Seize the Dance! BaAka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance

Seize the Dance! BaAka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance

Seize the Dance! BaAka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance

Seize the Dance! BaAka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance

Synopsis

"Pygmy music" has captivated students and scholars of anthropology and music for decades if not centuries, but until now this aspect of their culture has never been described in a work that is at once vividly engaging, intellectually rigorous, and self-consciously aware of the ironies of representation. Seize the Dance! is an ethnomusical study focused on the music and dance of BaAka forest people, who live in the Lobaye region of the Central African Republic. Based on ethnographic research that Michelle Kisliuk conducted from 1986 through 1995, this book describes BaAka songs, drum rhythms, and dance movements--along with their contexts of social interaction--in an elegant narrative that is enhanced by many photographs, musical illustrations, and field recordings on two compact discs. We begin with an introduction to the music and culture of African forest people as understood in both the popular and ethnographic imagination. Kisliuk then locates her own research methodologically and geographically, introduces the main characters, and establishes the circumstances of her participatory fieldwork. Subsequent chapters profile various aspects of BaAka life and performance, concentrating on details of music and dance, while also tracing the development of Kisliuk's experience in the community. The book's "ethnography of performance" approach--a narrative style that supports a multifaceted socioesthetic ethnography--considers theoretical issues by way of form and content, including the aesthetics of performance, the politics of identity, gender relations, missionization, and modernity, all of which inform, and are informed by, BaAka musical life.

Excerpt

Political and economic unrest in Central Africa has increased since Seize the Dance! was first published in hard cover in 1998. Travel to and within Centrafrique has at times been perilous, particularly during a series of military "mutinies" against President Patassé in the late 1990s. Despite these circumstances, I have gone twice: once in 1998 to help Justin Mongosso, who is now my husband, travel to the United States, but most recently during the spring of 2000 for several months of field research. I made it back to Ndanga, where Sandimba, Djolo, and their family had just returned after an absence of several years. And for the first time I got as far as Ngbalika, the forest camp where Elanga and his family had moved. I had not seen them for more than a decade since they were now living so far from Bagandou, into the Congo.

Elanga's youngest brother, Duambongo, was the first to notice Justin and me approaching Ngbalika camp along the logging road. Duambogo, looking skinny but otherwise well, darted to his feet, grabbed a whisk broom made of branches, and began fussily sweeping around Elana's hut, exclaiming with a broad smile that their "daughter" had arrived once again. Elanga approached from the bordering woods as we sat on the log bed inside the leaf-covered lean-to. Surrounded by their grandchildren, Elanga and Duambongo jokingly claimed that Justin would now have to pay them a bride price, since they are my "fathers."

We stayed at Ngbalika for several weeks, during which I learned that Edjengi is again a very popular dance among Bagandou BaAka, and that a new dance, called . . .

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