Listening for Johannesburg: secret affinities, wondrous resonances

DOI: 10.1080/23323256.2019.1575252
Author(s): Brett PyperWits School of Arts, South Africa


Amongst the diverse music scenes that have emerged during the unfinished transition from apartheid, those that have formed within voluntary associations of jazz lovers remain a notable, if fractured and only partially audible feature of city culture around Johannesburg and elsewhere in South Africa. The ways in which things acquire social lives that in turn remake their purported owners has been a distinct subtheme within cultural anthropology and material culture studies for some decades now. I pursue this with regard to how jazz continues, after the official abolition of apartheid, to have purchase as a symbolically resonant resource for figuring the personal and collective self. This article also takes its cue from the invitation to offer a critical reading and an interrogation of the city in Africa via Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, and to sharing scholarship across disciplines. Departing from the premise that the ways in which cities have been designed often prioritise visual layout and physical fixity, I want to think about what it means to know a city through sound. With regard to Johannesburg, I ask how a concept at the heart of this iconically commercial African city — the commodity — can be socialised and sonified.

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