Kerr and Mhishi on Music in Dar es Salaam and Zimbabwe

Finding Africa Seminar

30 April 2019

4-5.30 pm

Leeds Humanities Arts Research Institute (Seminar Room 2)


Singeli, Urban Space and the Temporalities of Electronic Music Production in Dar es Salaam by David Kerr

As Bayat has argued, the street is the public space “par excellence” for those excluded from the institutions of public life in which people can “assemble, make friends, earn a living, spend their leisure time, and express discontent” (Bayat 2013, 52). In this paper, I explore the emergence at street events in Dar es Salaam’s informal settlements of a new electronically produced musical genre, Singeli. Unplanned settlements, known as uswahilini, the area where the Swahili live, were central to the development of Singeli. Uswahilini exist largely on the margins of the state and this absence of state regulation affords distinct possibilities for creative expression. 

Performed at street gatherings on the edges of the cities political, social and musical infrastructure, Singeli began when DJs isolated, looped and increased the speed of instrumental sections of older popular Tanzanian songs, thus enabling singers to perform live over popular tracks. This bricolage of older Tanzanian song snippets produced a unique sonic landscape. Singeli sonically embodies the space of uswahilini. In this paper, I explore the role that its location socially and geographically has played in the creation and circulation of Singeli. I suggest the relationship between Singeli and the genres from which it borrows to constitute itself provide a lens through which to explore how young people play with the multiple temporalities of nostalgia and anticipation as well as those of the past, present and future.

Crossings, Convivialities and Imaginings: Music and Zimbabwean Struggles with Abjection by Lennon Mhishi

This discussion is an attempt at sounding out the question, to borrow from Yvonne Vera, “Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals?” when it comes to writing and thinking Africa, Zimbabwe in particular. In asking this question, some of the entanglements of power and knowledge may be encountered. The dominant narrative on Zimbabwe, like most of Africa, has been on tyranny and crisis.  A substantive body of work on Zimbabwean ‘migrants’— especially in South Africa and the UK,—has provided an important foundation for understanding the complexities of (im)mobility, especially in relation to the socio-political and economic challenges of the past decade and counting in Zimbabwe. Part of the present struggle, if it can be characterised as such, is how to begin or continue to theorise being Zimbabwean outside, or not over-archingly defined by, the sensational and necrophiliac politics that have been the dominant lens through which Zimbabwe has been viewed. I propose to explore this through the transnational experiences of ethnographic work conducted in London on music, identity and belonging, and recent travels to Zimbabwe. In a sense, these entail some of the conversations concerning African migration and diaspora. Music here is the thread I am using to suture imaginings of Zimbabwe from within, and outside. To write or think of an outside, and to also acknowledge how music exists within, and can inherently cohere with politics, somewhat constitutes in this instance a rejection of any fundamental outside in itself. It caters more to a movement, a dancing and swinging around the politics, (un)bounded and institutional, quotidian and simultaneously ,carried by and within Zimbabwean bodies, even in realms imagined as outside the physical borders and the dominant tropes of the politics of Zimbabwe, or being Zimbabwean.

About Our Speakers

Dr David Kerr

Dr David Kerr is currently a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg working on street performance, everyday epistemologies and urban space, in Dar es Salaam. His obtained a PhD from the University of Birmingham in 2014 and has published in his fields of cultural and social anthropology, cultural studies and media studies.

Dr Lennon Mhishi

Dr Lennon Mhishi is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Politics department at the University of Liverpool. Prior to joining the University of Liverpool, Lennon has conducted ethnographic research in Harare, Johannesburg, and London. His doctoral work in anthropology, at SOAS University of London, explored the migrant and diasporic experiences of music, identity and belonging amongst Zimbabweans in London, whilst foregrounding these experiences as part of the genealogy of African and black presence and expressive culture in Britain. He is currently part of a project, led by Professor Alex Balch, exploring how the arts and humanities can be utilised in tackling contemporary forms of slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa.