Accepted Paper:

Music as spatial practice: the case of Vimbuza possession cult and East African gospel  


Piotr Cichocki (University of Warsaw)

Paper short abstract:

Refering to what J. Kun have called „audiotopia”, I discuss music and sound as spatial, technologic and performative practice. I analyze music performances from northern Malawi, as creation of invisible, momentary space for individuals to re-construct identity in process of healing and revelation.

Paper long abstract:

In this presentation, I examine the anthropological conception of music and sound by concentrating on a problem of spatial, technological and performative aspects and on what Josh Kun have called "audiotopia" (2005). I argue that instead of understanding music as a representation of social change, process or dynamics, the anthropology of music should engage on autonomous qualities of sound, its role in social configurations, its impact on other objects and beings (Prior 2011). One of such a feature is ability of music to set invisible spaces of encounter and transformation for social, material and spiritual actors.

I analyze musical and religious practices among the Tumbuka people in northern region of Malawi, namely vimbuza, which is related to possesion cult, and electronic gospel music, produced by my interlocutors or "imported" from other african countries. I argue that both vimbuza and gospel, which I undestand as multilayered phenomenons, composed of sound, words, dance, costumes, media, technologies, spirits, create social momentary spaces which allows individual to experience a spiritual realm and re-construct identity in process of healing, revelation, a discussion with spirits.

Vimbuza and gospel are seen as contradictions by Malawians. The first is performed as a therapy to pacify capricious spirits, when varied practices of gospel music are understood as space of contact with christian Holy Spirit. Neverthless both create spaces of momentary contact with the invisible.

Panel MB-SAR04
Socio-technologic configurations of sound.