Africa Today 50.3 (2004) 140-142
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Maria Eriksson Baaz introduces Same and Other with a conundrum, "How truly African are modern African arts?" (p. 5), and soon cites Anthony Appiah's assertion that "a specifically African identity began as a product of the European gaze" (p. 6). Such reasoning underlies most postcolonial [End Page 140] study of Africa, yet this reader is left wondering what is particularly "African" about the negotiated identities and cultural production the volume's authors discuss.
In the most theoretical of the book's chapters, Swedish literary critic Stefan Helgesson calls for recognition "of (at least) three black Atlantics, three countercultures of modernity, that each have distinct paths of communication and exchange" based on colonial languages (p. 27). The "ethically troubling . . . imposition" of English and French may have "enabled broad African participation in transcontinental intellectual dialogues" (p. 27), but Helgesson is more interested in Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre's term Lusotropicalism, which Helgesson would modify to avoid Freyre's Eurocentrism. There has been no "harmonious coupling of African and Portuguese histories" (p. 28), for violence has always prevailed, yet an interesting difference between Portuguese and other imperialisms does manifest itself in contemporary writing from Angola and Mozambique. Helgesson's presentation of the novelist Luandino Vieira's Luuanda (1965) as "countermodern" in its "relocation" of "the 'center' of urbanity to the musseque—the shantytown—instead of the relatively affluent city of brick and concrete" (p. 34) begs for greater elaboration than he offers in his scant pages.
Of the eight papers that follow, the strongest is by Johannes Brusila, a curator of the Sibelius Museum at Åbo Akademi University, in Finland. Brusila writes of the Bhundu Boys, a Zimbabwean band popular in the mid-1980s. At first a club band in Harare, its recordings for local audiences "entered the British market of so-called 'roots' music" defined as "any modern music with its feet in some tradition" (p. 40). It received a transnational contract, opened for Madonna at Wembley in 1997, and produced "Jit Jive" as its first major release the same year. The recording combined its earlier style with polished British pop, and failed dismally as insufficiently "authentic" (p. 46). The Bhundu Boys had longed to position themselves "between the Beatles and the Beastie Boys," rather than "with some Madagascar nose flute specialist or some Highland pigmy, you know, twanking his foreskin" (p. 47, citing an interview with band members). Instead, they lost their contract, dejectedly returned to Harare, and have sought ever since an elusive "balance between being 'authentic' and 'accessible'" (p. 52). In a somewhat similar vein, Annemette Kirkegaard, a musicology professor at the University of Copenhagen, explains how The Twinkling Stars of Zanzibar mix taarab (a Swahili musical form) with chestnuts like "Guantanamera" and the theme from "Dr. Zhivago" as they play the cocktail circuit of luxury hotels in Stone Town (p. 59), seeking to "make the music pleasant and not too pressing" for expatriate tourists (p. 73).
"Cultural production" covers vast intellectual terrain. Finnish radio producer Carita Backström writes of how women are portrayed by Zimbabwean novelists Chenjerai Hove and Yvonne Vera, reading their texts "with the help of Milan Kundera's ideas about the art of the novel" (p. 80). Maria Olaussen, an English professor at Växjö University, Sweden, considers South [End Page 141] African women's autobiographies. Harsh realities of apartheid and its aftermath come to life in such narratives, as do gender politics in societies for which "motherhood is part of dependence" and at variance with a woman's quest for a professional career (p. 167). These South African women's lives are filled with the contradictory forces of family and society, yet it is difficult to know how their circumstances and strategies differ (except in history) from those of contemporary women elsewhere in the world.
Siri Lange, an anthropologist at the Michelsen Institute of Bergen...