Sound of Africa!

Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio

Sound of Africa!

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 31 illus., incl. 9 in color Published: February 2003

Author: Louise Meintjes

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Music > Ethnomusicology

Boosting the bass guitar, blending the vocals, overdubbing percussion while fretting over shoot-outs in the street. Grumbling about a producer, teasing a white engineer, challenging an artist to feel his African beat. Sound of Africa! is a riveting account of the production of a mbaqanga album in a state-of-the-art recording studio in Johannesburg. Made popular internationally by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, mbaqanga's distinctive style features a bass solo voice and soaring harmonies of a female frontline over electric guitar, bass, keyboard, and drumset. Louise Meintjes chronicles the recording and mixing of an album by Izintombi Zesimanje, historically the rival group of the Mahotella Queens. Set in the early 1990s during South Africa’s tumultuous transition from apartheid to democratic rule, Sound of Africa! offers a rare portrait of the music recording process. It tracks the nuanced interplay among South African state controls, the music industry's transnational drive, and the mbaqanga artists' struggles for political, professional, and personal voice.

Focusing on the ways artists, producers, and sound engineers collaborate in the studio control room, Meintjes reveals not only how particular mbaqanga sounds are shaped technically, but also how egos and artistic sensibilities and race and ethnicity influence the mix. She analyzes how the turbulent identity politics surrounding Zulu ethnic nationalism impacted mbaqanga artists' decisions in and out of the studio. Conversely, she explores how the global consumption of Afropop and African images fed back into mbaqanga during the recording process. Meintjes is especially attentive to the ways the emotive qualities of timbre (sound quality or tone color) forge complex connections between aesthetic practices and political ideology. Vivid photos by the internationally renowned photographer TJ Lemon further dramatize Meintjes’ ethnography.


“A lively and distinctive book. . . . A highly readable account that will appeal to those who have ever tapped their feeet to this irresistible ‘township’ music and will compel those who have not to seek it out. Enthusiastically recommended. . . .” — , Library Journal

“[A]n in-depth exploration captured during South Africa’s freedom from apartheid by one of the region’s most beloved mbaqanga bands.” — , Global Rhythm

“I highly recommend this book to scholars of African music, popular music studies, and ethnomusicology. Meintjes has not only provided us with an interesting ethnographic account of music-making in a South African recording studio, but she pushes us to think in new theoretical ways about the complex processes involved in creating any commercialized music product.” — Patricia Tang , Journal of Popular Music Studies

“Meintjes’ book offers perceptive descriptions. . . . An unflinching account of how the media became entangled with the country’s ethnic violence during the 1990s.” — Aaron Cohen , DownBeat

“Meintjes’s rich case study accounts for the uniquely creative, exploitative, challenging, and often-violent time for these 'non-white' musicians, record producers, singers, and dancers as they negotiate their aesthetic and political possibilities to create and produce mbaqanga within this period. . . . [A] truly excellent prismatic view into the social inequality that echoes for those who are socially privileged in the same cultural dimension.” — Be Ryan , M/C Reviews

"Sound of Africa! is a great book, a classic of musical anthropology that should be read by anyone with any interest at all in the range of issues that Meintjes addresses, 'issues of technology and the media, diaspora, transnational flows, class, gender, generation, race, ethnicity and nationalisms.' . . . This is a wonderful and inspiring book." — Simon Frith , Ethnic and Racial Studies

"Sound of Africa! is a unique and wonderful insider's guide highly recommended for any interested in the African recording industry in general and South African music and politics in particular."
— , World Discoveries

"[A] book that glows with the warmth of fine scholarship and its humanity shines through." — Kevin Dawe , African Studies Bulletin

"A major and uniquely different contribution to the body of scholarship on South African popular music. . . . A valuable contribution to the literature exploring the intersection between identity, technology, and aesthetics in various black musics. . . ." — Michael E. Veal, Ethnomusicology

"A strikingly novel and compelling narrative. . . . informative, empirically sound, and engaging." — Veit Erlmann , American Ethnologist

"A wonderfully rich and highly contextualized study of one point in the constellation of processes that are coming together to define what it can mean to be South African today: a music studio in Johannesburg. . . . Louise Meintjes offers a compelling portrait-soundscape?-of how recording and producing music is intimately connected to the production of Zulu-ness and African-ness, both within South Africa and within the increasingly vibrant circuits of world music marketing and recording. It should serve as a model for further research on the intersections of music making, technology, and the mediation of identity." — Jonathan H. Shannon, American Anthropologist

"[A]n excellent book. . . . With its innovative formal features, its nuanced story-telling and its engagement with contemporary theoretical frameworks, Meintjes's Sound of Africa! stands as a fine example of twenty-first century ethnomusicology. Indeed, it issues an imperative for everyone attempting today to synthesize critical, reflective statements from so many texts, subtexts, and contexts: remix!"- — Wayne Marshall , World of Music

