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Playing the backbeat in Conakry: Miriam Makeba and the cultural politics of Sékou Touré’s Guinea, 1968–1986


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This article revisits the cultural history of Guinea in the three decades following independence through focusing on the musical activity of Miriam Makeba, the exiled South African singer who resided in the country between the years 1968 and 1986. Recent scholarship has illuminated the vast investment of the Guinean state in developing modern national culture as part of the process of decolonisation as well as the limited freedom of expression, imposed by the state, that subjugated local cultural production. While these studies have concentrated primarily on Guinean cultural agents, this paper explores transnational dimensions within the cultural politics of Guinea. It highlights Makeba’s emplacement in Guinea in the context of nation building, Pan-Africanism, cold war politics and black transnational cultural exchanges. By focusing on the disparity between textual sources and musically embedded meanings extracted from Makeba’s music recorded in Guinea, this paper recasts Makeba as a conduit of African-American musical influences in the Guinean scene. By doing so, it uncovers cultural spaces that were not subordinated to official state ideology mediated through print culture, and thus have hitherto been unrecognised in mainstream historiography.
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Social Dynamics
A journal of African studies
ISSN: 0253-3952 (Print) 1940-7874 (Online) Journal homepage:
Playing the backbeat in Conakry: Miriam Makeba
and the cultural politics of Sékou Touré’s Guinea,
Yair Hashachar
To cite this article: Yair Hashachar (2017) Playing the backbeat in Conakry: Miriam Makeba and
the cultural politics of Sékou Touré’s Guinea, 1968–1986, Social Dynamics, 43:2, 259-273, DOI:
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© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Informa
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VOL. 43, NO. 2, 259273
Playing the backbeat in Conakry: Miriam Makeba and the
cultural politics of Sékou Touré’s Guinea, 1968–1986
a“APARTHEID-STOPS” European Research Council Project, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
Israel; bDepartment of Musicology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel
This article revisits the cultural history of Guinea in the three decades
following independence through focusing on the musical activity of
Miriam Makeba, the exiled South African singer who resided in the
country between the years 1968 and 1986. Recent scholarship has
illuminated the vast investment of the Guinean state in developing
modern national culture as part of the process of decolonisation
as well as the limited freedom of expression, imposed by the state,
that subjugated local cultural production. While these studies have
concentrated primarily on Guinean cultural agents, this paper explores
transnational dimensions within the cultural politics of Guinea. It
highlights Makeba’s emplacement in Guinea in the context of nation
building, Pan-Africanism, cold war politics and black transnational
cultural exchanges. By focusing on the disparity between textual
sources and musically embedded meanings extracted from Makeba’s
music recorded in Guinea, this paper recasts Makeba as a conduit of
African-American musical inuences in the Guinean scene. By doing
so, it uncovers cultural spaces that were not subordinated to ocial
state ideology mediated through print culture, and thus have hitherto
been unrecognised in mainstream historiography.
is study focuses on a relatively unknown chapter in the musical career of the South
African singer Miriam Makeba. I concentrate on her musical activity in the West African
country of Guinea that became her home and where she worked between 1968 and 1986.
Although Makeba has been the subject of academic scrutiny in recent years, research into
her work has focused mainly on her time in the United States and has thus been limited
to the North American context. Research has investigated, for example, her role in the US
civil rights movement within a more encompassing framework of black cultural activism
(Feldstein 2013; Fleming 2016); the manner in which she came to represent the African
other” in the United States (Sizemore-Barber 2012); as well as her role in promoting resist-
ance to the apartheid regime (Weaver 2013). Makeba’s career in Guinea, however, has not
yet been the focus of sustained research. On the other hand, scholarship on Guinean music
has focused primarily on Guinean-born musicians and on the state cultural apparatus, and
Miriam Makeba; Guinea; Pan-
Africanism; African-American
music; cold war
© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License
(, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
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CONTACT Yair Hashachar
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has not considered the role of Makebas position in Guinea in depth (Charry 2000; Counsel
2009; Dave 2014). In contrast to the existing scholarship, I will focus on Makebas role as a
conduit of African-American musical inuences that exemplies the complex patterns of
stereophonic ows between Africa and America – ows that are “audibly entangled” with
national policies,
cold war politics and Pan-African orientations, as well as popular musical
tastes. I will also consider Makebas own agency and her unique position in Guinea that plays
on the tension between her positioning as both internal and external to Guinean culture, and
that oers the potential for an illuminating reappraisal of black transnational solidarities.
