Sounding East Africa: Music, Technology and Ideology

Principal Investigator: Professor James Ogude


The Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship is the host of the multi-insitutional project "Sounding East Africa: Music, Technology and Ideology", funded by the Perivoli Africa Research Institute (PARC) at the University of Bristol. The project is led by Professor James Ogude at the University of Pretoria, and Dr Justin Williams at the Univeristy of Bristol. 

The project has been funded for one year, starting on 1 June 2022 and running until 31 May 2023. 

In Kenya and Tanzania, music played a crucial role in mobilising the anti- colonial movement. Following independence, music became an important space in which the newly independent nations were imagined. Radio was the principal medium through which the state communicated with the population, and music was a vital element in creating new radio publics. From the 1950s onwards, the sole operating radio stations in Kenya and Tanzania were controlled by the state and after independence they were tasked with broadcasting largely ‘national’ music. The nation was, in a sense, quite literally sounded into being. Popular songs of the immediate post-independence era became part of national musical canons, continuing to be hugely popular with audiences across all age groups in East Africa today. There were tensions within these projects of national sonic imagining, as popular genres such as rhumba, dansi and taarab drew heavily on transnational influences stretching across the Black Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Musicians themselves frequently collaborated across national borders, operating within a regional musical economy.

Using archival research and oral history, this project will explore how East African publics across gender, ethnicity, class and age have understood the sounds of this musical canon. This project will develop new theories of sound located in the conceptions of the sonic brought to music by East

African musical producers and audiences. This project will shift the focus from state policies and examine how local audiences have conceptualised and re-conceptualised the sounds of this musical production.


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