Department of Music Online Lecture: Jérôme Camal, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Opacity, Rézonans, Biguidi: Music and Dance as Decolonial Praxis in the French Caribbean"

To what extent can music and dance support decolonial transformation in the face of ongoing (post)colonial duress? Born from the French Caribbean crucible, Guadeloupean gwoka has always-already been a music and dance practice both of and against colonialism. In the twentieth century, gwoka became the cultural weapon of anticolonial activists. Today, even as dreams of independence recede in the collective political imaginary, gwoka continues to provide an embodied practice through which many Guadeloupeans confront their position as postcolonial, non-sovereign, citizens of the French imperial state. Based on over a decade of dancing and playing music alongside Guadeloupeans on both sides of the Atlantic, this presentation outlines the potential and limits of gwoka as an embodied, decolonial, epistemology. Foregrounding the importance of technique, I ask: What kind of knowledge does music carry? Can this knowledge counteract centuries of colonial assimilation? How do structures of power shape who has access to this knowledge and, importantly, what are the implications for a decolonial anthropology? 


Jerome Camal is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research focuses on music, dance, and postcoloniality across the French Atlantic world. Broadly speaking, he investigates how postcolonial ways of knowing and ways of being are created and transmitted through the body. His first book, Creolized Aurality: Guadeloupean Gwoka and Postcolonial Politics, details how the practice and sounds of gwoka—Guadeloupe’s secular drumming tradition—illuminate the somewhat contradictory demands for sovereignty and citizenship that inherently accompany Guadeloupeans’ position as French citizens at the margins of the nation-state. In his current project, Prof. Camal explores postcoloniality as an embodied, trans-Atlantic, practice through a study of gwoka dancing in both metropolitan France and Guadeloupe. Prof. Camal has also written about the politics of intangible heritage and about tourism.