Abidjan USA: Music, Dance, and Mobility in the Lives of Four Ivorian Immigrants

Abidjan USA: Music, Dance, and Mobility in the Lives of Four Ivorian Immigrants

Abidjan USA: Music, Dance, and Mobility in the Lives of Four Ivorian Immigrants

Abidjan USA: Music, Dance, and Mobility in the Lives of Four Ivorian Immigrants

Synopsis

Daniel B. Reed integrates individual stories with the study of performance to understand the forces of diaspora and mobility in the lives of musicians, dancers, and mask performers originally from Cote d'Ivoire who now live in the United States. Through the lives of four Ivorian performers, Reed finds that dance and music, being transportable media, serve as effective ways to understand individual migrants in the world today. As members of an immigrant community who are geographically dispersed, these performers are unmoored from their place of origin and yet deeply engaged in presenting their symbolic roots to North American audiences. By looking at performance, Reed shows how translocation has led to transformations on stage, but he is also sensitive to how performance acts as a way to reinforce and maintain community. Abidjan USA provides a multifaceted view of community that is at once local, national, and international, and where identity is central, but transportable, fluid, and adaptable.

Excerpt

Beginnings. “Let us go back to the dawn of time,” began the narrator, his voice booming from huge pa speakers echoing in the mass expanse of Pyramid Stadium on the shores of the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee. the lights dimmed, highlighting an enormous backdrop featuring a sixty-foot-tall “tribal mask” ; a rain forest environment, including elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and colorful birds; a village of thatched-roof huts on one side and several contemporary buildings on the other—the only reference to a “modern” Africa, incongruous and misplaced. Suspense building, the lights slowly faded in hues of soft reds and oranges, suggesting a sunrise. “In the beginning,” continued the narrator, as live elephants and Ivorians in grass skirts roamed the stage. First heard—the boing-boing of a musical bow. Then drums as dozens of dancers began mingling with mask spirits on stilts. From the sides of the stage, enveloping the Ivorian sounds, trumpets announced the opening phrase of Straus’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, a sonic representation of sunrise (Glass 2015) and “the development of the human race from its origin” that was popularized in “The Dawn of Man” section of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey (Jacobson 2013). Thus began the central event of the 1994 Memphis in May Festival, which that year featured Côte d’Ivoire.

The performance was a military-style “tattoo.” Ostensibly designed to showcase the featured country of the 1994 festival, this grand spectacle brought together over one hundred performers from Côte d’Ivoire with at least a dozen other ensembles (see figure P.1). Joining the Ivorians were no fewer than five choirs—the Memphis Symphony Chorus, the Perfect Praise Community Gospel Choir, the Roxie Gunter Singers, Bibleway House of Prayer, and the March On Choir—organized for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But that was not all. Also performing were seven or eight huge instrumental ensembles (there were so many that I lost track): the us Army Harold Trumpets, the Pipes and Drums of the Canadian Scottish Regiment, the North Coast Pipe Band, the Rosa Fort High School Band, and several bands from the us Navy.

Threading together these myriad musical ensembles and styles was a narrative, read aloud, entitled “The Evolution of African Music into Modern American Music.” For just the first twenty minutes of the two-hour display, over one . . .

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