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Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra by Steven Feld (thoughts)

February 29, 2012

Of all the university presses on Netgalley, I think Duke has become my favourite. They always have the most irresistable-sounding titles, and I’m inevitably blown away by the books themselves. Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra by Steven Feld is no exception to this pattern, and it’s a book I’d happily recommend to anyone who enjoys smart, thoughtful, internationally-focused nonfiction.

Feld is an anthropologist by training and jazz musician by inclination; he got involved in the Ghana music scene and spent five years on various projects (cd’s, dvd’s, tours, etc.). This book grew out of those experiences: it’s an interesting blend of more personal narrative and in-depth profiles of Ghanaians he got to know with some more scholarly anthropological musings. As he states in the introduction, it’s certainly not what you might expect, or what is traditional for a professor, but it works beautifully.

What I loved most about Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra is that Feld never objectifies the people he’s describing. Indeed, each of the three men he profiles gets a full chapter, and he quotes liberally from interviews and conversations to ensure that they stay the subjects of their stories. In a field in which it’s easy for Western scholars to fall into an us/them mentality or exoticisation trap, this is wonderfully refreshing. Feld’s love for jazz music and respect for the musicians he works with really comes through, and his exploration of the meanings of cosmopolitanism, and how it actually plays out in different forms in the real world, makes for a fascinating and thought-provoking conclusion. And the many included photographs just bring Accra and its musical citizens even more to life.

I’m very happy to have read this, and I’m hoping that Feld has written more books, especially one about his field work in Papua New Guinea! And I want to track down some of the cd’s/dvd’s he produced so that I can hear the music for myself. In the meantime, I have a little list of titles he referenced that all sound well worth a read. Definitely try to get a hold of this one if it sounds at all appealing to you!

Suggested Companion Reads

  • Cosmopolitanism by Kwame Anthony Appiah (While not my favourite Appiah-that would be In My Father’s House-this popular philosophy book would make a great partner here. Appiah is Ghanaian, and in this one he explores the meaning of cosmopolitanism in our modern world, similar to Feld’s concluding chapter. No blog post to link to since I read it pre-blogging.)
  • Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo (This short novel by one of Ghana’s leading writers provides a fascinating peek into life amongst Accra’s middle class.)
  • Days of Death, Days of Life by Kristin Norget (If you’re left wanting another culturally sensitive anthropology books, Norget wrote an excellent account of her time in Oaxaca studying the Mexican approach to death.)
3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 29, 2012 7:12 am

    Happy t read this reivew about Accra, Ghana. I have Changes on my TBR list, which I intend to read soon

  2. February 29, 2012 12:19 pm

    Thanks for this great review! Since you enjoyed Steven Feld’s book you might be glad to know that in the fall we will publish a 30th anniversary edition of his classic ethnography “Sound and Sentiment”:

  3. March 6, 2012 1:58 pm

    This sounds really interesting, what a fun topic! Maybe I should get back on NetGalley…

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