Music is oen viewed as a primary expressive form for the performance and maintenance
of such black transnational solidarities, as was stated most forcefully by Paul Gilroy in his
volume e Black Atlantic (1993). is is in part due to the fact that, unlike literature and
theatre which require laborious work of translation in order to cross linguistic borders e-
ciently, music’s non-linguistic musical components allow it to retain its expressive power to
some degree even in the absence of semantic intelligibility.2 Focusing on performative and
non-textual aspects of music, Gilroy viewed music as capable of expressing structures of
feelings that slipped between existing political structures, constituting a “politics of transg-
uration” in which “the formation of a community of needs and solidarity […] is magically
made audible in the music itself” (37).3
On the basis of Gilroy’s work, scholars have continued to recognise the signicance of
music within the Black Atlantic, while criticising the marginal role Gilroy devotes to Africa
(see Masilela 1996; Piot 2001). Such works highlight the central place of continental Africa
within the transnational order, primarily along the US–Africa and the Caribbean–Africa
axes (see Erlmann 1999; White 2002; Monson 2007; Muller and Benjamin 2011; Feld 2012;
Kelley 2012; Shain 2012; Jaji 2014). Importantly, Gilroy’s Black Atlantic framework origi-
nally oered an alternative to what Schiller and Meinhof (2011, 21) termed “methodolog-
ical nationalism,” contesting the seemingly pre-given status of the nation-state in cultural
analysis. However, I argue that in the context of post-independent Guinea it is equally
important to be attuned to nationalist and other ideological forces. ese forces dictate
interpretations which oen stand in contrast to liberal understandings of black solidarity
and which operate in opposition to popular tastes, sometimes impeding and disrupting
black diasporic musical conversations.4
Focusing on Makeba’s role in Guinea allows us to revisit Guinean cultural history from
a transnational perspective. e transnational historiographic heuristic of my analysis is
derived from the paradigm of “apartheids global itinerary,” proposed by Louise Bethlehem,
that underlies the research project within which this study was conducted. As Bethlehem
claims in this special issue and elsewhere (2013) “the deterritorialisation of South African
texts, images, works of performance culture, and social actors, particularly those associated
with anti-apartheid resistance, aords the cultural theorist or historian strong historio-
graphic purchase over conjunctures outside of South Africa.” Accordingly, I use Makeba
to consider how the music of the exiled South African singer was “channeled through
local paradigms of reception, in taut negotiation with aesthetic, institutional, linguistic
and political considerations,” in accordance with Bethlehem’s overarching claims (2013, 6).
e second historiographic heuristic that underlies this study concerns forms of historical
inquiry that are based upon meanings symbolically embedded in music and sound forma-
tions. In Interpreting Music (2011), Lawrence Kramer summarised the marginal position of
music (and musicology as a discipline) with respect to broader interdisciplinary academic
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paradigms. In his view, these paradigms perpetuate the “the familiar, unreective assump-
tion that music has nothing to tell us about the historical and conceptual worlds it comes
from” (96). In this article, I wish to argue for the added value that a music-based historiog-
raphy, such as the kind Kramer envisages, might have over other modes of historical inquiry
primarily rooted in the dominant medium of linguistic textuality. is goal intersects the
one that Kramer forcefully sets out in the introduction to his analysis of Beethovens e
Ruins of Athens: that is to say, the capacity “to learn something about a moment in history by
thinking about a sample of its music” (98). Combining these two historiographic heuristics,
the current paper oers a twofold historical defamiliarisation.
Cultural politics in Guinea
e case of post-independence Guinea has much to contribute to a renewed appraisal of the
Black Atlantic as well as to the historiographical defamiliarisation of decolonisation through
sonic formations.5 is is because of the unique path the country took to independence as
the rst nation to gain independence in Francophone Africa, as well as the specicity of
its attempts to forge a modern national culture. In September 1958, Guinea voted against
remaining in the Franco-African community in a referendum that oered the French colo-
nial territories a choice between local government within this community and immediate
independence (Schmidt 2007). Under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré, the newly
independent Guinean state invested considerable eort in developing a modern national
culture through a doctrine known as authenticité. Cultural interventions on the part of the
state included the formation of artistic troupes, whose members were civil servants, which
performed at regional and national level and the organisation of cultural competitions and
annual national festival that exhibited selected groups (Counsel 2009). e vast involvement
of the Guinean state in cultural life intensied following a Socialist Cultural Revolution that
was ocially initiated by Touré in August 1968.
Lansine Kaba (1976) points out that the explicit rationale behind the revolution was to
diminish the power of intellectuals and “to return to the authentic African culture as it is
lived by the masses, and foremost as it is understood by the party’s leadership” (208). As a
matter of fact, the revolution concentrated even more power in Touré’s hands and the Parti
Démocratique de Guinée (PDG) ruling party became synonymous with the revolution. us,
freedom of expression was severely restricted so that any oppositional voice to the party
or to Touré’s leadership was rendered as counter-revolutionary, and thus, as an attack on
the Guinean people (Camara 2005, 71). Such accusations oen resulted in imprisonment,
torture and death without trial (Kaba 1976, 218). Consequently, artistic production has
oen been portrayed in the scholarly literature as completely subjugated to state policy and
government agendas (Counsel 2009, 99).
e Guinean governments most direct intervention with respect to music was conducted
in 1959, only a few weeks aer independence. A resolution led by the PDG disbanded all
the existing music groups in Guinea. e rationale for this act was described as follows:
As African light music and dance music were banned by the colonial authorities, most
music-lovers looking for something exotic turned to Cuban or Latin American music, whose
rhythms and melodies were more or less remotely of African origin. In this situation, one of
the rst things the Party had to do once in power was to disband a plethora of dance orchestras
and vocal groups, in vogue under the colonial regime, which conned their performances to
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slavish renditions of tangos, waltzes, fox-trots, swing music and other rhythms imported from
Europe and the Caribbean. Musicians and other performers in these groups were asked to
return to authentic African rhythms and tunes. (Cultural Policy in the Revolutionary Peoples
Republic of Guinea’s 1979, 80)
While this cultural policy document groups together European styles closely associated
with colonial cultures (waltzes), American ballroom dancing (fox-trots and swing) as well
as Carribean and Latin American music, all described as “more or less remotely of African
origin,” in practice the status of these styles in the Guinean music scene was uneven.
By and large, Cuban music emerged as the most popular style in Guinea at the time.
is popularity accrued from the distribution of LP records known as the GV series dating
back to the 1930s (Counsel 2009, 64). In fact the “return” of Guinean musicians to indige-
nous tunes and rhythms was not done in a traditionalist fashion. Rather it rested on fusing
traditional songs and melodies with contemporary musical arrangement. ese styles saw
Guinean musicians rely heavily on Cuban music as a musical lingua franca.
