Performing and Contesting Modernity: Zimbabwean Urban Musicians and Cultural Self-Constructions, 1930s–1970s
European colonizing discourses justifi ed the despoliation of Africans on the basis of cultural difference, that Africans were illiterate, pre-capitalist and “heathens.” Africans responded in many ways that included ignoring, resisting or selectively appropriating this colonizing discourse for their own purposes. This chapter explores the latter strategy, analyzing how urban Africans appropriated Western cultural capital, especially music, to refashion their own identities and claim their own space in colonial Zimbabwe from the 1930s. As eager scholars in the few mission schools, many Africans encountered reading, writing and the classical Western hymn. The penetration of such music into Southern Africa was not random; it systematically entered the African world largely through mission schools and churches, targeting students and converts. Many of the students graduated as teacher-musicians and became deeply implicated in the world of not only education but also commerce and Christianity, the three pillars of Western modernity. Thus, their mediation of Western “civilization” produced a rich dialogue of self-fashioning that tended to both problematically reaffi rm but to also disrupt the raison d’être of the discordant colonial modernity.