Academic journal article African Studies Review

Urbanization and African Cultures

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Urbanization and African Cultures

Article excerpt

Toyin Falola and Steven J. Salm, eds Urbanization and African Cultures. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2005. xv + 464 pp. Photographs. Maps. Illustrations. Bibliographies. Index. No price reported. Paper.

This book argues that cities in Africa are not simply colonial crossroads, but rather are quintessentially African; in them and because of them, Africans create new things. It does this on a grand scale: twenty-seven chapters by twenty-seven diverse contributors in fields ranging across music, literature, history, and sociology. The authors are, in addition to the usual suspects, independent scholars, graduate students, and emeriti. They are African and American, women and men, and their topics cover the gamut, from the Thron Church in Cotonou to a new form of Wolof in urban Senegal. However, the book's apparent comprehensiveness is undermined by the disproportionate focus on West Africa and Nigeria, in particular. The entire seven-chapter fiction section is devoted to Nigerian authors and works, leaving the reader with the impression that only Nigerians write about cities. West Africa is also over-represented in the popular culture section, which is led off by four chapters on Nigeria and three on Senegal; in this nineteen-essay section, only two essays look at East Africa and four at South Africa.

Despite the overwhelming focus on West Africa, valuable attention is paid to cities and urban phenomena off the paths beaten by most Westerntrained scholars. There is a chapter about Kutigi in Nigeria, as well as a look at Mindelo on Cape Verde, for two centuries a crossroads of the Atlantic world. The fact that the author calls Mindelo the crossroads of the world is perhaps an unconscious reflection of the volume's Atlantic bias. Another chapter focuses on the Tuareg, a marginalized minority in the five West and North African nations where they now live, while chapter 14 is a particularly refreshing and detailed study of an idiosyncratic musical product of Cameroonian urban media, Les Têtes Brulées, complete with song lyrics.

Nevertheless, the book sometimes has the feel of a conference panel constructed late at night by fatigued conference organizers stacking together leftover papers that must be stretched to fit a catch-all theme. …

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