Cuban rhythms
were oen used in original songs composed by Guinean artists and the names of the Cuban
rhythms were oen indicated in the subtitles. Not only were rhythms incorporated in new
compositions, but popular Cuban songs such as “Guantanamera” and “Mi Corazon” were
recorded by Guinean bands on Syliphone, the national recording label (Counsel 2009, 91).
By way of contrast with Cuban inuences, North American black diasporic genres such as
Soul and R&B were far less audible in recordings by Guinean artists despite their eligibility
for claiming shared roots in Africa. Signicantly, this was not just a matter of musical taste.
Despite the fact the Soul and R&B were not prominent in recordings, African-American
music was in fact popular among Guinean musicians and the Guinean youth at this time.
Artists like James Brown and Willson Pickett were especially admired, as was explained to
me personally by Papa Kouyaté and Nestor Sita Bangoura, two musicians who were active in
that period (Papa Kouyaté, interview, 18 November 2016; Nestor Sita Bangoura, interview,
1 December 2016). is situation is comparable to that prevailing in other West African
locales (Diawara 2000). Guinean musicians did play covers of African-American songs but
only in night clubs that were frequented mostly by foreigners or late at night. Under these
circumstances, Guinean musicians were allowed to play African-American music under the
justication that foreign club goers wanted to hear music from their home countries and
the latest international hits (Sékou “Bembeya” Diabaté, interview, 22 November 2016). is
form of “musicking” (Small 1998), however, was restricted to these particular live settings.
It was deemed unacceptable to play these tunes in front of state ocials, not to mention
recording them for Syliphone. Indeed, unlike Cuban music that served as a vital source
of inspiration in the post-independent Guinean music scene, African-American music
remained relatively inaudible in the recording repertoire of Syliphone.
ese diering attitudes towards African-American music and Cuban music, despite
the state intervention expressed by the cultural policy document cited above, should be
understood in light of cold war anities between Cuba, Guinea and the Guinean perception
of Pan-Africanism. Graeme Counsel explains the disparity gap by suggesting that “Cuba
[was] staunchly anti-imperialist […] and [that] Cuban music had its roots in Africa (as did
jazz), via the slave trade” (2009, 91). is argument consists of two justications – an ide-
ological element (anti-imperialism) and a historical or racial component (the slave trade).
While Counsel’s explanation regarding a shared anti-imperialist ideological orientation is
convincing, caution is needed regarding the category of race, which was not understood in
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purely essentialist terms in Guinea at that time. Contemporary Guinean understandings
of race emerge forcefully from the rhetorical questions posed in Guineas ocial statement
to the Sixth Pan-African conference in Dar es Salaam in 1974:
Is it not true that our friend, the great revolutionary leader of Cuba, FIDEL CASTRO, is more
hated by the imperialists, colonialists, segregationists and fascists than black leaders who have
become the accomplices and devoted and servile agents of those who exploit their brothers and
cynically sco at the rights of African Peoples? […] Was not ALLENDE closer to the exploited
blacks than certain Afro-Americans or African ‘leaders’. (PDG 1975, 64)
is and other statements by Touré and the Guinean government undermine the legitimacy
of race and African origin as exclusive grounds for political solidarity. ey instead seek to
render anti-imperialist orientations as the common denominator of political struggle. is
kind of cultural-ideological anity was a continuation of an ideological line manifested,
for example, in the First Pan-African Cultural Festival in Algiers in 1969, an event that
endorsed a more radical version of Pan-Africanism tied to liberation struggles in Africa.
Its radical orientation was pronounced in opposition to the First World Festival of Negro
Arts and Culture that was held in Dakar 1966 (see Ratcli 2009). e Algiers festival res-
onated in Guinean national culture long aer it ended and was perceived as the desirable
model for a kind of Pan-Africanism that rejects race as a valid ground for solidarity in
favour of a history of colonial coercion centred more around the continent (including North
Africa) than on the historic black diaspora engendered by the slave trade.7 Importantly,
this understanding of Pan-Africanism was shaped by its antagonistic relationship with
the négritude movement associated with Léopold Sédar Senghor that profoundly shaped
Senegalese nationalism. In Guinea this was viewed as an invalid doctrine endorsing “racist
anachronism” (Dave 2009, 14). is tense relationship was expressed through erce attacks
in lengthy articles in Horoya, the state-controlled newspaper (see Horoya, 25–31 May 1975);
in Guineas withdrawal from the négritude-dominated Dakar festival in 1966 (PDG 1975,
43); in the ideological contestation over the Pan-African Festival in Algiers (Ratcli 2009)
where Guinea had a prominent role; and in the dispute over the participation of non-black
North African delegations in FESTAC 1977, the Second World Black and African Festival
of Arts and Culture (Apter 2005, 70). Given this anti-racialist thinking together with the
identication of the US as an imperialist force8 – an accusation that was voiced repeatedly
in Guinean media – African-American music could not pass as a completely legitimate
form of expression in the Guinean music scene at that time.9 Bearing these dynamics in
mind, we will now examine Miriam Makebas emplacement in the Guinean scene as a way of
excavating occluded layers of historical knowledge based on her representations in Guinea
media and on meanings embedded in her music recorded at that time.
