Sounding East Africa: Music, Technology and Ideology

PI: Professor James Ogude, University of Pretoria

Bristol collaborator: Dr Justin Williams (Music)

Summary

This project started as a three-way conversation between David Kerr, Justin Williams of Bristol and me. The point of convergence was our common interest in popular music and ways in which music works to shape our identities. It sets out to understand the role played by music in mobilising the anti-colonial movement in Kenya and Tanzania, and how it became an important medium through which identities for the newly independent nations were created and disseminated. Radio was the main vehicle for communication and music a vital element in getting people to listen. We set out to understand why the sounds of Kenyan and Tanzanian popular music from this period are intimately intertwined with the idea of the nation, and why they have continued to be hugely popular with audiences across all age groups in East Africa to the present. Using archival research and oral history, this project seeks to ask how East African audiences across gender, ethnicity, class and age have understood the sounds of this musical canon – popularly referred to as Zilizopendwa (the ones that were loved). We also seek to understand what happens to music when it travels across history and how genres are recast in the process. We intend to examine how the idea of a well-bounded nation that the music was intended to create is undermined when music travels across all forms of borders.