- Scoring Race: Jazz, Fiction, and Francophone Africa by Pim Higginson
BY PIM HIGGINSON
James Currey, 2017.
ix + 237 pp. ISBN 9781847011558 cloth.
In his latest book, Scoring Race: Jazz, Fiction, and Francophone Africa, Pim Higginson examines brilliantly the role jazz has played in major French and African Francophone texts since the colonial era. The book starts off with the vivid image of African American Louis Armstrong touring in Africa, under the auspice of the US State Department, to counter communist rhetoric "portraying the United States as culturally barbaric" (9). Indeed, pushed by the CIA, Armstrong played several times in Leopoldville (Oct 29, 1960) and Elizabethville (December 4, 1960), following the arrest of Patrice Lumumba. During his stay in newly independent Democratic Republic of Congo, Armstrong is carried on a "throne" by African porters through the streets of Kinshasa on his way to the stadium, which, as Higginson recalls, "juxtaposed evocations of Congolese royalty … and the famously racist Belgian comic strip hero, Tintin" (9). Not only did Armstrong encapsulate at the time the stereotypical racialized image of a jazz musician with a big smile, but he also performed according to the script, never questioning publicly the arrest of Lumumba. One can thus question his agency, in a newly independent nation on the verge of collapsing into Mobutu's dictatorship. This image illustrates perfectly the racial score music can represent: "the most recognizable figure in jazz had a unique and vexed role and illustrates why jazz, particularly in a French and Francophone context, is never simply music as well as why African authors … have also remained wary of it" (12).
Drawing from this idea, Higginson then explores the philosophical representations of jazz in European and African colonial and postcolonial settings, examining why music has been, since the slave trade, the characteristics of African people, at least in the eyes of Europeans, but also in the claim of African's Negritude. Going back to Plato's disdain for music when compared to philosophy, Higginson carefully demonstrates how philosophers have internalized Plato's vision; music, unlike philosophy, is associated with leisure, it "speaks by means of mere sensations without concepts" (20) and it moves us bodily, remaining in the domain of the vulgar, the emotional. Philosophers after Plato such as Aristotle, Augustine, Kant, or Hegel have thus contributed to hierarchizing the arts, putting music at the bottom—music "is a debased form fit to accompany what is important: poetry or thought" (21). Fostering this idea, they have constructed a racialized epistemology in which the musical is first associated with the physical and then blackness, becoming "the most basic—pre-linguistic—emotional phenomena" (22); "musical performance is relegated to the thoughtless bodily activity of 'playing.' The seriousness of thought demands the 'work' of philosophy" (19). "Thus, the connection of music to Africa, the continent without a history, makes sense" (21). With music becoming a proto-language, the essentialization of black musicality is made possible and allows explorers and philosophers to justify [End Page 262] the existence of the "primitive racialized man" (27), which will permeate and exemplify the 19th-century racist theories connecting music with blackness and making music the biological category of the black man. In that context, Higginson examines chronologically how jazz can "locate and consolidate a range of French values" (42) within French and Francophone African writers from the colonial era to today.
Chapter 1 explores the representation of jazz in emblematic French novels such as Sartre's La Nausée, Soupault's Le Nègre, or Vian's L'Écume des jours to show how the depiction of jazz is overtly racialized and works within a typical colonial framework in which the African can only excel at music. Chapter 2 questions the representations of jazz in African writers from the colonial era to independence, such as Socé's Mirages de Paris, Dongala's Jazz et Vin de palme, or Mongo Beti's Trop de soleil tue l'amour to see if there is an evolution in the representation of music from Negritude to independence. "Indeed, in the process of linking past and future, jazz metamorphoses from an idealized or...