Miriam Makeba’s positioning in Guinea
On the morning of September 18 1967, Makeba arrived in Conakry for the rst time for a
one-month visit. She was invited by Sékou Touré, whom she had rst encountered at the
founding summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa in 1963, to
perform at the annual Guinean national festival (Makeba and Hall 1989, 145). Prior to her
arrival in Guinea, the South African exile Makeba had already achieved signicant fame
internationally as well as in continental Africa. Her success in Africa was mediated by her
popularity in the US and through her friendship with well-known public gures such as
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Harry Belafonte, who was her musical patron and who was associated with key gures in
African politics.10 In 1962, Makeba returned to Africa for the rst time since leaving South
Africa to visit Kenya and Tanzania. Following this visit, she participated at major events on
the continent such as the rst OAU summits and the independence celebrations of Kenya.
Additionally, she achieved prominence as an anti-apartheid activist due to her testimonies
in front of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid (1963 and 1964). Her political
visibility won her considerable cultural capital not only in the West (see Sizemore-Barber
2012; Fleming 2016), but also in Africa where she gradually became known as a politically
engaged musical persona.
In Guinea, Makeba was treated as a celebrity. ree reports that appeared on the front
cover of Horoya, in a rubric that was usually reserved for important national events and dip-
lomatic visits, covered Makebas rst visit. In the report published upon her arrival in Guinea,
Makeba was hailed as “the celebrated South African singer” and “the great African singer”
(“Miriam Makeba Est Arrivée À Conakry,Horoya, 19 September 1967).11 roughout her
visit she was hosted by Touré and other leading gures in the Guinean government. Such
was her renown she was awarded an honorary citizenship and land in the Dalaba region
for her “great contribution to the liberation eort and the rehabilitation of the continent
(“Le Secrétaire Général Du Parti,Horoya, 7 October 1967).12
During her rst visit to Guinea Makeba also met her future husband Stokely Carmichael,
a radical civil rights activist and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
member who arrived in Guinea aer visiting Algeria and Syria (Joseph 2014, 213–218).
Carmichael had established close relationships with Sékou Touré and Kwame Nkrumah,
who was at that time in Guinea aer being overthrown in a military coup in Ghana in
1966. In 1968 Makeba and Carmichael came back to Guinea, this time as a married couple
(Makeba and Hall 1989, 166). e two decided to move to Guinea aer they were placed
under surveillance by the FBI and because Makebas career was in decline following her
marriage to Carmichael, who was perceived as a radical extremist by parts of the American
public and by the mainstream music industry (Makeba and Hall 1989, 162; Fleming 2016).
Shortly aer her relocation to Guinea, Makeba became active in the national music scene.
She performed with a band known as Quintette Guinéenne, which comprised some of the
top Guinean musicians recruited from the acclaimed national band Balla et se Balladins.13
Nestor Sita Bangoura, a singer with Balla et ses Balladins, was recruited as road manager
and interpreter between Makeba and her Francophone musicians (Bangoura, interview,
December 1 2016). Shortly thereaer, Makeba began a fruitful engagement with Syliphone,
recording a variety of songs, with a substantial representation of Guinean songs in local
languages such as Fulani, Maninka and Susu. ese were in addition to her established
repertoire in English, isiXhosa and isiZulu, as well as a number of other songs in Arabic and
in European languages. She also performed extensively with her Guinean band in festivals
around the world, including the Pan-African festivals in Algiers and Lagos and several
national festivals. Although Makeba was integrated into the national cultural apparatus, her
group in fact enjoyed a dierent status than other Guinean groups active at that time. While
her groups members continued to receive state salaries as members of a national orchestra,
they also received an additional salary nanced by Makeba herself, in what amounted to an
exception to the fully state-funded nature of cultural production in Guinea (Bangoura, inter-
view, 1 December 2016). In addition, Makebas group enjoyed the benets of performing
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with a celebrated singer who remained in international circulation. ey were thus exposed
to global stages to a greater degree than any other Guinean group at that time.
Makebas position in Guinea oscillated constantly between her insider–outsider status in
the country. While she was in Guinea she was domesticated as a representative of Guinean
nationalism. At the same time, her international celebrity status was strategically capital-
ised upon. Her international renown helped to validate Guinean culture from the outside.
Makebas assimilation within the cultural ethos of the Guinean revolution was expressed,
for example, in a 1973 article on the front page of Horoya where her name appears along-
side local Guinean artists who, in the discourse of the day, “will reect the language of the
revolution, the will and the direction of the people” (“Le Camarade Ahmed Sékou Touré,
Horoya, 15 March 1973).14 In other instances, Makebas position is reversed and her status
as a celebrity is emphasised to validate Guinean culture for the outside world.15 In 1970,
Makeba recorded her rst four tracks for Syliphone that were released in two 45rpm records
(Horoya Hebdo, 7 August 1970). e rst single included the songs “Milélé,” a Congolese
song, and “Tou ré Bar ika ” (Blessed Touré), a praise song for the Guinean president in the
local Maninka language. e liner notes on the back cover of the single emplace Makeba
in Guinean culture by indicating that Guinea is her adopted country and that she is an
honorary citizen of Dalaba. At the same time, the relationship of adoption was mutual:
A passionate spectator in Conakry of great theater, dance and instrumental music, con-
quered by the melodic sound of the languages, the richness and the diversity of the folklore,
Miriam Makeba has adopted Guinean music and Guinean musicians”16 (Miriam Makeba
et son Quintette Guinéen 1970). is description depicts Makeba not merely as a guest (or
a refugee), but as an active agent who absorbs Guinean music, based on its artistic quality,
and incorporates it into her own. is positioning of Makeba in an album with worldwide
distribution demonstrates how her cultural capital in the African music world and beyond
was used to provide Guinean culture with external recognition of its merits.
