Petal K. Samuel
Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music, and Pan-African Solidarity, by Tsitsi Ella Jaji. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 272 pagesr. Reviewed by Petal K. Samuel.
Tsitsi Jaji’s elegant study opens with an anecdote at once personal and emblematic: her interlinked memories of celebrations of Zimbabwe’s independence and the broadcasting of Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” on the radio. By examining such instances of black diasporic music’s circulation in continental Africa, Africa in Stereo demonstrates the role of music as a site for exploring and enacting pan-African solidarity and the experience of being “modern” in Africa. A critical intervention into studies of the African diaspora, Jaji’s study joins a body of scholarship that troubles unidirectional conceptions of diaspora that occlude continental Africa from its ongoing currents of exchange. Indeed, Africa in Stereo draws from a wide range of sources—including film, poetry, hymnbooks, magazines, ads, and other media—in order to demonstrate the breadth and vibrancy of U.S. African American music’s diverse afterlives in African media. One of this study’s key interventions is its renewed attention to pan-Africanist discourse, in both formal and informal iterations, as “not simply a position, but a practice” (146) of solidarity that is a critical resource for facing the ever-extant legacies of racial capitalism and colonialism in today’s world. This monograph’s lessons are not simply operative in its content, but in its language and form. This review will thus hone in on only a few (of a wealth of) examples that might demonstrate the meticulously crafted, multi-layered synchronicity of Jaji’s work.
The study coins the term “stereomodernism” as an analytic for describing African cultural productions that use African-American music to signal their modernity, expressly by acknowledging (and indeed urging) a sense of solidarity around shared challenges faced by black subjects globally. Part of what we gain from embracing this hermeneutic is the disruption of latent understandings of the work of imagining solidarities occurring only on one end of the Atlantic, of diasporic subjects in the Americas reaching toward African cultural forms in order to innovate in spite of sustained assaults on black history and culture. Jaji’s work demonstrates emphatically that African writers, artists, and politicians were listening and reaching back, active participants in what Jaji calls an “Afromodern experience [that] is collaboratively, coevally, and continually forged” (4). Jaji’s terminology, with the choice of the term “stereo,” echoes and complicates this idea. As she describes, “stereo,” as a prefix, both energizes descriptions of the production of an effect of being surrounded (as in “stereophonic” sound) and connotes deceptive and dangerous endeavors of circumscription (as in “stereotyping” a group). As such, this term lends itself well to describing the act of promoting solidarity while heeding the attendant complications of such efforts. Jaji’s project is deliberately hopeful, but not utopian.