Accepted Paper:

Decentring Sounds from the European ultra-periphery  


Carsten Wergin (Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg)

Paper short abstract:

I explore some routes of musicians from Réunion Island, a French DOM-TOM in the Indian Ocean. They travel through musical spaces making use of imaginaries and performance strategies to construct their cultural heritage in contrast and/or in relation to an image of a French or European identity.

Paper long abstract:

The musical discourses of Réunion Island, a French Overseas-Department in the Indian Ocean, are entangled with issues relating to the (re-)invention of (local) traditions, (global) marketing strategies and power relations under the World Music label, as well as a colonial past that is anything but history. Musicians that locate their musics as cultural products of this farthest European "Ultra-Periphery" (official EU-terminology) are active participants in the development of alternative epistemologies, ethics and imaginings.

Réunion Island has no native population. Its cultural identity is originally derived from mobility and migration of peoples that only later encounter insularity and isolation. This offers a very specific perspective on the construction of identities and alterities on and between Réunion and other islands, Europe, Africa, India, South East Asia and the vast region of the Indian Ocean.

In my paper, I present Réunionese musicians as mediators and translators of knowledge in shifting in-between spaces. While they remain under the influence of political and economic power struggles, they make active use of and reference to various symbolisms, imaginaries and performance strategies (lagoons, colourful dresses, hidden settlements of escaped slaves in the mountainous hinterlands, beaches with white and black sand, an active volcano, histories of slavery and engagisme) in order to construct a very own cultural heritage in contrast and/or relation to an image of belonging to a French and European identity generated some 11.000 kilometres away. Furthermore, musicians (re-)create affiliations and routes towards other transmusical spaces and islands: Reggae and Rastafarianism of Jamaica, Ragga and Zouk from the Antilles or HipHop cultures of the Black Atlantic.

In the context of current debates on creolisation and hybridisation, I argue for music as a medium that articulates characteristics of a decentred vision for identity constructions and a relocation of cultures and that offers great potential for making comparisons amongst numerous ethnographic sites and sides.

Panel W005
Islands of Doom, Islands of Bliss: revisiting maritime places of conquest and exploitation, pleasure and consumption