Touré Barika”: a musical analysis
In the discussion thus far, I have concentrated on how Makeba is portrayed in the written
media. In what follows, I concentrate on Makeba’s music in order to expose meanings
accessible solely through musical analysis. Makeba had a larger recorded repertoire than any
other recorded Guinean artist (Counsel 2009, 107). Her repertoire contained many dier-
ent categories of songs. e major portion of her songs were in Guinean languages, either
praise songs for Sékou Touré (“Touré Bar ik a”), the PDG ruling party (“Maobé Guinée”), or
reections on political events such as the Portuguese-backed invasion of Guinea in 1970
(“Djuiginira”). At the same time, Makeba did far more than merely imitate existing Guinean
musical conventions. Rather, she creatively fused local elements with her own past musical
inuences, drawn both from South Africa and the US.
Makebas musical conversation with African-American music began in urban
Johannesburg where she participated in the vibrant jazz scene as a member of the close-har-
mony groups the Manhattan Brothers and the Skylarks. is conversation continued with
her nine-year-long career in the US, where she was exposed to contemporary African-
American styles, primarily those associated with the Soul Power movement. Bearing this
background in mind, I proceed to analyse Makebas version of the song “Touré B arik a
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(barika means “blessed” in Maninka) in order to uncover the cultural and political signif-
icance of musical style within the Guinean musical scene.
Touré Barika,” a song by the teacher and playwright Emile Cissé, had previously been
recorded by Balla et ses Balladins under the shortened name “Tou r é ” (Balla et ses Balladins
2008). At the time, it was common for groups to record praise songs dedicated to Touré
or to the PDG party.17 e existence of an earlier version of the song makes it possible to
establish a comparative framework and to extract cultural meanings that stem from the
dierences between the two versions. As will be demonstrated, while these are two versions
of the same song there are substantial dierences on the levels of arrangement and musi-
cal stylisation. e lyrics dier slightly between the two versions but they do not alter its
general meaning.18 roughout the song Tourés name is gloried by evoking his dierent
familial relations: “Aminata kougnara dhéén” (the son of Aminata), “André kougnara kê
(the husband of André), “Mohamed kougnara fa” (the father of Mohamed), in addition to
cosmological descriptions such as “san dani kanou lé ma” (the sky was created by love)
and explicit expressions of admiration in “la guinè dén bê ka ikanou” (the Guinean people
all admire you). e phrase “ah Touré ah Touré barika” (ah Touré ah blessed Touré) is the
most frequently repeated phrase in the song and is the answer to most opening sentences.
In terms of musical form, the song consists of a verse and a chorus that share a harmonic
progression (I – IV – V – I) that is played repeatedly throughout the song without change.
e verses are comprised of two structural parts in the form of call and response, a typical
feature of African music. e call is a melody with complex and dense rhythmic phrasing
that occurs each time with slight melodic and rhythmic variations. e common feature of
the verses is the descending movement of the melody. is kind of directionality is common
to the songs of the Maninka (Knight 1973, 249). e response is a melody with a simpler
rhythm compared to the call and is repeated without change.
e two versions dier in their instrumentation. at of Balla et ses Balladins includes
a brass section, two guitars, bass guitar, a variety of Cuban percussion instruments (con-
gas, guiro and timbales), a lead singer and backing vocals. e place of the brass section is
minimal and reserved to unison melodic motives that are derived from the main melody.
is is typical of Cuban music, as well as Ghanaian Highlife bands. In Makebas version
the band is more compact and includes two guitars, bass guitar, percussion, and a drum
set. is kind of instrumentation can be found in many popular music genres, including
Soul, Rock and Blues, and is one of the most typical formats of popular music bands. e
version by Balla et ses Balladins is played in the scale of B major, although it is probable
that the original scale was the more common C major and that the change stems from the
recording speed. e melodic calls are within the range of the third scale degree and the
second scale degree an octave higher (see Figure 1).
Makebas version is in C major with the seventh tone of the scale lowered a half tone as
a way to create a bluesy tonality. e third degree is lowered as well, albeit not consistently.
Occasionally, the melody oscillates between the lowered third degree and the natural third.
ese alterations are particularly common in the blues and in other American popular
genres that developed from it. While an alteration of the seventh degree is also common
in the singing of the traditional jelis (hereditary praise-singers) of the Maninka, Makeba
approaches the alteration in a way that is akin to the American styles and not the West
African (see Figure 2).
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Despite the fact that the two versions share similar harmonic structure, they realise it in
dierent ways. In the version of the song recorded by Balla ete ses Balladins, the bass guitar
is the instrument that portrays the harmonic structure most clearly by playing a constant
bass line that closely follows the chord notes. In Makebas version the bass guitar does not
emphasise the harmony so tightly but plays a constant rhythmic pattern that follows the root
of the chord whilst omitting some of the chord notes. Instead of the bass, the two guitars
share the role of emphasising the harmony, which is distributed along pitch and dynamic
range: one guitar is playing soly and in the lower range, while the other plays higher and
louder. e latter plays in a more improvised manner and with greater degrees of freedom
in terms of harmonic and rhythmic variations. Importantly, it occasionally adds tension
notes (the lowered third and seventh degrees), resonating the alterations applied by Makebas
singing. By playing the lowered third against the background of the basic three chords in the
song, a more complex and tensioned harmonic background is created. e dierences in the
harmonic realisations are most pronounced in the two guitar solos. e guitar solo of Balla
et ses Balladin is based on the major scale without even a slight deviation. In contrast, the
guitar solo in Makebas version is based entirely on the minor blues scale (C-Eb-F-G-G#-
A-Bb) and does not play the natural third degree of the scale that is the core of the major
tonality. In that way, the bluesy sound is further strengthened.
