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The transmission of voicing in traditional Gwoka: Between identity and memory

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This article examines the transmission of voicing – the use of voice during the execution of a song – in Gwoka music. Considered at the time of French colonization as mizik a vié nèg (‘vagrants’ music’) this traditional music from Guadeloupe recently underwent a rehabilitation process that led to the idea that it reflected the ‘roots’ and the ‘authenticity’ of the Guadeloupean people. Gwoka music has since then become an important part of Guadeloupe’s cultural heritage, to the point that it is now listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The present work explores the relation between voicing in Gwoka and the questions of identity and memory. We suggest that traditional singers are chroniclers of their time, and memory smugglers who educate the audience by evoking values through their lyrics and voice. Gwoka music is strongly attached to political movements of resistance since its emergence. Previous generations of singers have not only transmitted vocal practice and lyrics, but also Creole language. Finally, we relate voicing to the preservation of Guadeloupean identity and to resistance in the face of Western domination.
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Keywords: Guadeloupe; Gwoka; identity; resistance; singing voice; transmission

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: IRISA/ENSSAT 2: IreMus/University Paris-Sorbonne

Publication date: 01 August 2017

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  • JIVS provides a forum for scholarly and practice-based engagement with voice as a phenomenon of communication and performance, and a methodology or metaphor for analysis. This peer-reviewed journal draws on an interdisciplinary series of lenses, including cultural studies, critical theory, performance studies, inter-culturalism, linguistics, visual culture, musicology, architecture and somatics.
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