Space, place, sound and sociability: Situating South African jazz appreciation societies

By Brett Pyper

Among the contrasting post-colonial music scenes to have emerged in South Africa during the transition from apartheid, voluntary associations of jazz lovers – known as stokvels, clubs or appreciation societies – remain a relatively under-documented aspect of township musical life. Yet on any given weekend, in a variety of locales ranging from working-class private homes to local taverns to larger community halls, groups of formally constituted jazz aficionados criss-cross urban and rural spaces to attend listening sessions, where globally circulating jazz recordings, and sometimes the performances of live musicians, are reinscribed with a range of local meanings through various performative practices.

Brett Pyper
Brett Pyper

In this paper, which draws on my doctoral ethnographic research, I examine the particular ways in which jazz is “situated” in this milieu as sounds with their origins in places like New York, Chicago, Copenhagen or Tokyo are integrated within South African soundscapes. More broadly, this project considers the ways in which listening, no less than musical performance itself, is socially enacted, culturally and historically contingent, and implicated in the transformations occasioned by modernisation, musical commodification and transnational circulation.

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