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26 Mar 19

If colonial writing robbed Africa of its “spirit”—as the Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’O suggested—what do we make of that other Western, technological intervention: the sound recorder? Around 1900, a series of German travelers undertook their own kind of “language” invasion consistent with Africa’s broader, colonial occupation. Armed with phonographs, they sought to capture what was commonly believed to be the sound of human beginnings: in African performances, one could discover a primitive form of what would later evolve into civilized (European) “music.” In this lecture, Ronald Radano will discuss his findings in the resultant archive, suggesting that it be listened to both critically and as a way of reimagining African sound as a reanimated force that has the potential of reinventing a previously subjugated “spirit.”

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