Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra

Five Musical Years in Ghana

Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 78 illustrations Published: March 2012

Author: Steven Feld

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Music > Jazz

In this remarkable book, Steven Feld, pioneer of the anthropology of sound, listens to the vernacular cosmopolitanism of jazz players in Ghana. Some have traveled widely, played with American jazz greats, and blended the innovations of John Coltrane with local instruments and worldviews. Combining memoir, biography, ethnography, and history, Feld conveys a diasporic intimacy and dialogue that contests American nationalist and Afrocentric narratives of jazz history. His stories of Accra's jazz cosmopolitanism feature Ghanaba/Guy Warren (1923–2008), the eccentric drummer who befriended the likes of Charlie Parker, Max Roach, and Thelonious Monk in the United States in the 1950s, only to return, embittered, to Ghana, where he became the country's leading experimentalist. Others whose stories figure prominently are Nii Noi Nortey, who fuses the legacies of the black avant-gardes of the 1960s and 1970s with pan-African philosophy in sculptural shrines to Coltrane and musical improvisations inspired by his work; the percussionist Nii Otoo Annan, a traditional master inspired by Coltrane's drummers Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali; and a union of Accra truck and minibus drivers whose squeeze-bulb honk-horn music for drivers' funerals recalls the jazz funerals of New Orleans. Feld describes these artists' cosmopolitan outlook as an "acoustemology," a way of knowing the world through sound.


“[A] book I’d happily recommend to anyone who enjoys smart, thoughtful, internationally-focused nonfiction. . . . What I loved most about Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra is that Feld never objectifies the people he’s describing. Feld’s love for jazz music and respect for the musicians he works with really comes through, and his exploration of the meanings of cosmopolitanism, and how it actually plays out in different forms in the real world, makes for a fascinating and thought-provoking conclusion. And the many included photographs just bring Accra and its musical citizens even more to life.” — Eva Kay, A Striped Armchair blog

“Feld offers an engaging, well-written, insightful work that is both a study of Ghana's contemporary music scene (particularly avant-garde jazz) and a memoir of his experiences as an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist. . . . The numerous photos are captivating and help bring the stories to life. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers.” — D. J. Schmalenberger, Choice

“Feld’s new book is a celebration of storytelling as ethnographic form and a compelling portrait of cosmopolitanism as situated musical experience.” — Max Ritts, Environment and Planning D

“[A] vital statement about the infinitely nuanced nature of cultural exchange between Africa and America, and how our fullest understanding of jazz history might be furthered by enquiries like this.” — Kevin Le Gendre, Jazzwise

“A successful fusion of anthropology and aesthetics that illuminates the musical and cultural links—and differences—between African and American jazz, this is also a fascinating memoir of one person’s attempt to understand the urban culture of Ghana in an age of globalization.” — Publishers Weekly

“Feld reveals the high degree of cosmopolitanism in jazz-pop related musics and the huge role that race and class play in constraining the players. Deciphering the intertextuality of African American life and music requires an expert like Steven Feld. He has done a masterful job.” — Philip K. Bock, Journal of Anthropological Research

“In addition to his effective usage of the storytelling mode, Feld provides an exemplary illustration of the seamless integration of multiple roles as a documentary filmmaker, musician, anthropologist, historian, and tour promoter. . . . Feld realizes that not all Ghanaians would view these musicians as cosmopolitans, but that fact seems to actually reinforce his discussion of the discourse on cosmopolitanism and its relationship to race, class, and other structures of power. Indeed, he opens many doors for his readers and tells us stories of why these types of music making are important beyond Ghana. He leads us to a more refined understanding of cosmopolitanism, not to provide a series of answers, but to provoke in each of us more thoughtful questions about our music, our research, and ourselves.” — Dave Wilson, Ethnomusicology Review

“The chapters in which Feld listens and retells the stories of these mercurial musicians are compelling, and throw up original and profound material. . . . Feld is brilliant at articulating the multiple overlapping narratives and experiences that both obfuscate and animate diasporic dialogues, and in that process his book attains its own world-historical significance.” — Tony Herrington, The Wire

“This fascinating book opens up jazz from the African perspective. Whether he’s discussing with Nortey the Africanization of his saxophone and his absolute dedication to the music of John Coltrane or explaining Ghanaba’s musical relationship with Max Roach, Feld brings a full picture to the broadening cultural aspects of Africans playing their own type of jazz.” — Jon Ross, DownBeat

“With rich and diverse examples, Feld demonstrates the pervasiveness of cosmopolitan outlooks among jazz musicians in Accra, whether mobile or immobile, socially powerful or powerless, rich or poor… Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra is an important theoretical intervention in ‘cosmopolitanism from below’ and a powerful narrative about jazz as an African diasporic art form from the standpoint of musicians in Accra.”  — Stephen Hager, Notes

Jazz Cosmopolitanism is a lively and important book, one that uses the vehicles of dialogue and sound to unearth the complex cultural and political dynamics that connect a group of urban Africans to the diaspora and wider world. It is a fun, invigorating, and worthwhile read. . . . Jazz  Cosmopolitanism is a book that continues to resonate when finally put down. I highly recommend picking it up.”  — Nate Plageman, Journal of African History

