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Tsitsi Ella Jaji, Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music and Pan-African Solidarity

Mumbua Kioko
p. 183-185
Référence(s) :

Tsitsi Ella Jaji, Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music and Pan-African Solidarity, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, 288 p. + companion website

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1Africans of a certain age may well remember a time when Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” was a big hit. Blaring from shops on noisy streets through the hustle and bustle of urban routines, the song’s danceable rhythms seemed to come from many places. This was not only an urban phenomenon, however. Children in rural areas too knew that there was a Buffalo Soldier “in the heart of America, fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.” Whether they were herding sheep and goats or standing on street corners looking for something to do, people found things to engage them in Bob Marley’s well-known song released in 1983. Tsitsi Ella Jaji begins her new book Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music and Pan-African Solidarity by citing Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” and noting its popularity in Africa. In placing “Buffalo Soldier” at the core of Africa in Stereo, the author seeks to exemplify the transmission of music from the African diaspora (transatlantic) back to Africa and to demonstrate the sense of solidarity that emerged from shared musical referents. For Jaji, “listening ‘remotely’ over the radio and at a geographic remove left some complexities opaque, mistranslated and even untranslatable” (2). While “Buffalo Soldier” grabbed the attention of many Africans, the lyrics, in many ways familiar, were also unfamiliar. It was understood that the song was about resistance, but many questions remained about its intrinsic meaning. An eerie feeling that there were Africans living under oppression in far off lands loomed large, but the specifics proved elusive. Jaji has therefore, fittingly anchored Africa in Stereo around the phenomenon of “Buffalo Soldier” as a way to illuminate the very real dialogue between Africa and the diaspora through music.

2Africa in Stereo raises the bar with new insights into both the sonic and visual realms of art. Transcriptions, performance, poetry, print and new media formats elucidate how Africans on the continent and in the diaspora have been engaged in a continuous dialogue and exchange of cultural particulars throughout the twentieth century. A major contribution is the author’s willingness to move beyond a particular village or ethnic group (conventional units of ethnographic analysis) and focus instead on South Africa, Senegal and Ghana, drawing from an interesting array of archival materials to highlight and tease out the forces that made the impulse towards solidarity between Africa and the diaspora possible. Africa in Stereo avoids bold and blunt claims that might apply continent-wide; in their place, the author formulates positions about Africa’s relationship to the diaspora in distinctive ways that echo both multinational and transnational sentiments. Further, however, Jaji debunks the notion of Africa as a point of origin and calls for an understanding of the continent as a “constitutive component” of the diaspora (7).

3The book is organized into six chapters and a companion website. Chapter 1 outlines the concept of “stereomodernism” and challenges the idea that modernization in Africa was the inevitable result of a process of structural and historical change. Stereomodernism gives more agential capacity to Africans involved in a “self-conscious experience of being modern” (4). The next five chapters are organized chronologically and are predominantly situated in one or another of the three countries. Through various aesthetic readings, Jaji explores the “transnational black cultural currents that shape local artistic production” in order to draw out the transformative aspect of stereomodernism (ibid.). Chapter 2 explores transcription under the rubric of “sight-reading” and how it fostered close ties between Africans and their African American counterparts. The idea of transcription extends beyond musical notation and marks writing broadly as a tool for building transnational ties. Chapter 3 discusses Léopold Sédar Senghor’s ideation of Negritude and his meditations on jazz as expressed in his poetry and prose essays. Jaji recasts Senghor’s Negritude alongside the World Festival of Negro Arts in 1966, which was foundational in the realization of Negritude. Jazz is brought into a web of reportage between Africans and African Americans thinking through the notion of “blackness” and “soul.”

4The focus of Chapter 4 is on women as consumers in the era of radio and print media. Jaji applies the term “sheen reading” to the act of flipping through glossy magazines as a part of social significance. The active realization of modernity for African women conjured in the glossy magazine covers and pages, invites the reader into a kind of imagined future without the rigid restrictions of forces like the oppressive apartheid regime. Chapter 5 deals with the historicizing and memorializing of tragedy as given by the transatlantic slave trade. The chapter traces the experiences of African Americans encountering slave memorial sites in Ghana for the first time. Chapter 6 situates piracy as a tool by which users hack into the archive of media exemplifying transnational black solidarity.

5Africa in Stereo provides a fascinating analysis of sonic, visual, performance and print media forms that speak to the notion of transnational black solidarity. It should appeal to students of music, film, literature and African & African American studies. For music scholars, the chapter on transcription is particularly exciting and innovative because it uncovers the practice of writing in Africa in nuanced ways throughout the twentieth century. It incorporates African languages in the body of writing such as John and Nokutela Dube’s A Zulu song book and represents the importance of studying African music alongside African languages.

6While the author has brought to light several subtle connections that affirm an ongoing conversation between Africa and its diaspora, the notion of transnational/black solidarity is not necessarily a new concept emerging from a tragic history of separation, domination and colonization. Africa in Stereo is a timely intervention in an already unfolding dialogue between Africa and the diaspora.

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Référence papier

Mumbua Kioko, « Tsitsi Ella Jaji, Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music and Pan-African Solidarity »Volume !, 15 : 1 | 2018, 183-185.

Référence électronique

Mumbua Kioko, « Tsitsi Ella Jaji, Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music and Pan-African Solidarity »Volume ! [En ligne], 15 : 1 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2021, consulté le 18 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Mumbua Kioko

Mumbua Kioko est ethnomusicologue, travaillant sur la musique et de la danse Sengenya de la région de la côte kenyanne. Sa recherche porte particulièrement sur la rythmique et l’organologie africaines. Elle suit actuellement des études de musicologie à l’université de Princeton.

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L'auteur & les Éd. Mélanie Seteun

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