A rhythmic analysis also reveals substantial dierences. Rhythmic structure is an impor-
tant feature that contributes to the formation of a songs stylistic identity. Ingrid Monson
(1999, 44), following Jocelyne Guilbault, has directed our attention to the symbolic meaning
of rhythmic layers that are stacked in order to create distinct rhythmic wholes that index
ethnic identities and styles in the African and African diasporic space. For Balla et ses
Figure 1.Balla et ses Balladins, Touré, melodic outline transposed to C major. Transcribed by the author.
Figure 2.Miriam Makeba, “Touré Barika, with lyrics. Transcribed by the author.
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Balladins, rhythmic style is mainly constituted by means of the percussion instruments,
specically the congas and the guiro. Not only do the instruments index the Cuban inu-
ence, they do so by virtue of musical features, playing common rhythms from the Cuban
space. While other instruments contribute to the creation of a “Cuban” style, they are less
signicant. is is due to the ambiguous nature of their parts, which resist a clear-cut clas-
sication. e guitar, for example, plays a part that is typical of more traditional styles and
reminiscent of local instruments such as the balafon and the kora, but it can also be played
in Cuban contexts (Charry 2000, 295).
In Makebas version, the dominant stylistic identity constituted by the rhythm section is
that of African-American Soul music popular at the time and associated with artists such
as Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayeld and Isaac Hayes. e groove of Makeba’s version conveys a
more relaxed feeling by stretching the harmony over a doubled length of time compared to
Balla et ses Balladins. e drums play the backbeat rhythm that is characterised by a snare
drum emphasising the second and fourth beat. e bass guitar, which opens the song, joins
the drums to create a distinct stylistic identity. In fact, except for the lyrics in Maninka and
the cultural context of a praise song, the musical features conform almost fully to a 1970s
African-American musical aesthetic.
From music to historical meaning
Against the backdrop of a highly Cubanised Guinean music, the inclusion of an African-
American style in Makebas version renders it very distinctive. us, while Balla et ses
Balladins’ version adheres to local musical conventions heard in many recordings from
the period, Makebas version is highly marked (Hatten 2004). Her performance positions
Makeba within hegemonic Guinean national culture, as is the case for other recorded ver-
sions of Guinean nationalist songs, primarily, “Maobe Guinée” and “Malouyame.” However,
Touré Ba ri ka ” contains stylistic elements bound up with contemporary African-American
inuences that cannot be accommodated by the overt state ideology.
Researchers on Guinean culture have tended to stress the limited freedom of expression
and strict censorship imposed by the Guinean government on cultural creation (Kaba 1976;
Camara 2005; Counsel 2009). Accounting for these circumstances, Nomi Dave (2014) has
coined the term “politics of silence” to describe Guinean musicians’ silence on local political
issues. While Dave focuses on the contemporary music scene in Guinea, she draws a line
between the present state and the political conditions under Sékou Touré’s regime, stating
that the apparent apolitical climate stems “from long-standing norms of silence and guard-
edness in Guinea” (Dave 2014, 1). Her main focus, however, is on the lyrics of songs. While
it is true that subversive political issues are practically non-existent in Guinean music on a
verbal level, I claim that in a cultural context that is strictly regulated by the state, non-ver-
bal channels, such as music, could themselves serve as sites of ideological negotiation. If
we consider the ability of musical style to index broader cultural meanings, then the mere
act of playing, listening to, or dancing to a Soul rhythm – even if played as background to
an acceptable praise song to the president – can be seen as a form of expression that has
slipped out of the state cultural apparatuss control. At the same time, considering Makebas
emplacement in Guinea, songs such as “Touré B a r ika ” cannot be seen simply as acts of
resistance. Aer all, she was part of the Guinean hegemony: she had close ties with Sékou
Touré who served as her patron and host in Guinea; she represented Guinea in the UN
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and at numerous international festivals; and some of her songs conformed fully within
national hegemony. On the other hand, her music contains stylistic elements that challenge
the explicit state ideology. In fact, Makeba’s dual position in Guinea, viewed as part of the
Guinean revolution while enjoying her agency as a celebrated globetrotting singer, is exactly
what allowed her to incorporate African-American styles that otherwise would not have
been recognised as acceptable.19
Discussions of cultural resistance oen use James Scotts (1990) concept of the “hidden
transcript.” is concept has also recently been applied to the ideological work done by
music. For example, Lara Allen (2003, 235) has shown how “cryptic lyrics” were used in
South African songs in order to hide subversive messages against the apartheid regime. In
the case of “Touré B a rik a ,” the transcript is hidden not in the lyrics (which are fully com-
patible with hegemonic codes), but in the musical genre. e fact that Makeba acts from
a subject position that is identied with the state does not prevent her from contributing
new musical meanings to Guinean society. Within Guinea, Makeba brought a new spirit
in the form of sonorities, hitherto not expressed in records. Interestingly, not only were
her own songs inuenced by African-American styles, but her backing band began to
record instrumental musical pieces independently, drawing heavily on African-American
music. e rst piece, “Miriam’s Quintette Song,” is actually a cover version of the late
1960s American soul-jazz hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” by the pianist Joe Zawinul (Myriam
Makeba 1971). e second is a track called “Solo Quintette,” a blues tune that is unique for
its inclusion of the kora (21-stringed West African harp) (Discothèque 71 1972). e third
is “Mansane Cisse,” a popular song from the traditional repertoire of the kora that was
recorded over an American modern swing rhythm (Myriam Makeba 1973). It is plausible
that the mere presence of Makeba as a kind of cultural signier even just in the title of the
song, the album, or the band’s name was sucient to allow these creations to pass through
the net of state ideological control.20
We may speculate that for the Guinean public who listened to these recordings through
the widely disseminated state radio service, these kinds of African-American inuences
were relatively emancipatory. ey created spaces that were able to liberate the audience,
even momentarily, from the constraints of ideology and to trigger a more expansive, possibly
cosmopolitan identity engendering pleasure through musical means. is kind of ideolog-
ical work undermines the totalistic conceptualisations that bind culture exclusively to the
demands and objectives of the state and the Guinean revolution. It exemplies a kind of
political power that, as Allen (2004, 6) explains, “lies fundamentally not in protest anthems
or praise songs, but in the space it creates for small personal pleasure and enjoyment.
