The essays in this volume celebrate the depth, scope and ambition of Karin Barber’s 1987 essay, “Popular Arts in Africa, “which sets out to open and solidify the study of popular arts in Africa."
Barber’s essay continues to be regarded as groundbreaking, incisive, decisive, and the most influential work on African popular arts in African studies scholarship. A cursory database search proves this fact: it is one of the most referenced essays within African studies and perhaps the most eloquent essay to date on the subject.
The essay’s foundation was built on solid field research and thoughtful, inspired analysis, the kind of which we can only compare to a few other scholars in the field. It brought order and some measure of respectability to the study of African popular performance in its broadest sense.
Published twenty-five years ago, “Popular Arts in Africa” has influenced the work of a generation of Africanists in Africa and all over the world. Going back to this essay reminds us that a lot may have changed since it was published, but the desires and methods of expressing want, deprivation, happiness, hope, and aspiration on the streets of the continent are more or less the same as they were twenty-five years ago.
The contributors therefore implicitly testify without exception that the definitional ground has been adequately covered by Barber’s essay. What these contributors do bring newly to the table as they examine the cultural changes and social transformations that matter to popular Africa—especially those that have to do with the transition from old media to new forms is their interrogations and novel interpretations of the modalities of change in the popular arts that have emerged or are emerging since the publication of Barber’s essay. They show how new technologies have helped to recast and rephrase narrative styles, themes, audiences, and the city in these art forms.
The essays in this volume also demonstrate how media interacts with new modes of artistic production and consumption in contemporary Africa. It means then that the first major aspect we find in these essays is that they proclaim the veracity of Barber’s argument in all its complex manifestations. It is used to read and probe the saliencies of the new art forms that have emerged in the last twenty five years. This makes the eloquent point that Barber’s intervention was as relevant when it was first published as it is now.
Excerpts from the Introduction by the guest editors.
For more information on Karin Barber: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/cwas/barber-karin.aspx
To subscribe to Research in African Literatures or to purchase a single issue, visit http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublication?journalCode=reseafrilite.