- Abidjan USA: Music, Dance, and Mobility in the Lives of Four Ivorian Immigrants by Daniel B. Reed
Abidjan USA: Music, Dance, and Mobility in the Lives of Four Ivorian Immigrants by Daniel Reed recounts the life stories of Vado Diomande, Samba Diallo, Sogbety Diomande, and Dr. Djo [End Page 113] Bi Irie Simon through their relationships to, and performances of, West African ballet. Reed argues that these life stories “offer individual, ethnographically grounded perspectives on life in an interconnected world—where transnational economic and political networks interlay trans-nationally circulating discourses such as globalization, the New African Diaspora, and cosmopolitanism” (p. xix).
Abidjan USA recounts how Vado, Samba, Sogbety, and Dr. Djo Bi each began their relationships with Ivorian ballet as children in their home villages in Côte d'Ivoire, mastering the dances and drum rhythms of their respective ethnic groups. This education provided entry into the competitive ballet market in Abidjan, forming the basis of their professional careers as performers for the Ivorian national ballet, named the Ballet National de Côte d'Ivoire (BNCI), and other troupes. The rigorous training they received in these troupes became the means for transnational performance opportunities and, eventually, emigration to the United States, where the four continue to form immigrant communities that coalesce around performance opportunities across the eastern United States.
The first chapter outlines Reed’s two theoretical approaches—life story and performance—and situates this work within the body of scholarship concerning immigration and ethnomusicology. As a way of connecting life story and performance, Reed utilizes the metaphor of an island, stating that “performance is the visible . . . surface that one can see above the water, and life story is the foundation below, generally not visible or known to the American public” (p. 4), but that informs what surfaces onstage. Performances are locations at which many discourses converge, and in “diasporic settings, performers are often the most visible and audible community representatives to the multicultural society around them; African immigrant performers can function as the face of the New Diaspora, symbolically representing ‘Africa,’ ‘West Africa,’ and/or ‘Ivory Coast’” (p. 26). This framework allows for a broader range of analysis, which thinks “not only in terms of individual artists’ lives and performance practices but also in terms of broad social formulations (such as diaspora, transnationality, nationality, ethnicity)” (p. 19) and their interconnections.
Chapter 2 provides a history of West African and Ivorian ballet. Here, Reed also unravels the multiple discourses inherent in Ivorian ballet and examines the components of the repertoire of prearranged pieces that performers have to master. The author also discusses how ballet provides performers with access to the international labor market as tours provide “chances to defect and/or make contacts to facilitate later immigration” (p. 65). West African ballet emerged as a new genre in the 1940s, when Guinean Fodeba Keita formed the first African ballet ensemble Les Ballets Africains (LBA). At Guinea’s independence in 1958, President Sekou Touré utilized the troupe in the nation-building process, redefining the LBA as “anti-colonial and nationalist” (p. 39). According to Reed, Touré “sought to represent to the world an image of his new nation and the continent itself as one of great cultural and artistic achievement” (p. 39). As the LBA travelled, so did the idea of African ballet, and West African nations began creating their own troupes.
Reed devotes chapters 3 through 10 to the analysis of the performances and life stories of his consultants, concretizing the theoretical framework of the first chapter and personalizing the historical background of the second. Each consultant is dedicated two chapters. The first chapters describe and examine a performance staged by each consultant. Reed analyzes event names, promotional items, stage backdrops, performers’ demographics, dance and musical compositions, and instrumentation. The second chapters recount the consultants’ life stories, highlighting their performance histories and their experiences as immigrants as foundational to the discourses that emerge onstage.
Chapters 3 and 4 are dedicated...