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Abstract

In this dissertation, I show how participants at Haitian music camps negotiate a range of identifications, from the individual, to the national, to the global. I argue that through programming and attending both individual performances and broader summer camps, musicians and their audiences broker the boundaries of what Haiti is, and what it means to be Haitian. I call this work playing Haitian. “Playing Haitian: Musical Negotiations of Nation, Genre, and Self” has more than one resonance, in keeping with the significatory practice of the Kreyòl language and the broader African diaspora. I interrogate what it means for musicians of Haitian descent to compete for the right to narrate Haiti. I question the activities of foreign volunteers who lead camps abroad and concertize Haitian classical music at home. Across both groups, I focus on the acts of rehearsing and performing culturally significant repertoires. What does it mean to play Haitian? Throughout Haiti, students, teachers, and audiences explore narrative possibilities through a wide range of musical genres. Summer music camps serve as complex sites of interaction, in which participants engage in contests of meaning regarding the authenticity of these musical genres and the identities of those present. This dissertation examines the performative tensions that arise within these camps, and in the discursive zone between the two mutually constitutive genres of classical music and folkloric performance. Participants are “playing Haitian” by deploying an array of social strategies to recompose both nation and self as definitively Haitian entities. The tensions between their sometimes-opposing presentations of self and nation challenge any construction of Haiti as a monolithic race, class, religion, or culture. By “playing Haitian,” musicians and their audiences perform at the crossroads of group identity and self.

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