This essay provides a tentative mapping of the musical Africa emerging from Toni Morrison’s two recent forays into musical theater, the opera Margaret Garner (2005) and the theatrical piece Desdemona (2011). Both works operate as affective events taking place in performance, and while neither is actually set in Africa, both enact a memory of pre-Middle Passage experience through music. Margaret Garner, set in the US, goes back to the slave woman who killed her children—an event that had already inspired Morrison’s novel Beloved (1987)—and explores the echoes of Africa in the New World. In Desdemona, the afterlife encounter between the Shakespearean heroine and her former nanny, Barbary, contains numerous evocations of Africa, first and foremost suggested through Malian artist Rokia Traoré’s idiosyncratic singing. Hence, in both works memories of an African past haunt a present elsewhere by the persistence of sound; this allows for a different approach to Africa, one that is not “represented” as much as “staged” through aural flows enacting the experience of affective memory via the global musical landscape.


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pp. 56-71
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