“This is a very complex and multi-layered text, and at the same time a smooth-flowing reading, for the way it mixes storytelling and dialogue, music-like composition and a multi-sited perspective.“ — Lorenzo Ferrarini, Visual Ethnography

“A thoroughly humane and endearing narrative account of Feld’s attempt in Ghana, encumbered by the title ‘prof,’ recording and photographic equipment, a car, and many of the resources one expects from a citizen of the wealthiest nation on earth,to try and engage with and understand Accra’s musical landscape and especially those aspects of it which relate to jazz. It’s a joy to read. . . .” — African Jazz

“Feld’s brilliant work should have a broad impact and appeal, offering significant contributions and interventions to interdisciplinary discourses on jazz, Ghanaian music, cosmopolitanism, as well as (urban) Africa and its diaspora.” — Paul Schauert, African Music

“An absolute delight. . . . Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra will not only become one of the most important studies in jazz scholarship; it will also provide a provocative indication of where and how culturally oriented music studies might develop.” — Ronald Radano, Journal of Popular Music Studies

"[A] very warm and intimate study. The reader will be invited to listen to the people involved. . . . highly recommendable for anyone interested in the scholarly history of not only sound anthropology but anthropology and ethnomusicology."  — Meri Kytö, Popular Music

"Jazz Cosmopolitanism is... a significant text that bestrides the disciplines with clear intersubjectivities and reflexivities beyond “acoustemologies.” Many readers will certainly applaud Feld’s meticulous archival and secondary sources that enrich his historical and contextual notes." — Daniel Avorgbedor, American Anthropologist

"Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra's best quality is its great narrative force...Feld shows that these musicians have much to say; and thanks to his mediation,  their voices and positions are able to contribute to the global discussion, thus opening a new way of approaching culture from a cosmopolitan vantage point. " — Fabio Calzia, Analitica (translated from the Italian)

"Feld is interested in using personal stories about his interactions with these artists to illustrate the ways 'histories of global entanglement' shape the lives of contemporary artists (p. 7). … Through detailing 'off-the-radar lives of people,' Feld creates a means to represent the politics and poetics of cosmopolitanism from the point of view of artists in Accra." — Alex Perullo, American Ethnologist

“A text to listen to... Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra is a prime example of substantial academic research presented in an accessible way.... With his combination of academic depth, collaborative approach, and aesthetic sensibility in this book, as in his other work, Steven Feld is a guiding light for us all: musicians, filmmakers, anthropologists in Ghana and further afield.” — Helena Wulff, Visual Anthropology Review

"A compelling commentary on jazz cosmopolitanism and an unsurprisingly fine story about important musicians whose musical sounds and play result in a lift-up overlapping connectedness. . . . Within the cosmopolitanism described here, there is optimism and adversity. It is cognitive dissonance at its finest, operating within, and as a result of, the intersection and composite constellation of jazz, race, Africa, diaspora, Beethoven, and New Orleans funerals. It is a relentlessly random karmic crapshoot amid connections forged with an unsympathetic hammer and a twisted sense of humor." — Richard M. Deja, Ethnomusicology

"Steven Feld has written an astonishing book: at once a sweetly told adventure story, biographies of some very important but virtually unknown African musicians, a shrewd look at the world we live in and think we know, and hidden within it all, a sly critique of the history of jazz." — John F. Szwed, Director, Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University

"How to evoke the brilliant insight and empathy of Steven Feld's acoustemological memoir of music and musicians in Accra? To start, imagine E. T. Mensah, Shirley Temple, John Coltrane, and Ludwig van Beethoven riding (quasi-legally) in the back of a vividly motto-festooned Ghanaian trotro truck, cool-running a memory-drenched, complexly overlapping soundscape of highlife evergreens, Afriphonic jazz hollers, hallelujah choruses, ratcheting sewer toads, and honking India-rubber bulb horns. Centered on the voices, stories, and ambitions of a compelling cast of characters—Ghanaian musicians whose diversely linked experiences chart the layered, contradictory flows and deep reefs of globalization—Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra is a fundamental and stimulating contribution to the literature on musical cosmopolitanism and the study of contemporary urban culture in Africa.” — Christopher Waterman, Dean, UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Table of Contents Back to Top
Opus xi

<b>Four-Bar Intro</b>
"The Shape of Jazz to Come" 1

Vamp In, Head</b>
Acoustemology in Accra: On Jazz Cosmopolitanism 11

First Chorus, with Transposition
Guy Warren / Ghanaba: From Afro-Jazz to Handel via Max Roach 51

Second Chorus, Blow Free
Nii Noi Nortey: From Pan-Africanism to Afrifones via John Coltrane 87

Third Chorus, Back Inside</b>
Nii Otoo Annan: From Toads to Polyrhythm via Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali 119

Fourth Chorus, Shout to the Groove</b>
Por Por: From Honk Horns to Jazz Funerals via New Orleans 159

Head Again, Vamp Out
Beyond Diasporic Intimacy 199

"Dedicated to You" 245

Horn Backgrounds, Riffs Underneath 249

Themes, Players 299

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2013 Elliot Skinner Book Award (presented by the Association for Africanist Anthropology / AAA)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5162-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5148-1
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