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The tradition of invention: The Kamalengoni Harp in Mali and Burkina Faso

Kouyaté, Zé Aruanã 2022. The tradition of invention: The Kamalengoni Harp in Mali and Burkina Faso. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis presents the first large-scale study of the performance technicalities, organology, and cross-cultural appropriation of a West African bridge harp called the kamalengoni. Since a group of young musicians in the 1950s circumvented the musical and esoteric restrictions of the donsongoni (hunters’ harp) by inventing the kamalengoni (youth harp), the latter continuously takes new forms within its homeland in Mali and recently in neighbouring Burkina Faso. This thesis explains how kamalengoni players appropriate, dismantle, and reassemble old and adjacent harp traditions to re-design, re-signify and insert themselves into an inventive tradition. My primary research question is: What musical thinking, performance techniques, composition processes, and inventiveness win the approval of other kamalengoni players and are celebrated by the wider culture? Other questions include: What motivates kamalengoni players to constantly invent? How is knowledge communicated between musicians, and how do kamalengoni players assess the performance standard of their peers? Has the kamalengoni been institutionalised, and if so, with what consequences? Can and do women play the kamalengoni? I found that contemporary kamalengoni players are invested in provoking change, engendering surprise, and asserting individuality rather than establishing and protecting a strict set of conventions. By inverting Hobsbawm and Ranger’s well-established theory presented in The Invention of Tradition (1983), I demonstrate that unlike the preservationist motivation found in adjacent hunter and griot harp traditions, the kamalengoni is a tradition of invention in which its players’ main mission is to distinguish themselves through displays of individualistic creativity and imagination. Using performance as research as my principal research method, I draw from my musical experience and data collected during thirteen months of fieldwork in Mali, Burkina Faso, and France. My findings are illustrated with transcription and analysis, ethnographic writing, edited fieldwork footage, a lecture demonstration video, and an ensemble recital video.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Music
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
M Music and Books on Music > MT Musical instruction and study
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 24 January 2023
Last Modified: 27 Nov 2023 15:02

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