Africa Festivals

‘Festivalization’ and Interculturality: Music Festivals in Africa and Germany

The steadily increasing ‘festivalization’ of culture is a global phenomenon. Festivals are often used to present the cultural traditions of a nation, region, city, or ethnicity and make them local. At the same time, festival activities are directed at an international audience and are also, due to media propagation and media networks, part of a global context. In this sense, cultural festivals represent spaces of negotiation and discourse in which the actor–participants can pursue various interests and goals: Festivals can be a means of self-representation for groups such as immigrants in Germany or ethnic minorities in African countries; they also elaborate national identities and serve as religious, political, and economic resources for different groups and individuals. The dialectic between global and local becomes especially clear in cases where actors draw on the alleged universality of concepts such as “immaterial world heritage,” “indigenous cultural rights,” or “world music,” in order to assert their national or local interests.

Object of Research

This research project addresses music festivals in different African countries as well as in Germany, with a focus on the representation of ethnic, local, national, and continental or pan-African identit(ies) at these festivals. The plan is to study existing African festivals in Germany with the help of student research assistants and then, following an evaluation of the research, to study festivals in Mali and then in other African countries.

In Germany, the number of Africa-related music festivals is continually growing. Initially, these festivals were in most cases headed by small local groups and associations, some with a development politics objective, and some representing particular immigrant groups. Many organizations claimed and continue to claim (as documented by web sites and other information sources) that these festivals offer visitors a differentiated image of Africa as well as enabling intercultural encounters. However, a professionalization of these festivals has now occurred in which event management firms have taken over festival organization.

In many of the African countries, numerous music festivals have emerged in recent years. In addition to state-organized festivals that have served to integrate local styles nationally over the last few decades, more recently festivals returning to local initiatives have been gaining prominence. This means that a “festival’s” organizational framework, originally Western but now globalized, becomes layered with local and/or national representational forms. Tightly linked to tourist marketing structures, festivals also pointedly aim at a Western audience and thereby bear the burden of representation insofar that they claim to communicate local and/or national culture to a foreign audience in a condensed form and timespan.

The Research Problem

This project brings together different theoretical debates in ethnology and related disciplines concerning the performance of identity, interculturality, cultural heritage, transnationalism, globalization, and tourism.

At the center of the study are those persons with agency, first and foremost the organizers of the festivals, the performers, and the spectators—who include locals as well as political and religious representatives, and journalists, and, in Mali, tourists. If we conceive of music festivals as translocal spaces, do participating actors, organizers, and visitors likewise qualify as “translocal actors,” and if so, under what conditions and in connection with what kind of knowledge? What motivations prompt participation in the respective festivals and on whose initiative has it happened? Beyond that, one should ask what networks exist at the national as well as the international level linking festival organizers, artists, and visitors.

This study furthermore aims to examine how the form of the festival as well as the interaction with tourists and artists from around the world, or as the case may be, the possible appropriation of Western concepts and discourses, are evaluated by local groups and in media such as newspapers or the Internet; for instance, as culturally foreign.

A third component of the study concerns how the agency of the actors being studied effects the production of cultural expression and its social and cultural environments. How do musical forms and cultural representation change as a result of new performance frames? Are changes restricted to the context of the festival or do they have a ripple effect on everyday practices?    

Project Term: 2011-Ongoing
Dept. of Anthropology and African Studies; African Music Archive

Project Director: Dr. Hauke Dorsch, Dept. of Anthropology and African Studies, JGU Mainz

Student Staff: Anna-Maria Boulnois, Friederike Brinker, Maike Dietrich, Alice Duda, Caroline Heess, Vanessa Heß, Jessica Ludenia, Lisa Markus, Anna Ritzel, Stefan Schröder, Isabel Stipp