Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Princeton University
Radio Dakar, African Experimental Music, and the Forging of a Global Avant-Garde

My dissertation examines how movement between Africa and Europe shaped mid-twentieth-century avant-garde music. I argue that African musicians and radio technicians in the 1950s-1970s were central to the development of experimental music, a somewhat contested term that describes music at the forefront of formal and technical innovation. While scholars have long associated this musical tradition with composers and institutions in Europe and North America, and more recently Latin America and the Middle East, my research explores African musicians’ previously unrecognized contributions. I trace the musical activities of more than 300 radio technicians, broadcasters, and producers from over a dozen African countries, from their early training at Radio France in Paris during the 1950s and 1960s through their careers across independent Francophone Africa. These technicians lived through a pivotal epoch; many left their countries as colonial subjects but returned as citizens of independent nations. During their training in Paris, they learned the same set of skills that other composers employed at electronic music studios across Europe and North America, such as creating sound effects, inventing electronic instruments, and composing original music for radio plays and broadcasts. They brought this experimental ethos back with them when they returned to their home stations, where they employed these innovative techniques in the studio to transcend divisions between traditional, popular, and experimental music. While Africans were the main audience of their broadcasts, recordings made in these African studios also circulated globally, influencing popular and art music in North America and Europe, such as New Wave, post-punk, minimalism, musique concrète, and more. By centering the contributions of these African technicians, my project reveals the global interconnectedness of twentieth-century experimental music while also complicating conventional definitions of African music, which often characterize it exclusively according to its traditional or popular music practices and ignore its avant-garde legacy.