Entrepreneurship, Style, and Spirituality in Benin's Jazz and Brass Bands
Politz, Sarah E.
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CitationPolitz, Sarah E. 2017. Entrepreneurship, Style, and Spirituality in Benin's Jazz and Brass Bands. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThe dissertation examines how contemporary Beninois musicians reconfigure their music in post-colonial networks of power and economics locally and internationally, particularly through the interplay of entrepreneurship, musical style, and spirituality. Literature in ethnomusicology has dealt with relationships between musical style and spirituality in West Africa, and recent literature in anthropology has explored the marketing of culture. Scholarship on these topics has tended to separate the aesthetic from the material, so that while musical style and spirituality are analyzed together, they are often removed from cultural economy and popular music. This dissertation responds to gaps in the literature by bringing analyses of aesthetic and material issues into conversation in an analysis of jazz and brass band repertoires that cross boundaries between religious and commercial, popular and traditional, and local and international.
I explore how musicians creatively root their musical practices in Benin's musical traditions, and also market their own representations of these traditions abroad. In the first half of the project, I outline the historical background for Benin's music traditions. I begin in the first chapter with the kingdom of Allada and the founding of the empire of Danxome in the 17th century. I follow the arrival of vodun deities in the Danxomean court, and the founding of the dynasty in Porto Novo. The second chapter examines the effects of colonialism on religious and musical practice in Benin, and the changing values attached to these practices. In the third chapter, I discuss the development of musique moderne and musical genre in Benin after 1960. The second half of the dissertation is composed of several case studies. In the fourth chapter, I draw on ethnographic interviews and participant observation in Benin, France, and New York City to focus on the Gangbe and Eyo'nle Brass Bands' adaptation of specific Beninois popular songs and styles. The fifth chapter focuses on the creative choices and production strategies in several Gangbe and Eyo'nle compositions, particularly through an analysis of which components of language, spiritual meaning, and musical style are available to the bands' different audiences, forming “hidden” and “public” transcripts. The dissertation contributes to broader issues within African Studies, particularly regarding relationships between history and ethnography, and to understanding the production of meaning and social change within an increasingly complex and geographically diverse African diaspora. More broadly, this project seeks to be a part of a more global orientation for jazz studies that recenters Africa and African musicians as producers of meaning about race and identity.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41142066
- FAS Theses and Dissertations 
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