Course No.: 20621-0 (autumn semester 2008)
Lecturer: Veit Arlt
Popular Music as a Source for the Study of African History and Cultures: Recordings from Nigeria, 1954-1957
In this course we work on a collection of shellac records ("78s") from late colonial Nigeria to be found in the archives of the Union Trade Company (UTC). The UTC emerged from the commercial activities of the Basel Mission in the 1920s and closed down in the late 1990s. The majority of the recordings are praise songs performed by musicians for patrons "spraying" them with money. What kind of music is this and what is its relation to other forms of popular and "traditional" music from Nigeria? What do the texts of the songs tell us about the person praised and the one praising him or her? Can they be used as a valid source? How can we set this source and this archive in value?
Students are on the one hand introduced to some of the music cultures of Nigeria and to the study of popular music in general. On the other hand each student will work hands-on with one song. With the help of a resource person the text will be transcribed and translated. All texts are then compared and examined. Each student writes an essay on the song he or she has chosen, or on a cross-cutting theme that comes up in the recordings. Our goal is not only to establish a body of texts that can be used for research but also to create the basis for a release of the songs on an audio compact disc. Students thus learn what it means to publish music and to communicate their findings through the medium of a CD booklet and the limited space it offers.
- Bender, Wolfgang: Der nigerianische Highlife. Musik und Kunst in der populären Kultur der 50er und 60er Jahre. Wuppertal 2007
- Barber, Karin: I Could Speak until Tomorrow: Oriki, Women and the past in a Yoruba Town. London 1991
- Arlt, Veit: Special Section on Historical Recordings of African Popular Music as a Source for the Study of African History and Cultures, In: History in Africa. A Journal of Method, Vol. 5, pp. 389-461.
- Waterman, Christopher Alan: Jùjú. A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music. Chicago and London: 1990.