"[A]useful contribution to our understanding of the ways recent South African identity has been constructed. . . . The book is well researched and brilliantly written, a powerful record of time and place. A unique kind of South African music ethnography, it also offers an invaluable perspective on the creation of nostalgia in the studio, the gendered nature of recording and production processes, so often mystified and mythologised by (largely) male participants. It is illustrated by excellent photographs by T. J. Lemon and Brett Eloff, and takes the reader into realms far beyond the limitations of its field of study." — Christine Lucia, Journal of Southern African Studies

"[T]he book offers rare insight into the music recording process. . . . Vivid photos by the internationally renowned photographer TJ Lemon further dramatise Meintjes’ riveting account."

— , DailyNews (Zimbabwe)

"I was deeply moved by many of the ethnographic moments in the texts, the rich, and artful expressions of the South Africans Meintjes represents in word and sound; her musings on a core repertory of ideas like mediation, racial and ethnic stereotypes, and sonic figures; as well as the thoughtful and certainly at times playful ways in which she constructed her narrative by juxtaposing critical analysis, scholarly insight, poetic musings, and personal experience into a single text." — Carol A. Muller , International Journal of African Historical Studies

"Louise Meintjes’ new volume Sound of Africa!, displays . . . [a] stylistic and theoretical originality in considerable measure. . . . Meintjes is something of an overachiever as a writer and . . . the narrative is . . . nothing short of brilliant. . . . [W]e must be profoundly grateful to the author for bringing back to life a great style and great artists who, apart from the recorded legacy of her beloved studio, are so seldom heard any more."
— David B. Coplan , Anthropology Quarterly

"Meintjes' intriguing account of 'making' South African mbaqanga music 'Zulu' resonates with the nitty gritty of trans-cultural, collaborative production in a modern, multi-track recording studio. . . . The book is useful for anyone interested in the role of music in cultural production, in particular when ethnicity, race, economics and politics converge within an industrialized process." — Karl Neuenfeld, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

"Meintjes' study makes a significant contribution to contemporary research on South African music, and to the expanding literature on the relationships among aesthetics, race, and cultural identity more generally. . . . Sound of Africa! is a conceptually nuanced and challenging book that addresses a range of important theoretically and methodological questions currently confronting cultural anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, and particularly South African Cultural and popular music scholars." — Brett Pyper , Current Musicology

"Meintjes's fine-grained approach to musical significance and symbolic mediation should be enough to make Sound of Africa! required reading for all ethnomusicologists. Scholars of media and popular culture, and those interested in the problem of subjectivity in contemporary Africa, will also find much of value in this monograph."

— Andrew Eisenberg , Journal of Anthropological Research

”Louise Meintjes's Sound of Africa! is a very in-depth but philosophical look at how the common thread of music brings African traditions and culture and modern western technology together across the stormy backdrop of South African politics.” — John Lindemann, recording engineer, Big Ears Music c.c., South Africa

"What fun it was reading Louise Meintjes’s Sound of Africa! It’s an amazing work, almost magical at moments. I know of no other account in print of life in a sound studio. That Meintjes also takes on contemporary South Africa, questions of ethnic and national identity, and world culture and provides an entree into current ethnomusicological thinking is all the more remarkable."
  — John F. Szwed, author of Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra

”Well researched and unbiased, Sound of Africa! is an authentic account of three decades of South African music—live and in the studio. It stands as a testimony to the changing struggles and constant inventiveness of South Africa's producers, musicians, and engineers who worked in the music industry during apartheid.” — Koloi Lebona, record producer and Zomba label manager, South Africa

“Sound of Africa!, the first serious study of musicmaking in an African recording studio, is a pathbreaking contribution to the scholarly literature on popular music. Louise Meintjes's research demonstrates, in the most specific terms, that the 'production' of popular music is a complex, multistranded process, penetrated by economic and aesthetic considerations, identity politics writ large and small, and the global traffic in cultural forms and technologies.” — Christopher Waterman, author of Juju: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music


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Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Louise Meintjes is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Duke University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Index 319

Illustrations ix

Notes to the Reader xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Demo Tape: About Sound of Africa! 1

Cut 1. Mbaqanga 19

Cut 2. The Recording Studio as Fetish 71

Cut 3. Producing Liveness 109

Cut 4. Sounding Figures 146

Cut 5. Performing Zuluness 174

Cut 6. Imagining Overseas 217

A Final Mix: Mediating Difference 250

Print-Through 263

Notes 267

Glossary 291

Bibliography 297

Discography 313
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3014-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3027-1
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