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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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Beyond the Digital Return: New Heritage/s, Sustainability, and the Decolonisation of Music Archives in South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana

Project title

Beyond the Digital Return: New Heritage/s, Sustainability, and the Decolonisation of Music Archives in South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana

Project duration

4 years (2022-2025)

Project directors

  • Dr. Lee Watkins, ILAM, International Library of African Music, Rhodes University, South Africa
  • Prof. Tom M. Mboya, Department of Literature, Linguistics, Foreign Languages and Film Studies, Moi University, Kenya
  • Dr. habil. Markus Coester, Anthropology/Anthropology of Music, University of Bayreuth, Germany

Beyond the Digital Return researches the practice of repatriation/restitution and re/appropriation of submerged but now digitally accessible musical and cultural material. The significance of the relatedness of “digital return” to processes of heritage and identity production as well as the decolonisation of institutional music archives/repositories are investigated in three African countries: South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana, with affiliated research also in Nigeria.

The project’s concerns are about assessing the value of digital return to the development of sustainable cultures and in what digital return reveals about global demands for decolonising archives and museums. Key questions are: what happens after the “digitised musical object” has been returned to its community of origin? Is digital return the answer to developing sustainable music cultures or reviving an interest in them where it may be the case that they are on the brink of collapse or extinction?

The main objective of the project is to enhance our understanding of how repatriation in the field of music yields new forms of cultural creation associated with heritage and, more precisely, intangible cultural heritage.This objective is informed by identity re/construction/affirmation as a result of accessibility, current trends of decolonising archives and the opening up of music archives, collections, and digital repositories (where much digitization has been achieved). These processes have for decades been frustrated by notions of colonial and corporate authority and ownership. The project thus also aims to contribute to currently increasing debates on restitution and related rights issues such as ownership, copyright, and intellectual property rights.

Research team

  • Prof. Daniel Kodzo Avorgbedor, African Studies/Ethnomusicology, University of Ghana
  • Dr. Jane Mwonga, Ethnomusicology, School of Arts and Social Sciences, Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya
  • Dr. Albert Oikelome, Ethnomusicology, Head of Department of Creative Arts, UNILAG, Nigeria
  • Elijah Madiba, M.Mus, Ethnomusicology, ILAM, Rhodes University, South Africa 
  • Kofi Kudonu Labayili, M.A., Department of Music, University of Ghana
  • Nicole Pooley, M.Mus, doctoral researcher in the project, ILAM, Rhodes University, South Africa 
  • Fidelia Tseyi Ametewee, M.A., doctoral researcher in the project, African Studies, University of Ghana
  • Moses Adjei, M.A. doctoral researcher in the project, Ethnomusicology, University of Ghana
  • Tabitha Osoro, M.Med, doctoral researcher in the project, Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya

Beyond the digital event

Research Team Meeting, 22 – 24 August 2022, Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa

In August ‘22 we had our first ‘physical’ team meeting hosted by the International Library of African Music (ILAM) at Rhodes University. Except for Albert Oikelome, who unfortunately could not attend, all project members got to know each other in person and participated in an intense, productive, and memorable meeting on our research subject.

The first day began with an opening address by Dr. Lee Watkins followed by a brief introduction of each team member and their research interests. The rest of the day was dedicated to presentations by doctoral students on their current research topics and ideas with important discussions, suggestions and comments following each presentation. Concluding the first day was a tour of ILAM by its manager and sound engineer, Elijah Madiba.

The second day was dedicated to the presentation of research interests pertaining to the project by its directors and research team. Fruitful discussion took place during and after each presentation with complex topics and keywords coming to the fore. The team also attended a dedicated performance by Ugandan master court musician, Albert Ssempeke, a Masters student and African ensemble performance teacher at Rhodes University.

On the third and final day, Wynand van der Walt, Senior Manager of Innovation at the Rhodes University’s Main Library, gave a presentation on information systems at the university as it applies to the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence. Following this, the team completed discussions ensuing from the previous two days and decided on future meetings and dates. To wrap up the three-day meeting, the team attended a historical tour of Makhanda and some of its cultural institutions by a local tour guide (report draft prepared by Nicole Pooley).

Our next meeting in person is due to take place at the University of Ghana in July 2023. This will be a five-day meeting including workshops with performers, scholars and cultural experts and will lead into the ICTM World Conference on 13 – 19 July 2023 hosted by the University of Ghana, Legon, with our team member Prof. Daniel Avorgbedor as main local organizer. At ICTM we will present our project and research with a panel as well as individual papers. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Webmaster: Dr. Doris Löhr

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