rough the examination of the meanings that are embedded in Makeba’s music, a new
form of historical knowledge emerges with respect to Guinea: namely, the uncovering of
cultural spaces that were not completely aligned with the ocial ideology. is disaggrega-
tion is not possible, or is at least tremendously limited; if cultural historians work with the
available linguistic sources alone. Mainstream historiography, reliant mostly on linguistic
sources, has thus failed to account for these dimensions of quotidian dissonance in Guinean
culture. Makeba’s music oers a hermeneutic window through which historical dynamics,
hitherto unrecognised, can be reconstructed. It serves as an example of how music-based
analysis can contribute to the thickening of historical narratives and complement textually
grounded historical inquiry.
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1. e term “audible entanglement” was coined by Jocelyne Guilbault in the context of calypso
competitions that “far from being ‘merely’ musical […] also assemble social relations, cultural
expressions, and political formations” (2005, 42). inking about the Black Atlantic through
the metaphor of the stereo appears in Gilroy (1993, 3) but was developed considerably by
Jaji (2014, 8).
2. In Africa this is evident, for example, by the circulation of musical genres across linguistic
and geographical spaces (see Perullo 2008; Gathigi 2012; Ndomondo 2012).
3. “Structures of Feeling” is a concept coined by Raymond Williams (1977) and utilised by Paul
Gilroy (1993).
4. Andrew Ivaska’s book (2011) on the politics of culture in Nyereres Tanzania deals with similar
5. In her book on music and Pan-Africanism (2014), Tsitsi Jaji has explored similar transnational
circuits in South Africa, Senegal and Ghana.
6. Note that the popularity of Cuban music, sung in Spanish, in Francophone countries serves as
another indication that language competence is not a necessary condition for the popularity
of a musical genre. For more on the popularisation of Cuban music in Africa, see White
(2002); Shain (2012).
7. On the dierent variants of Pan-Africanism in respect to continental versus diasporic routes,
see Mazrui (2005).
8. For a useful discussion on the centrality of racial thought within the works of African-
American Pan-African intellectuals W.E.B. du Bois and Alexander Crummell, see Appiah
9. While it could be argued that African-American music and its agents are not equivalent to
the US government, which was oen attacked in the Guinean press as the foremost agent of
imperialism, in Guinea these distinctions were oen blurred. One can speculate that due to US
State Department-sponsored tours that brought African-American jazz groups to many parts
of the world, including Africa, as part of a diplomatic eort to counter Eastern Bloc inuence
(Monson 2007). In Guinea these tours were sometimes unsuccessful (von Eschen 2004, 78).
10. Belafonte was nominated by Kennedy as a cultural advisor to Africa and was sent to Guinea
to mediate cultural cooperation between the two countries (Belafonte and Shnayerson 2012,
229). He initiated a programme to construct a national arts centre in Conakry, that was
eventually blocked from the Guinean side that expressed a highly critical stand towards the
US and its interventionist policies in Africa (305).
11. La célèbre chanteuse sud-africaine” and “la grande chanteuse africaine. I thank Cynthia
Gabbay for translating these passages.
12. grande contribution a leort de liberation et de rehabilitation du continent.
13. Quintette Guinéenne was comprised of Sékou “Docteur” Diabaté (lead guitar), who was
later replaced by Sékou “Kora” Kouyaté, Kémo Kouyaté (guitar), Famoro Kouyaté (bass
guitar), Abdoulaye Camara (percussion), later replaced by Papa Kouyaté, and Amadou iam
14. traduiront le langage de la Revolution, la volonte et lorientation de notre Peuple”.
15. Makebas involvement in Guinea was not conned solely to the cultural sphere and in 1975
she represented Guinea at the UN (Makeba and Hall 1989, 192).
16. Spectatrice passionnée à Conakry des grands spectacles de théâtre, de danse et de musique
instrumentale et vocale, conquise par la consonance mélodieuse des langues, la richesse et la
diversité du folklore. Miriam Makéba a adopté et [sic] la musique guinéenne et les musiciens
17. See for example the following songs by selected Guinean groups: Kakandé Jazz (“Mangue
Touré”), Koloum Jazz (“Hommage a Sékou Touré”), Fetoré Jazz (“Sékou Touré barika”),
Bembeya Jazz National (“Touré”), Kébendo Jazz (“Président Sékou Touré djarama”), Les
Ballets Africains (“Touré”).
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18. Translation of the song from Maninka to French was done by Mohamed Sita Camara;
translation from French to English by the author.
19. Note that when speaking about Makebas agency I am not implying that her group members
were not involved in the creative process, including decisions on musical style and arrangement.
However, since she was the leader of the group and her name was in front, her band members
enjoyed her special position and the benets it brought.
