Listening for Africa

Freedom, Modernity, and the Logic of Black Music’s African Origins

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 23 illustrations Published: August 2017

Author: David F. Garcia

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Music > Ethnomusicology

In Listening for Africa David F. Garcia explores how a diverse group of musicians, dancers, academics, and activists engaged with the idea of black music and dance’s African origins between the 1930s and 1950s. Garcia examines the work of figures ranging from Melville J. Herskovits, Katherine Dunham, and Asadata Dafora to Duke Ellington, Dámaso Pérez Prado, and others who believed that linking black music and dance with Africa and nature would help realize modernity’s promises of freedom in the face of fascism and racism in Europe and the Americas, colonialism in Africa, and the nuclear threat at the start of the Cold War. In analyzing their work, Garcia traces how such attempts to link black music and dance to Africa unintentionally reinforced the binary relationships between the West and Africa, white and black, the modern and the primitive, science and magic, and rural and urban. It was, Garcia demonstrates, modernity’s determinations of unraced, heteronormative, and productive bodies, and of scientific truth that helped defer the realization of individual and political freedom in the world.


Listening for Africa is a book that deserves to be read carefully and slowly. It is a work of sensitive and rigorous archival research combined with a sophisticated theoretical framework.” — Ryan T. Skinner, American Anthropologist

“Scholars of Africanisms and race relations will appreciate Garcia's message. Recommended.” — K. W. Mukuna, Choice

"An interesting and insightful read. . . . With an extensive bibliography at the end, this book will be of much interest to a wide variety of scholars interested in sound studies: anthropologists, musicologists, cultural studies scholars, and critical race theorists, to name a few. Garcia’s work gives scholars new tools to examine racial motivations behind music studies and discussions of music and sound, and new ways to discuss how that affects our writing, scholarly discussions and consensus, and the cultural influences of that information." — Chelsea Adams, Journal of Anthropological Research

"Listening for Africa ambitiously and provocatively weaves together multiple strands of a rich, complex, and decidedly important tale: how academics and artists of diverse backgrounds engaged and promoted the African origins of diasporic black music and dance. . . . The best parts of the book were so ear-opening that I wished I was reading the first volume of a historical trilogy on the locus of artistic and intellectual biography at formative moments in the disciplinary organization of anthropology and ethnomusicology." — Steven Feld, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Garcia’s research is commendable for its breadth and its attention to detail. Meticulous treatment of the archival materials and their social and political contexts allows the book to mobilise theory convincingly. . . . Listening for Africa should be convicting for educators who so often are complicit in advancing an ‘African origins’ paradigm and, indeed, is an advisable read for those who are studying and/or educating about racialised music and dance genres.” — Sarah Bishop, Popular Music

"Theoretically ambitious and meticulously researched. . . sure to become a classic account of the discursive construction of blackness through music."
  — Michael Birenbaum Quintero, Journal of Popular Music Studies

"This impressive monograph is an archaeology of knowledge via several intersecting fields—anthropology, comparative musicology, folklore, African American, and dance studies—and interrogates the performances of an African past as manifested in Afro-Cuban, Caribbean, and African American contexts." — Joel Dinerstein, African American Review

"Listening for Africa is a significant work that will be of interest to those engaged in black and African music studies." — Claudia Jansen van Rensburg, Journal of the Musical Arts in Africa

"Listening for Africa is an immensely useful study, documenting as it does the roles of numerous actants who otherwise do not appear in the established histories of jazz." — Bruce Johnson, Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research

“David F. Garcia’s deftly argued study brings to light how black music and dance became a defining factor during the high years of Afro-modernism, 1930s to 1950s. Because it emerged from conscious artistic intent, black dance ‘made’ many things: myths of origins, race’s content, and even modernism itself. Garcia treats black dance as a community theater that staged the scramble for an African Diaspora, a movement that was international and with multiple roots and aspirations. Black dance, Garcia teaches us, was more than just a lot of shaking and jumping. It made a world.” — Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr, author of The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop

"David F. Garcia's linkage of jazz, Cuban and Latin American music, and Africa, along with his focus on understudied figures, is compelling. Garcia's work makes a powerful intervention in jazz studies as well as the field of Africanist ethnomusicology. We need this book." — Ingrid Monson, author of Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call out to Jazz and Africa


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David F. Garcia is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the author of Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface  ix
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction  1
1. Analyzing the African Origins of Negro Music and Dance in a Time of Racism, Fascism, and War  21
2. Listening to Africa in the City, in the Laboratory, and on Record  74
3. Embodying Africa against Racial Oppression, Ignorance, and Colonialism  124
4. Disalienating Movement and Sound from the Pathologies of Freedom and Time  173
5. Desiring Africa, or Western Civilization's Discontents  221
Conclusion. Dance-Music as Rhizome  268
Notes  277
Bibliography  323
Index  345
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Recipient of the 2018 Commendation, British Forum for Ethnomusicology Book Prize

Honorable Mention, 2018 Alan Merriam Prize, presented by the Society for Ethnomusicology

Winner of the 2018 Bruno Nettl Prize, presented by the Society for Ethnomusicology

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6370-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6354-5
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