Tamara Turner: Looking South: Imagining “Africa” in Algerian Musics
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About the Event
Just as music and sound negotiated dynamic geographical encounters across the Strait of Gibraltar, both blurring and reinforcing attachments, Algerian musics, their discourses and imaginaries have negotiated an additionally critical geo-political space: that of “Africa.” That is to say that current discourses and aesthetic choices in both “popular” and “traditional” Algerian musical genres not only claim Mediterranean and/or Arab lineage but sometimes also “African” roots, through a love of “Mama Africa.” I map southerly-looking geographic (and racial) investments by way of two streams: first, the ritual music tradition of Diwan of Sidi Bilal that emerged out of the trans-Saharan slave trade, seen as the most “African” of Algerian musics. Ambivalence about sub-Saharan ancestors and their supposed pre-Islamic practices weighs heavily in the discourses of both diwan insiders and outsiders. However, a certain proud yet romanticized narration and depiction of these ancestors in ritual and on festival stages further complicates how geo-attachments are musically negotiated.
Secondly, since the first Pan-African festival in Algiers in 1969, popular music (rock, reggae) genres have not only drawn from diwan music as a “source” but more recently (1990s onward) reach further south to “origins” in sub-Saharan musical worlds, and sometimes proudly rejecting the northerly looking (e.g., towards the colonizer) inspiration. For example, the huge success of the Moroccan band Nass El-Ghiwane and its use of gnawaaesthetics—similar to those of diwan—influenced a comparable appropriation of diwanaesthetics in Algeria, such as in rai music and later rock and reggae. Once viewed as a questionable subculture, the growing popularity of desacralized diwanmusic has created new intergenerational controversies and raised new questions about ownership of "Intangible Cultural Heritage" and the consequences of decontextualized sound across cultural and national boundaries.
Working at the intersection of psychological anthropology and music and sound studies, Dr. Tamara Turner specializes in the relationship between sound, affect, and consciousness, particularly as it relates to mental-emotional health in Algeria and Morocco. Since 2008, she has conducted in-depth ethnographic fieldwork with various North African Sufi communities. Her award-winning doctoral research was the first to thoroughly document the musical repertoire, practice, and history of Algerian dīwān, a nocturnal trance ritual of the Bilaliyya Sufi Order. Turner’s early training in classical music and composition led her to study musical systems across West and North Africa, including long-term study with ritual musicians and experts in Morocco followed by doctoral research on Algerian dīwān. She is currently a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, where she also co-directs a cross-disciplinary research group comprising historians, psychologists, and neuroscientists. Her research has previously been funded by various grants from King’s College London, the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, the Centre d’Etudes Maghrébines en Algérie, and the West African Research Association.