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The impact of the fostering of European industry and Victorian national feeling on African music knowledge systems: Considering possible positive implications

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The European (Victorian) missionary influence on traditional African music in South Africa is largely seen in a negative light and not much focus is placed on possible positive implications. This article therefore serves to explore how external European influences, harnessed by some African musicians, partially aided in preserving and generating conceivably ‘new’ Euro-African hybrid traditional music genres – while at the same time preserving some fragmented forms of indigenous music knowledge for future generations. In general, the ultimate aim for the European missionaries was to allow Africans to, in effect, colonize ‘themselves’ by using their influence of Victorian (British nationalist) religion, education, technology, music and language as a means to socially ‘improve’ and ‘tame’ the ‘wild’ Africans. However, specifically with reference to music, African composers and arrangers – despite this colonizing influence – occasionally retained a musical ‘uniqueness’. John Knox Bokwe, an important figure in what can be termed the ‘Black Intellect’ movement, displays this sense of African musical uniqueness. His arrangement of ‘Ntsikana’s Bell’, preserved for future generations in the Victorian style of notation (or a version thereof), best illustrates the remnants of a popular cultural African indigenous musical quality that has been combined with the European cultural tonic sol-fa influence. Furthermore, the establishment of the popular cultural ‘Cape coloured voices’ also serves to illustrate one dimension of the positive implications that the fostering of European industry (industrialized developments) and Victorian national feeling/nationalism left behind. This is largely because this choral genre can be termed as a distinctly ‘new’ African style that contains missionary influence but that still retains an exclusive African quality.
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Keywords: African Music; Black Intellect; European influence; John Knox Bokwe; Lovedale Missionary Institute; Ntsikana’s Bell; musicology; tonic sol-fa

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Stellenbosch University

Publication date: October 1, 2019

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  • The Journal of European Popular Culture investigates the creative cultures of Europe, present and past. Exploring European popular imagery, media, new media, film, music, art and design, architecture, drama and dance, fine art, literature and the writing arts, and more, the journal is also of interest to those considering the influence of European creativity and European creative artefacts worldwide.
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