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Accueil Activities Seminar Series Janie Cole: Soundscapes of incarceration: Mandela, Robben Island and music as resistance in the apartheid prisons

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Janie Cole: Soundscapes of incarceration: Mandela, Robben Island and music as resistance in the apartheid prisons

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This seminar is co-organized by CIRMMT and the Schulich School of Music.

Quoi ?
  • Seminar
Quand ? 14/03/2019
du 10:30 au 11:30
Où ? A832, Elizabeth Wirth Music Building, 527 Sherbrooke St. West
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Anti apartheid struggle


Drawing on the wider historical context of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, Janie Cole’s lecture explores music’s critical role as a force for resistance and survival in the liberation movement, in particular at the maximum-security prison on Robben Island, where activists including Nelson Mandela were imprisoned from the 1960s on, and in the women’s jails, such as Number 4 at the Old Fort in Johannesburg. Based on extensive new interviews with former political prisoners and original archival work, it examines the prison conditions and the development of musical activities in these apartheid jails to reveal how music performance – from indigenous African genres like isicathamiya, maskanda, and umzansi to cape jazz, traditional migrant work songs, classical, rock, reggae, mbaqanga, fourth stream and Indian ragas – provided resistance, critique, community, therapy, memory and identity for political prisoners, undermining the white supremacist government and transcending political, linguistic and ethnic differences to unite an oppressed people against a common enemy. Here communities diversified by tribal, racial and language identities turned political oppression and physical imprisonment to political advantage via the idiom of African sacred and popular song. Music also became a mode by which women activists could express their fight against both racial and gender oppression, with a specific women’s musical repertory to communicate a female perspective on the struggle and their prison experiences which differed sharply from their male counterparts, thus raising broader questions about cultural expression as advancing social change and the uses of music by individuals suffering and protesting the violation of human rights under oppressive patriarchal regimes at the intersections of music, resilience, power, violence, race, trauma and human rights.

Dr. Cole and her organization, Music Beyond Borders, are documenting crimes against humanity, their work will assure that a collective memory will be preserved in this important South African cultural heritage preservation project. It is about the power of music in fighting for human rights. 

Developed for the Nelson Mandela Centenary Celebrations #BeTheLegacy #Mandela100

Janie Cole portraitBIOGRAPHY

Dr. Janie Cole PhD is a musicologist and oral historian with specialty research areas in 20th-century South African music, protest and prison resistance during the anti-apartheid struggle; in Italian music, poetry, theatrical spectacle and culture history of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods; and in musical culture in the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia and transcultural exchanges with Latin Europe and the Indian Ocean world in the early modern era. Other research interests also focus on queenship in early modern France, notably Maria de' Medici's patronage of musical spectacle. She is the author of two scholarly books, A Muse of Music in Early Baroque Florence: the Poetry of Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane (Florence: Olschki, 2007) and Music, Spectacle and Cultural Brokerage in Early Modern Italy: Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane, 2 vols. (Olschki, 2011), as well as numerous articles in journals and book chapters related to her specialties. 

For Dr. Cole's complete biography, please download the PDF. 

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