Music Cultures: Musical Performance in Africa and the Afro-Atlantic

Discipline: Music
Instructor: Kisliuk
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1300
End: 1415
Field Work: Day 2 - Sunday, 30 November | Cuba Download Syllabus

This course explores musical performance in Africa (especially Ghana, Senegal, the Central African Republic, and Morocco) and the African Atlantic (especially Brazil and Cuba) through reading, discussion, audio and video examples, and significant hands-on practice in music and dance. We will learn about African and diasporic music/dance styles (and their historical interconnections because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade), their sociomusical circumstances and processes, as well as performed resistances and responses to the colonial and post/neo-colonial encounter. In addition, we will address the politics and processes involved in translating performance practices from one cultural context to another (we will consider the “secret African cities” in several of our European ports of call, including France, Spain, and Portugal), as well as some issues raised by tourist productions (especially in Brazil and Cuba, and also Barbados). Each student’s personal relationship to the material/experience will be integrated into study and shared in discussion.


Our major field lab (drumming and dancing workshop and performance) will take place in Ghana (port of Tema), and much of our practical work in class will be focused on preparing for this lab by learning Ghanaian (Ewe) drumming, dancing, and singing. Readings, discussions, and written work will focus heavily on topics and issues related to the main music/dance traditions that we are learning to perform, as well as others we are likely to encounter in ports of call, though we may venture beyond those areas from time to time. The course will explore both “traditional” and “popular” styles, leading us to question those categories.  There will be several writing assignments, including ongoing responses to readings and field experiences, a “mini-autobiography,” a field lab response essay, and a final paper addressing in-depth an aspect (chosen by each student) of the course material/field lab, and/or other field experiences (approx. 7-10 pages — and including a 2-page oral presentation version of this material).

Field Work

Country: Cuba
Day: 2 - Sunday, 30 November

We will spend the day together exploring a range of popular, folkloric and worship-based Afro-Cuban expressive forms, particularly drum/percussion rhythms, songs and dances. We will especially focus on the connections among Afro-Atlantic practices, world views and spiritual philosophies as embedded in these practices, while critically engaging with the particular histories, politics, and economics of Cuba as experienced by our guides and instructors. The day will end with a music/dance tribute to the author of our Cuba-focused class reading, Katherine Hagedorn, who was the dear friend of Michelle Kisliuk, Elba Capote, and the treasured student of Alberto Villarreal and his wife Zoraida.  Academic Objectives:

  1.  Immersion in Afro-Cuban music/dance culture via hands-on experience with local masters.