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Research in African Literatures 33.4 (2002) 210-211

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Book Review

Language, Rhythm, and Sound:
Black Popular Cultures into the Twenty-First Century

Language, Rhythm, and Sound: Black Popular Cultures into the Twenty-First Century, ed. Joseph K. Adjaye and Adrianne R. Andrews. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1997. x + 324 pp. ISBN 0-8229-5620-9 paper.

Drawn from the papers presented at the "Black Popular Culture in Africa, the United States, and the Caribbean Conference" held at the University of Pittsburgh in 1995, this collection, which focuses primarily on the 1990s, is divided into four sections: "The Aesthetics of Culture," "Culture and the Construction of Gendered Identities," "The Culture and Politics of Sound," and "Black Popular Cultures into the Twenty-First Century." The two introductions, one by Adjaye and the other by Andrews, frame the collection in postmodernist and gender issues. Adjaye's exploration of the "theoretical paradigms" contained in some of the articles points to a black critical discourse that draws on Western critical theories [End Page 210] from Marxism to semiotics to feminism to Gramscian hegemonic theories. There is an implicit admiration by Adjaye of the merits of postmodernism, which "further enables us to search for new 'knowledges,' understandings and interpretations" (9). Andrews's briefer and more descriptive introduction highlights the readings around the theme of "language, rhythm, and sound."

Part 1 opens with Adjaye's essay on Kente cloth, showing its popularization, complex meanings, and ultimate commercialization in the United States and its decentralization in Ghana. The collection's emphasis on popular culture is not confined to contemporary or modern manifestations since there are pieces in part one that address older oral traditions as in Said Samatar's exploration of "oblique communication" in Somali culture and Jackson-Lowman's investigation of "Afrikan proverbs." Furthermore, as suggested by Kwesi Yankah, the spoken word also has contemporary uses in protest forms in modern Ghana. Further interpreting the "word" is Nathan Grant's overview of Ed Bullins's dramas of the '60s and '70s.

Opening part 2, Andrews's article "Of Mules and Men and Men and Women: The Ritual of Talking B[l]ack" also explores verbal dimensions, especially emphasizing the often omitted importance of black women and folk cultural expression. Other articles in this part address "gendered identities" such as images of beauty in Waiting to Exhale and gritty New York urban youth culture in the only film centered piece--though there is a piece on Rap videos—by Andre Willis, on Leslie Harris's Just Another Girl on the IRT. Furthermore, an article on "Double Dutch," the jump rope game practiced by black girls, shows Hip-Hop connections beyond the spoken word.

Part 3 contains articles on Caribbean and African musical culture. Louis Chude-Sokei's "The Sound of Culture: Dread Discourse and Jamaican Sound Systems" along with Brenda Berrian's piece on Kassav's Zouk consider, respectively, Jamaican nationalism and Martinican musical style formation. An essay on carnival in Brooklyn a s well as Lupenga Mphande and Ikechukwu Okafor Newsum's piece relating labor migration in South Africa and Malawi to musical appropriation contribute to a diverse and cohesive section. In the closing part, Tricia Rose argues convincingly for cultural survival of African and Diaporan people through technological awareness in the face of cultural commodification.

This collection's focus on musical and verbal patterns shows the dynamism and importance of black popular culture and the way thought provoking and scholarly perspectives can link Africa and the Diaspora.


Joseph McLaren

Joseph McLaren teaches African, Caribbean, and African American literature at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.



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