Upcoming Lecture: Diasporic Auralities – Jazz and Gwoka across the Abyss, Tulane, March 10

I am very grateful for the opportunity to share my research with the Department of Anthropology and African Studies at Tulane University, tomorrow, March 10th, at 4pm in Dinwiddie 103.


Franck Nicolas and Jazz Ka Philosophy, Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe, July 2015


Diasporic Auralities: Jazz and Gwoka across the Abyss

Although—or perhaps, because—it did not lead to political independence, the Guadeloupean separatist movement of the 1970s and 1980s has had an enduring but ambivalent legacy. Fifty years after the events that launched the Guadeloupean separatist movement, the Caribbean island remains enmeshed within the French state and the European Union. Meanwhile, Guadeloupean music—especially those styles that have incorporated the gwoka, a drum that has become of a sonic identity marker—continues to capture the tension between nationalist longing and diasporic or regional belonging. Based on nearly ten years of work with Guadeloupean musicians, this presentation explores the work of artists who have brought jazz and gwoka together. I propose that jazz and gwoka have—at different times and in different hands—combined to form diasporic auralities through which contested imaginaries are performed and discrepant Antillean ways-of-being are sounded. Through three case studies, I bring to light the strategic interweaving of the trace, opacity, and the abyss—concepts borrowed from Edouard Glissant’s poetics of Relation—that animates the complex and dynamic poetic of the Guadeloupean postcolonial experience, challenging theoretical separation between nationalism, diaspora, and creolization.


I have decided to post excerpts of my book manuscript as I write them. Here’s my definition of creolization.

In this book, I want to reclaim Creole and creolization from the semantic and analytical “muddle” described by Palmié.(1) I understand creolization as the process through which ideas and practices are appropriated or affirmed, manipulated, and blended in response to the particular power structure of colonialism sous toutes ces formes: classic and neo-colonialism, but also anti- and post-. I combine the original meaning of Creole referring to what has been made local with the later meaning of creolization as syncretization. Therefore I understand creolization as the act of creative incorporation into the vernacular, of localizing through both détour and détournement.(2) Whereas, as we’ll see below, the détour speaks of a general principle, a poetics symptomatic of a postcolonial unconscious, the French détournement refers to specific acts and practices. Détournement collapses several English words that are all appropriate—to various degrees and in various forms—to creolizing strategies: misappropriation and highjacking, diversion and perversion. I argue, along with Crichlow, that creolization entails a practice of “homing,” of making or claiming not only place, but also ideologies and politics.(3) Creolization is inherently relational. Through its détournements, it not only localizes, it also transforms—or “homes”—its source material. Thus, when I speak of the Creole politics of Guadeloupe, I really refer to creolizing politics, practices and poetics that adopt and adapt the French political while transforming it. Creole politics not only aim to govern the archipelago; they also seek to redefine the French nation-state. As Glissant proposes, creolization participates in an act of “mutual transformation.”(4) In the remainder of this chapter, I will first focus on the détour as a model of (post)colonial contestation before turning to aesthetics, audibility, and opacity.


1 Stephan Palmié, “Is There a Model in the Muddle? ‘Creolization’ in African Americanist History and Anthropology,” in Creolization: History, Ethnography, Theory, ed. Charles Stewart (Walnut Creek, CA: West Coast Press, 2007).

2 I adapt here the idea of the tactics of the détournement proposed by de Certeau.

Michel De Certeau, L’invention du quotidien 1: Arts de faire (Paris: Union générale de l’édition, 1980), 68-75.

3 Michaeline Crichlow, and Patricia Northover, Globalization and the Post-Creole Imagination: Notes on Fleeing the Plantation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

4 Edouard Glissant, Poétique de la relation: Poétique III (Paris: Gallimard, 1990), 103.