Musicology Lecture: Ryan Skinner, The Ohio State University

July 8, 2014
Monday, October 13, 2014 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
18th Ave. Library (Room 205), 175 W. 18th

Ryan Skinner of The Ohio State University music faculty presents "An Afropolitan Muse." This lecture is free and open to the public.

This presentation illuminates the moral positions and ethical projects of a musical lifeworld in Bamako, Mali. The story unfolds through close and sustained analysis of a single audio-visual artifact, Sidiki Diabaté’s "Djeliya." First we attend to the specifically "cultural" register of morality the music video represents, with the local moorings and collective interests of an artisanal mode of being defined by kinship, traditional aesthetics, and a rich oral historical consciousness: jeliya. In the mix are Dr. Skinner’s own memories of life among the Diabaté griots, going back nearly two decades, when Sidiki (whom we called "Sidikiba," or "great Sidiki," a term of endearment) was the smiling young boy at the end of a patrimonial line (Skinner, 2008). Rooted, thus, in the music culture of jeliya, we then consider the ethical routes of modern griots like Sidiki Diabaté, whose performance practices and cultural productions emerge from but cannot be reduced to moral topoi; who cultivate a sense of self in the world mindful of heritage and tradition; who make a name for themselves, without forgetting who they are. This is the morality and ethics of Sidiki Diabaté’s "Djeliya." There are also other moral and ethical stories to tell about this video, the music culture it represents, and the African society of which it is a part. Watching and listening at a time of internecine conflict and regional turmoil, Dr. Skinner addresses the "absent presences" that inform (and sometimes haunt) the video’s contemporary reception. Beyond culture, the social imperatives of the nation, city, religion, aesthetics, social media, and professional identity come into focus to evoke a complex, urban African structure of feeling: Afropolitanism.

Ryan Skinner is an ethnomusicologist who studies the local and global music cultures of contemporary Africa and its European and American diasporas. Specializing in the analytic methods of cultural anthropology and ethnomusicology, his research focuses on issues of popular culture, ethics, aesthetics, urbanism, public piety, cultural politics, and globalization. Skinner’s work has appeared in the journals Anthropological Quarterly, Africa, Popular Music, IASPM@Journal, Mande Studies, Research in African Literatures, The Journal of American Folklore, and African Arts. Skinner is the author of the forthcoming book, Bamako Sounds: The Afropolitan Ethics of Malian Music (University of Minnesota Press, spring 2015). He also wrote and illustrated a children's book, Sidikiba's Kora Lesson (Beaver's Pond Press, 2008) and is an accomplished kora (21-stringed West African harp) player. Skinner holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from Columbia University (2009) and is now an assistant professor of music and of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University.


Musicology lectures are held Mondays 4:30-6 p.m. in the Music/Dance Library, Room 205, second floor of the 18th Avenue Library at 175 West 18th Ave., unless otherwise noted.

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