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

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Rethinking the “Informal” and Mainstreaming African Popular Arts and Entertainment

Project summary

 In this project, we engage with overlooked and understudied popular urban entertainment ‘forms’ such as stand-up comedy, hip hop music, spoken-word poetry and musicalized histories and biographies to understand and document how they delineate and express Africa’s experience of a multipolar world and the multiple material and non-material conditions of its people. The forms exist in fluid and trans-generic frames, and circulate relationally in verbal, visual, performative and euphonic schemes that challenge simple distinctions between orality and writing. They situate malleably in literary drama, poetry, oral histories and biographies, but thereafter overcome the circumscription of these colonially endorsed and post-colonially subsidized media by contaminating them to produce less characterisable formal and thematic aftermaths. As a result they have often been the lure of a vast congregation of urban consumers to performance. They enrich the cultural economy of African urban spaces; transform the experience and livelihoods of youths and other interlocutors, as much as such social groups transformed them. In spite of their huge reception that cuts across social spaces and strata in Africa, we argue that a seeming disinterest or reluctance of the academy to engage with these forms as repositories of social knowledge has confined them to ‘informality’, a state from which sister forms such as the video film has arguably been ‘rescued’ (jedlowski, 2013). We submit that engaging with these forms is essential to understanding how African ‘popular’ artists frame themselves and have elected to organise entertainment to enable their consumers perceive the world and cope with it. We assume that the forms have significant decolonising implications for a newer understanding of the continent’s entertainment economy, which can enrich the methodological and theoretical reviews entailed in the project of reconfiguring African Studies. Therefore we propose to collate, characterise, curate and archive these resources in order to make them accessible. as a first step towards reining them in for widespread scholarly engagements, which would ultimately make them amenable for inclusion in African studies curricula of African Academies.

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