Following his lengthy Thelonius Monk biography, historian Robin DG Kelley, has a new book, “Africa Speaks, America Answers,” on how “modern Africa reshaped jazz, how modern jazz helped form a new African identity, and how musical convergences and crossings altered the politics and culture of both continents.” The book covers the careers of four artists. Ghanaian drummer Guy Warren and South African jazz singer Sathima Bea Benjamin* — who both made careers in the United States — are featured. The African-Americans Randy Weston (piano) and Ahmed Abdul Malik (bassist) make up the rest.
By exploring the work, conversations, collaborations, and tensions between both African and African American musicians during the era of decolonization, I examine how modern Africa figured in reshaping jazz during the 1950s and early 1960s, how modern jazz figured in the formation of a modern African identity, and how various musical convergences and crossings shaped the political and cultural landscape on both continents. This book is not about the African roots of jazz, nor does it ask how American jazz musicians supported African liberation or “imagined” Africa. Rather, it is about transnational encounters between musicians, or what the ethnomusicologist Jason Stanyek calls “intercultural collaboration,” and encounters between musicians and particular locations (such as Lagos, Chicago, New York, or Cape Town). In other words, it hopes to explain how encounters with specific places, people, movements, cultures, provided fertile ground for new music and musical practices.
* BTW, Benjamin is also the subject of a full-length history, “Musical Echoes: South African Women Thinking in Jazz” (Duke University Press, 2011), co-written by musicologist Carol Muller and Benjamin.