Diasporic Intimacy in an African Metropolis: The Pan-African encounter of Congolese musicians and Louis Armstrong in Léopoldville, Congo, 1960
Charlotte Grabli (EHESS)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the Pan-African encounter of Congolese musicians and Louis Armstrong in Léopoldville, Congo, in 1960 to show how African and African-American musicians dealt with their divergent and idealized representations of Africa and Black Atlantic music in a moment of diasporic intimacy.
Paper long abstract:
On October 1960, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars band gave a performance in the newly independent Léopoldville (today Kinshasa) as part of an African tour organized by the US government. The star received a warm welcome as local dignitaries swapped their normal Western attire for more exotic garb and artists performed traditional dances and songs in tribute to the trumpeter. As Congolese rumba, a highly popular style influenced by Afro-Cuban music, had emerged as the main "modern Congolese music", we shall ask why local stars who embodied the urban and cosmopolitan lifestyle such as Joseph Kabasele welcomed Armstrong with performances of an atavistic Africa. If some research has drawn attention to his role of "race artist" in the context of the Cold War (Eschen 2009), and to his first African show in 1956 Gold Coast (today Ghana) (Collins 1996, Jaji 2014), his visit to Congo has never been studied. By examining this event as well as local reactions to Armstrong's jazz performance, this paper shows how Congolese and African-American musicians dealt with their divergent and idealized representations of Africa and Black Atlantic music in a moment of "diasporic intimacy" (Feld 2012). Informed by a series of interviews made during 2014 fieldwork in Kinshasa among musicians and through archival research in the Belgian "Africa Archives", this paper sheds light on the dystopic nature of one of the first Pan-African artistic encounters of the period.
Pan-Africanism between Unity and Divergence (1950-60s)