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Title: The sound of metal : amateur brass bands in southern Benin
Author: Hoh, Lyndsey
ISNI:       0000 0004 7430 7646
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis contributes an empirically informed understanding of postcolonial experience and musical expression in West Africa through an ethnographic study of amateur brass bands (fanfares) in the Republic of Benin. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Western hegemonic cultural tradition of the brass band was exported across the globe through imperialist institutions such as the military and the church. Music in colonial Dahomey was an integral part of the French civilizing mission, and the brass band took center stage. Brass bands remain pervasive in present-day Benin and perform in a multitude of political, social, and religious contexts. Previous scholarship subsumes postcolonial musical performance into social scripts of resistance, framing brass bands in particular within cultural modes of mimesis, indigenization, or appropriation. Pushing against these canonical narratives, this thesis illustrates apolitical, affective, and embodied modes of experiencing colonialism's material and musical debris. Broadly, the ethnography presented here speaks to four themes. The first of these is material. Evident in musicians' accounts are materials' sonic inclinations: how instrument design and disrepair constrain musical ideals, and how different metals encourage particular pitches and timbres. Present, too, is the social and affective capacity of material: how ideas about brass instruments shape histories, erect styles, construct tastes, move bodies, induce anxieties, and proffer futures. The second theme is precarity. Fanfare musicians “get by” in an exploitative (musical) economy, are made anxious by ambiguous understandings of brass instruments, and manage an undercurrent of uncertainty in a social milieu rife with rumor and distrust. A third theme arising is that of the body, broadly conceived. This thesis illustrates the corporeal demands of fanfare performance, the embodied experience of blowing brass instruments, and the social value of bodily strength and exertion. The fourth theme is entanglement. Beninese musicians' experience of fanfare is entangled within (at times contradictory) ideas of the past, imaginings of the outside, emotions in the present, and expectations for the future. Entanglement likewise extends to musical instruments: the multiple valences of materials collide in brass instruments, as do histories, traditions, and feelings.
Supervisor: Pratten, David ; Stanyek, Jason Sponsor: Wenner Gren Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: African Studies ; Anthropology ; Ethnomusicology ; Music