Today! Lecture: “Beyond the Blues Aesthetic: Jazz, Gwoka, and the Creolization of Diaspora”

I will give a lecture as part of the UW School of Music Colloquium Series at 4pm this afternoon, February 6.

Here’s the abstract:

Based on interviews with musicians in Guadeloupe, France, and the United States, this presentation analyzes three different instances of the complex and ambiguous relationships between Guadeloupean gwoka and jazz musicians in order to highlight the contested nature of diaspora formations. If diasporas disrupt easy formulations of national essence, the entanglement of jazz and gwoka challenges what several scholars have already identified as a latent essentializing tendency in some formulations of the African diaspora. Indeed, by highlighting each musician’s relative position within a global music economy, and thus their very tangible differences of both social and financial capital relative to each other, I caution that any recourse to metaphors of diaspora or creolization should not mask differences of power that shape these transatlantic exchanges: the Black Atlantic is an uneven playing field.

Yet these differences need not negate the possibility of diasporicity. Rather they point to what Brent Edwards calls a “décalage,” a gap or time lag that allows for the articulation of difference within diasporic unity. In the examples presented here, the décalage between the French West Indian experience and the Afro-diasporic—mostly anglophone—world of jazz confirms that, for postcolonial West Indians, diaspora functions through a strategic embrace of “elective affinities,” to borrow Barnor Hesse’s formulation. Furthermore, by considering the structures of power at play within diasporic habitus rather than focusing on questions of attachment to an imagined homeland and debates over retention and transmission of knowledge, I respond to Michaeline Critchlow’s call to creolize diaspora . Doing so allows us to neutralize any aspiration to purity within diasporic formulations without losing track of the specific experience of racialized subjects.

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