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African Music and Politics: Negotiations of Violence in South African Popular Music



zur deutschsprachigen Version

Project description

How does popular music negotiate the legitimacy of political violence, and how do political actors refer to violence in musical practices? South Africa’s historical struggle against the racist system of Apartheid and the country’s vibrant popular music scene make it a highly suitable case through which to explore how musicians, politicians, activists, and wider audiences negotiate uses of political violence in and through popular music.  

The project centers on a couple of key questions:

  • How can music – through its unique combination of sound, text, rhythm, and movement – support the popularization of political messages, particularly those negotiating the (il-)legitimacy of political violence and the accompanying construction of group boundaries?
  • How do musicians and producers understand, construct and reconstruct the politicalness of their songs and acts of music making? And how do different political actors use popular songs, including collective singing and dancing, to further their cause?
  • How does the South African case challenge established assumptions about the relationship between high and popular culture, mostly developed on the basis of European historical examples? And how does it allow theorizing gendered, racialized and ideological cleavages in popular music cultures that seem insignificant vis-à-vis the influential high-low and elite-popular differentiations?

The research project draws on the analysis of songs, interviews, observations, videos and written documents. The initial sample of songs includes struggle songs as well as songs from other musical genres like “Bubblegum” or Kwaito. It is continuously developed by employing theoretical sampling based on the empirical work, and by following pertinent songs through their history of musical and political reinterpretations.

The project is part of the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) "Transformations of the Popular" at the University of Siegen.
The CRC is funded by the DFG, Germany’s major self-governing organization for science and research.

Research Team 

Prof. Dr. Katharina Inhetveen
Project Leader
Chair of General Sociology I

Dr. Anna Schwenck
Research Associate (Postdoc)

Maximilian Breger M.A.
Research Associate

Sebastian Zahn
Student Assistant


African Music Archives (AMA), Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz

AOM (Anthropology of Music), Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz

Bembeya Archive for the Music and Cultures of Africa / Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Bender

"Popular Music and the Rise of Populism in Europe" / Transnational research project funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung  


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