Panel 1 – Music and urban identities – PSH302

The Thing: Afrobeat(s) music as a site of conviviality and intergenerational dialogue – Dr. Adefemi Adekunle, Newman Univeristy

This paper will examine the musical subcultures, ‘Afrobeat’ and its younger more electronic descendant ‘Afrobeats’ as a medium for analysing multiculturalism, youth and ‘convivial cultures’. I will present data from my dancefloor ethnography (Garcia, 2013) undertaken within the major venues of Afrobeat in Birmingham and London via a focus on young people’s experiences, emotions and attitudes. Afrobeats hubs and my urban research sites are home to well-established multicultural populations meaning the history and cartography of the genres maps, more or less, onto the distinct artistic practices of the city embodying a commonplace convivial diversity (Gilroy, 1993).

I will then offer some perspective on Afrobeats by setting it within a wider cultural landscape of black popular music (Stratton and Zuberi, 2014; Haynes, 2012). Afrobeat, created by the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti in the late 1960s and 1970s was itself syncretic and transglobal in its unique combination of funk fused with percussion and vocal styles, popularised in Africa in the 1970s (Gendreau, 2009). Through a comparison of Afrobeat with Afrobeats contextualised through interviews with Afrobeat musicians and producers, it will become clear this debate is perfectly poised to explore themes and about ideas of multicultural belonging. ‘Afrobeats’ has retained some vestiges of its history and ‘raves’ often have a mixed age and ethnically heterogeneous audience. It is this awareness of its past and politics by its audience that lends this analysis an intergenerational resonance as well (Hancox, 2012).

Lastly, both styles demand attention as sites of routinely reproduced racialized conceptions of taste, affinity, class and musicality. They are a treasure trove of richly complex and often subverted signifiers of race, ethnicity and ‘Africa’.

The politics of the cipher: antiphonic democracy and hip-hop’s ethics beyond multiculturalism – Bharath Ganesh, University College London

Ethnographic research on hip-hop has provided a rich and deep understanding of its cultural context (Rose 1994, Forman 2004, Morgan 2009), its rootedness in African and African-American musical traditions (Osumare 2007), as well its relation to marginalized communities in cities around the world (Daulatzai 2012, Basu and Lemelle 2006). My ethnographic research on a student society in the San Francisco Bay Area adds that participation in hip-hop’s call-and-response or antiphonal musicality can help us uncover incipient forms of multiculture in urban space that move beyond simple oppositions between identity and difference.

In this paper, I focus on one particularly generative site: the cipher. To form a cipher, rappers, onlookers and others form a circle and put on a beat and rap, usually freestyling by ‘spitting’ lyrics off the cuff. I find that participating in the cipher that involves the cultivation of an ethical self is open to difference and goes beyond ‘identity’ and ‘multiculturalism’. I use my observations of this process to critically engage with how ‘the practice of antiphony’ at the core of African diasporic music ‘symbolises and anticipates (but does not guarantee) new, non-dominating social relationships’ (see Gilroy 1993, 79). I demonstrate how the ethical self is cultivated in antiphonic participation in the cipher, where demands are experienced and responses, successful or not, emerge. The bodily comportments that participants develop in this site opens up a unique, ethicopolitical register that is engaged at the level of practice and the concrete face-to-face relation hosted by antiphony. In this sense, the antiphonal musicality at the core of hip-hop becomes a potential social structure for ‘non-dominating’ relationalities. By applying phenomenological and affect-oriented methodologies to the cipher, I describe how complex and challenging forms of antiphonic multiculture emerge in hip-hop.

Crossing borders, moving on: the urban music economy as a transformative realm – Dr Joy White

In the UK, social mobility is at its lowest for decades. At the same time, while the creative and cultural industries are of growing economic significance, the sector remains overwhelmingly white and middle class (CBI 2013; Neelands et al. 2015). An individualised, market approach to inequality informs policies aiming to raise the aspirations of young people from impoverished backgrounds. Yet, for some, rendered almost invisible by a discourse about aspiration that is both classed and racialised, the urban music economy offers a passage to social mobility.

With a specific focus on Grime music, this paper discusses how the urban music economy operates as a transformative realm. It considers how, for young people from multicultural areas, participation in the urban music economy allows for transformation, reinvention and mobility. The urban music economy exists as a convivial space – albeit one that is contingent and fluid. It is a cultural intermezzo where young people of Caribbean, African and English heritage work together; crossing borders and drawing on global and local influences to create music that has an international reach (Back 1996, p.4). An exploration of the cultural dynamics of the Grime music scene provides a partial view of the cultural dynamics of everyday life in a contemporary urban environment.

A brief history of 7 riddims: Notes towards a genealogy of UK bass culture – Dr Caspar Melville, SOAS

Although there has been some importatn academic enquiries into the emergence of multiculture in the British city, notably Paul Gilroy’s investigations of the the ‘hidden zones of black sociability’ that seeded and hosted nascent multicuture in the city (1978, 1993) and Les Back’s foundational work on the role black music played in the formation of new ethnicities and novel forms of urban culture (1996), a full accounting of the emergence of multicultural music scenes, and the role that Afro-Caribbean people and music played in this, remains to be written. A new research project called ‘Bass Culture’ funded by a £500k grant from the AHRC and led by Mykaell Riley at the University of Westminster which starts in May 2016 aims at correcting this, through oral history, film making, community engagement and academic research. As a researcher on the project my role is to write a book about how Afro-Caribbean music transformed the musical and social landscape of the UK. In this paper I present some early notes, focussing on seven musical riddims as a way to isolate key themes (and gather feedback) for the upcoming project.

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