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Myriam Cottias et Céline Flory
Traduction de Lysa Hochroth
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Éditorial [fr]

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1Issue 7 of the journal Esclavage & post~esclavage / Slaveries & Post~Slaveries opens with a tribute to Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (1929-2022) who, throughout her academic career, led a relentless struggle against racism and social injustice. From the outset of her studies on the history of slavery and the enslaved in Louisiana, she combined political and scientific commitment. She fought against the Ku Klux Klan and for civil rights for African Americans, and in 1949 was arrested for violating the racial segregation ordinance of the city of New Orleans. In her work she embarked on a vast undertaking to identify the names of enslaved people, to give them back their humanity, and, as early as 1984, developed the “Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy, 1719-1820” database at a time when the digital humanities were not recognized for their true value. Throughout her life, she has been this “citizen researcher” close to our journal’s intellectual enterprise.

  • 1 Interview with Charles Henry Rowell, Callaloo, no. 29/4, pp. 1054.

2The definition of Afro-Creole culture was also key to Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s approach. She described this culture as an interaction between Afro-descendant people, the First Peoples of the Americas, and the French and/or German colonists, in which musicians were essential. In this culture, “Music is considered magic,” she said in an interview published in Callaloo.1 She described and analyzed the practical and sensitive conditions of music so well that her work inspired musicians such as Wynton Marsalis who created a jazz oratorio entitled “Blood on the Fields” in 1997. This composition can certainly be seen as a “musical memorial” as defined by Elina Djebbari and Charlotte Grabli, the coordinators of this thematic issue. It is a creation imbued with the history and memory of slavery and which also builds a new musical narrative.

3Creativity acts as proof of the resistance of human beings enslaved in the Americas and in the Indian Ocean. Creation is resilience: an inexhaustible human force, a capacity to impose oneself on the world, to force the recognition of the place of the enslaved into a musical space. This thematic issue addresses the relationship to the past and to the memory of the spirituals of the American cotton fields, the gwoka and the bélé of Caribbean plantation societies, the maloya on the island of Réunion, jazz, reggae, zouk, and rap, which are all heirs to this cultural melting pot on a global scale. The focus is on the transformation of the memory of slavery through musical creation to a projection of new memory onto the world, one that is transfigured through music. “The layering of references to memory through music leads us to scrutinise the musical memorial as a place of (re)transmission of memories of slave trades and slaveries,” write the coordinators of this issue.

  • 2 Marcus Miller performing “Gorée” live at the North Sea Jazz Festival 2015. Available online: www.y (...)
  • 3 Marcus Miller, “Marcus Miller’s message for the 25th Anniversary of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project,” (...)

4Particular moments allow for this crystallization, such as, for example, the Unesco project “The Slave Route.” A few years after it began in 1994, Marcus Miller, jazzman and project ambassador, set out on a journey of remembrance to Gorée and created, in 2010, an eponymous piece that he erected as a universal memorial.2 He says, “the song is no longer about just my own personal feelings on slavery—it’s become way deeper. It’s a universal experience every time I perform ‘Gorée’ [...] me, the musicians, and the audience. Everyone’s connecting through the music and the power of strength, remembrance, hope and resilience.”3 It is a space that calls all to recollect, by listening in double-time, both to historical memory and to the music that transforms it: “the memorial processes, alternative, dialogical and sometimes contentious […] are established between political or institutional actors and the creators, listeners and audiences of the musical memorials,” as Elina Djebbari and Charlotte Grabli write.

5Music is not the only vehicle for these processes. Raphaëlle Rabanes and Djaël Chevry also describe a carnivalesque wandering of the spirits, an initiative of a Guadeloupean association, which claim an alternative form of memory after the discovery of graves of enslaved people in the town of Saint-François. According to Steven Feld, who describes his project “Jazz Cosmopolitanism,” this comes about by developing a sensory memory of the Black Atlantic. Claiming the memory of slavery can also be more on the offensive. Dread Scott expresses it by destroying and contesting the symbols of the American myth because, as he says in his interview with Thomas Bertail: “There is no Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck without slavery. That’s the history and legacy of America.”

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1 Interview with Charles Henry Rowell, Callaloo, no. 29/4, pp. 1054.

2 Marcus Miller performing “Gorée” live at the North Sea Jazz Festival 2015. Available online: [last accessed, November 2022].

3 Marcus Miller, “Marcus Miller’s message for the 25th Anniversary of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project,” at 2 min 32 s. Available online: [last accessed, November 2022].

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Myriam Cottias et Céline Flory, « Editorial »Esclavages & Post-esclavages [En ligne], 7 | 2022, mis en ligne le 09 janvier 2023, consulté le 23 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Myriam Cottias


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CNRS (Mondes Américains, CIRESC), France

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