Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Of more interest than the scathing review of two new South African albums in today's Mail and Guardian is the news that fokofpolisiekar have amicably split up. Perhaps that is a good move for a band who formed as distinctly subcultural, but are now becoming pretty mainstream, before their momentum fades.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

total eclipse of tne moon

I just spent about 10 minutes (all I could bear in the cold) out on my balcony watching the full moon be swallowed up by the earth's shadow, and then renew itself, seemingly brighter than before. Around me were people on many other balconies on my building, and the two buildings opposite, and on the rooftops of buildings on either side of this one. All of us together, braving the cold, watching a total eclipse of the moon in this crazy, busy city. It's a strange way to connect with people, but it does feel like a sort of a fellowship, in a strange way.

And on a slightly different note, I'm very excited, because one of my dear friends has been offered a fellowship by my department from the fall. I really hope she accepts.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


This past weekend was the super bowl (American football, for my South African readers), and while the very exciting win by the New York Giants made for pretty good viewing anyway, NYChoirgirl explained that she usually only watches this for the ads. Seems the super bowl is the big night for ad agencies here. I only saw the second half of the game, and must admit that I found the game (which I only partially understand) more entertaining than the ads. I was, however, fascinated to read in today's New York Times that one ad featuring pandas talking in Asian accents and broken English, was withdrawn.

I remembered seeing this ad, and not paying much attention to it at the time. It is long, and rather boring. The flood of objections on the New York Times site, however, are much more interesting. Notice, in particular,
no. 8 "Once one puts an "ethnic" accent on an animated character, one raises the spectre of stereotyping and beyond. Ever watched "Finding Nemo"? I got the same queasy feeling - why does this fish talk like, in my opinion, an inner city "African American"?"
no. 13 "I was offended by the ad using Cavemen. I have many Cavemen friends myself, and I find them very intelligent, well-spoken people. Hey, they invented the wheel. Sure they can be a little bit on the hairy side, and they don't take advantage of the dental plan offered at work, but media's constant protrayal of these men as perpetual abusive grunters goes way over the line. I'm surprised Neanderthal-Americans have not spoken up on this issue."
no. 14 "I thought sales genie made a nod to acknowledging the real world when they made a fellow named Chakrabarty the successful salesman in the ad. He did have a south Asian accent, but a real one rather than a caricature."
no. 15 "Had they given the Pandas accents that were non-stereotypical, say British, or California Valley Girl dialects, the commercial would have been more memorable, funnier, and offended far fewer people."

So it's good to represent diversity in ads, so long as everyone sounds alike? British or California Valley Girl accents are less offensive than Chinese or African American? Nemo sounds African American?

I admit I can see how these things could be offensive. The broken English is not good. But sometimes I miss South African senses of humour.

on the other hand, SA banned this priceless gem

Thursday, February 07, 2008


What a crazy mistake to make! The posters for Bafana Bafana (South Africa's Soccer team) at the Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana show a player who was not selected for the squad, and the old South African Flag! Thanks mom and dad for forwarding the News 24 article to me.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

More exam readings

Below is list number 2 for my comps. This one focuses on issues of voice and race. There is a huge amount of material on race and music, but in the interests of producing a list I can actually get through by April 11, I am focusing explicitly on singing voices. The anomaly, then, occurs at the final two entries on the list, which deal with speaking voices, but in such a literalist, hard-science way, that I couldn't resist adding them. I did a vaguely tongue-in-cheek experiment with my students last semester, playing them the same piece of music sung by a counter tenor, a female soprano, a treble and a digitally constructed combination voice, and asking them to guess which was which. I once joked that a similar experiment with singers of various races would be interesting. And now I find someone has done it! And written a PhD thesis on it!!

And just because I think it is worth saying, the article by Grant Olwage called "The Class and Colour of Tone" is, in my opinion, the strongest writing on this topic available at present. Well worth a read.

Racialized voices bibliography

Antelyes, Peter. “Red Hot Mamas: Bessie Smith, Sophie Tucker and the Ethnic Maternal Voice in American Popular Song.” In Embodied Voices: Representing Female Vocality in Western Culture, ed. Leslie C. Dunn and Nancy A. Jones, 212–29. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Averill, Gage. Four Parts No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Harmony. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hardy, Sarah Madsen, and Kelly Thomas. “Listening to Race: Voice, Mixing, and Technological ‘Miscegenation’ in Early Sound Film.” In ClassicHollywood, Classic Whiteness, ed. Daniel Bernardi, 415–41. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

Lavitt, Pamela Brown. “First of the Red Hot Mamas: ‘Coon Shouting’ and the Jewish Ziegfeld Girl.” American Jewish History 87/4 (December 1999): 253–90.

Leonard, Neil. Jazz and the White Americans: The Acceptance of a New Art Form. London: Jazz Book Club, 1964.

Lhamon, W. T. Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip-Hop. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Mann, Geoff. 2008. “Why does country music sound white? Race and the voice of nostalgia” in Ethnic and Racial Studies Vol. 31 No. 1 January 2008 pp. 73_100

Olwage, Grant. 2002. “Scriptions of the choral : the historiography of black South African choralism” in SAMUS: The South African Journal of Musicology Vol. 22, pp. 29-45.

___. 2004a. Music and (post)colonialism : the dialectics of choral culture on a South African frontier. PhD Thesis, Rhodes University. Grahamstown: South Africa.

___. 2004b. “The Class and Colour of Tone: An Essay on the Social History of Vocal Timbre” in Ethnomusicology Forum Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 203-226.

Michael Rogin. 2002. “Blackface, White Noise: The Jewish Jazz Singer Finds His Voice” in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 18, No. 3. (Spring, 1992), pp. 417-453. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0093-1896%28199221%2918%3A3%3C417%3ABWNTJJ%3E2.0.CO%3B2-5

Rubio, Phil. “Crossover Dreams: The ‘Exceptional White’ in Popular Culture.” In Race Traitor, ed. Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey, 148–61. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Stras, Laurie. 2007. “White Face, Black Voice: Race, Gender, and Region in the Music of the Boswell Sisters” in Journal of the Society for American Music Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 207–255

Walton, Julie H. 1992. Speaker race identification from acoustic cues in the vocal signal. Ph. D. Thesis, Memphis State University.

Walton, Julie H. and Robert F. Orlikoff. 1994. “Speaker Race Identification From Acoustic Cues in the Vocal Signal” in Journal of Speech and Hearing Research Vol.37 738-745 August 1994.