Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
POOLEY, Thomas. "African Inventions": Stefans Grové's Liedere en danse van Afrika as fictions. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.2, pp.170-186. ISSN 2224-7912.
Stefans Grové's Music from Africa series is the product of many "African inventions". This analysis of the piano études, the Liedere en danse van Afrika (1988-1990), reflects on the nature of these inventions - both as studies and as discoveries - and the techniques used to engineer them. What is the relationship of these inventions to African music? How are they similar to earlier traditions of exoticism, primitivism, and cross-culturalism in Western art music ? How are "African " musical techniques and practices engineered or alluded to and how do they figure in the context of Grové 's mature style? If there are programmatic elements to the études they are not obvious. The focus of these analyses is not, therefore, on the intertextual web of allusions created by Grové in his own titles, texts, and programmes but in the sound structures themselves. Grové's works are situated both in relation to local and international trends in cross-cultural art music and as a function of his own stylistic development. By making sense of Grové's inventions as fictions, rather than as ethnographic representations of authentic "indigenous elements", the article points to their unique syncretic qualities. In so doing it offers a counter to the discourse on Africanist elements in South African art music that has sought to essentialise such elements as authentic representations of tradition. Two contrasting impulses are described in the études. The four "dances" (1, 3, 5, and 7) are taken to embody elements of Grové's energy-driven music where rhythmic and percussive features are dominant and melody intermittent. The three "songs" (2, 4, and 6), on the other hand, are more reflective in character. Two are titled night-songs and the third invokes twilight. These are not conventional nocturnes (Chopin-Debussy) or nachtmusik (Schumann-Bartók), but are by turns melodic, repetitive, and colouristic. It is here that we find the most overt "African" references but also the more exoticist ones. The "dances", on the other hand, construct a more obtuse relationship to Africa. Each of the four is characterised by strong motoric rhythms and harsh, percussive harmonies, with clusters of broken chords, ostinato elements, and bravura octave passages. If the "songs" tend toward the exotic then the dances are more akin to earlier modernist practices. Clear precedents are found in the piano music of Bartók, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, and others, and we may describe this particular brand of Africanist art music as subsumptive. It is through the "African" context that Grové provides for the interpretation of these études (through titles, texts, and commentaries) that they take on an "African" gloss. "Primitive" qualities emerge more transparently in these contexts even if none or few of these structures are "essentially" or "authentically " of Africa. Nevertheless, Grové's skill in engineering a novel syntax for the dances is remarkable in itself. It draws on a very wide range of references, some of which are generic features of (southern) African traditions, but most of which are often neither explicitly exoticist nor ethnographic in presentation. Altogether, Grové has constructed an imagined, syncretic image of "Africa" that reifies "tradition" in a timeless, ethnographic present. This creates a caricature that ignores the complex culture-historical relations of the musics and peoples in question. In the Liedere en danse van Afrika there are features that may be interpreted as generic representations of indigenous African techniques as well as constructions that draw on a long legacy of exoticism and primitivism in Western art music. Commentary on this music has tended to focus on the nature of the "African elements" or their origins rather than the novelty of the syntax. Instead of reducing "Africa" and "African music " to a series of generic properties or procedures this article offers an alternative reading that positions these works as "African inventions": as fictions that create their own unique "African" presence which is unabashedly syncretic and which need no longer be tethered to stereotypes of "indigenous" or "authentic" "African elements". Such claims to authenticity tend to undermine the very politics to which they aspire.
Keywords : Stefans Grové; Africa Music series; Songs and dances of Africa; African Inventions; Mbira Song; musical exoticism..