Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Music and Anthropology, New York University / NYU Abu Dhabi

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2004
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Ethnomusicology, Columbia University
Taarab Music and the Politics of Ethnic Identity in Mombasa, Kenya

Postcolonial Mombasa is a space of dynamic, high-stakes official and interpersonal politics of ethnic identity. Utilizing ethnographic methodologies and semiotic analysis, this study investigates the ways individuals and communities in Mombasa negotiate notions of Swahiliness, Bantuness, Arabness, and Indianness in their engagements with a local fonn of popular music known as taarab. This highly poetic musical genre circulates within an ethnically heterogeneous social context. Even so, the art form is considered distinctly "Swahili" (both locally and in the West), and stylistic variations within the genre are discussed in markedly ethnic terms (e.g. "Arabic taarab," "Indian taarab"). Attention in this study is given to the ways in which the social processes of taarab production and reception serve as discursive fora within which subjects work through emergent debates about ethnic identity. Drawing on C. S. Peirce's detailed theory of the different ways a sign can signify, I seek to analyze the linguistic and musical communicative interactions involved in taarab production and reception as both reflections and practices of ethnic identification and political positioning.