionaries' contributions in repressing specific performance traditions, but it is John Collins who boldly draws on indigenous attempts at banning performance genres and which temper the over-sung theme of missionary misdoing. Collins's essay ("One Hundred Years of Censorship in Ghanaian Popular Music Performance," ch 11: 171–86), however, would need additional archival sources in order to fully support the indigenous examples and to generalize them by drawing on parallel practices in other African countries.

While I applaud Collins for locating secondary and tertiary sources (i.e., citing extant publications that draw on colonial archives in Germany and Switzerland) that document, for example, both missionary-led and local chiefs' banning of musical and ritual customs such as "sibi-saba" (173) and others, the Ghana National Museum, Monuments and Archive actually house primary sources that record and preserve such cases. For example, the "ashiko" and "sibi-saba" cases from indigenous settings are preserved in the Ghana State National Archive record SNA 29/24 ADM / 11/884 Case No. 47/1909 titled "Immoral Dances—Suppression of—in Accra. 8th...


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