20. Makeba was also pivotal in the expression of African-American culture in Guinea through
a dance club that she owned in Conakry called Zambezi. As is evident in a scene shot at the
club, taken from a Swiss documentary that was lmed in the early 1980s, the music played
in the club was contemporary African-American music (Dami 1981).
I wish to express my gratitude to Louise Bethlehem, principal investigator of this project, for her
insightful comments, guidance and support throughout the research and writing process. A previ-
ous version of this paper was presented at the “Cultures of Struggle – Song, Art and Performance in
Popular Movements” conference (29–31 May 2015), hosted by the University of Johannesburg. I would
like to acknowledge Liz Gunner and Tom Penfold for organising the conference. I also thank Kelly
Askew who chaired the panel in which the paper was presented for her comments and engagement,
the two anonymous reviewers, Cynthia Gabbay for mapping out references in Guinean newspapers
and for translating from French, and Mohamed Sita Camara for his assistance and translations from
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
e research leading to these results was supported by the European Research Council under the
European Unions Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) [grant number 615564].
Notes on contributor
Yair Hashachar is a PhD candidate in Musicology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a
doctoral researcher in the European Research Council project APARTHEID-STOPS. His current
research investigates the history of musical transnationalism in Africa in relation to Pan-African
ideology, sound technologies and musical aesthetics.
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... The 1970s also entailed an oeuvre of politically motivated songs which included her daughter as songwriter for some of her well-known offerings. Her Guinean music career is documented by Hashachar (2017). Music from this period includes songs which focused on the Guinean political milieu, such as Maobhe Guinée (1970) and Touré Barika (1972). ...
... An interview with her was published in the festival's official bulletin a few 16 Elsewhere I examined a similar dynamic in relation to Makeba's ability to express musical styles that were not fully conformed to the official ideological line of the Guinean state. See Hashachar (2017). ...
Full-text available
This article seeks to reassess the role of pan-Africanism within the national imagination of postcolonial Guinea under the presidency of Ahmed Sékou Touré. By focusing on the interplay between transnational and national dynamics within two cultural festivals – the First Pan-African Cultural Festival of Algiers in 1969 and the Guinean National Festival – pan-Africanism is recast as a constitutive component of Guinean nationalism, enduring long after independence. Through an analysis of political discourse, discourse about music and recorded music in the context of these festivals, and primarily about the participation of non-Guinean musicians, the essay identifies state-activated forms of pan-African cultural citizenship that serve the Guinean state in imagining itself as directed towards the broader political horizons of Africa. At the same time, it suggests that, under the nation-state, pan-Africanism was entangled with the nation-building project and national patriotism.
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This special issue considers networked cultural responses loosely figured as “cultural solidarities” in the Global South, on the understanding that mid-twentieth century struggles to end colonialism were addressed within a transnational domain. It takes apartheid South Africa as its point of departure, positioning literature from South Africa within a broadly anti-colonial commons. As they consider works by Alex La Guma, Nazim Hikmet Ran, Athol Fugard, and Todd Matshikiza, among others, our contributors—Christopher J. Lee, Gül Bilge Han, Ashleigh Harris and Andrea Thorpe—question the role of aesthetic forms in constructing long-distance solidarities in a Cold War setting. Mohammad Shabangu’s assertion of the necessity of “opacity” as a counter to the recuperation of the African writer brings such questions into the present, intersecting contemporary debates on world literature. Finally, solidarity is framed in temporal rather than geographical terms in Andrew van der Vlies and Julia Willén’s dialogue on “reading for hope” in the aftermath of failed revolutionary projects.
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Michael Titlestad has suggested that jazz serves “to mediate, manage and contest” what he terms a “staggered, but also cruel and unusual South African modernity.” His volume Making the Changes (2004) uses the “pedestrian” as a chronotope to describe the “local peripatetic appropriations of global symbolic possibilities” that jazz affords there. This paper proposes a different “chronotope”: that of the train. This substitution facilitates the reading of jazz history in South Africa in tandem with histories of labour migration and other forms of displacement – including trajectories of exile that intersect my account elsewhere of the “global itinerary” of South African cultural formations under apartheid. The deterritorialisation of South African works of expressive culture and social actors associated with anti-apartheid resistance, I have argued, affords the cultural historian strong historiographic purchase over conjunctures outside of South Africa. The present discussion explores this claim in relation to Miriam Makeba’s memoir Makeba, My Story (1988), written during her stay in Guinea. Makeba’s life-writing shows the strategies of the black South African performer in exile to be embedded in the conviviality that shaped jazz performance culture during its emergence in urban South African. Conviviality can be shown to offer an implicit critique of nativist imaginaries in decolonising Africa – including in this instance, the doctrine of authenticité promulgated by Guinea’s controversial leader, Ahmed Sékou Touré.
This article analyzes the career of famed South African singer, Miriam Makeba, in the United States. After finding success throughout much of the 1960s, Makeba’s career and public image shifted after her 1968 marriage to Stokely Carmichael, a noted Civil Rights activist and proponent of the Black Power movement. Once Makeba became associated with Carmichael and his reputation as an extremist, the American public, media, and music industry changed their approach to Makeba as an individual and as an artist throughout the late 1960s and 1970s. Ultimately, this union caused American audiences to turn on her and her music, and this essay explores how and why this shift occurred.
How do Western images of Africa and African representations of the West mirror one another? This book examines the complex issues involved in the making of modern identities in Africa, Europe, and the US via a study of two striking episodes in the history of black South African music. The first is a pair of tours of two black South African choirs in England and America in the early 1890s; the second is a series of engagements with the international music industry as experienced by the premier choral group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, after the release of Paul Simon's celebrated Graceland album in 1986.