Africans, Natives, Roma, and Europeans: Transatlantic Circulations of Gesture in Music, Song, and Dance

K. Meira Goldberg and Antoni Pizà are preparing a new conference, book, and digital resource following their previous successful initiatives including Celebrating Flamenco’s Tangled Roots: The Body Questions (2022), Transatlantic malagueñas and zapateados in music, song and dance: Spaniards, natives, Africans, Roma (2019), and The Global Reach of the Fandango in Music, Song and Dance: Spaniards, Indians, Africans and Gypsies (2016).

Considering the descendants of Native Americans, Africans, Roma, and Europeans equally, this would be the fifth in a series of international conferences on transatlantic circulations of music, song, and dance, working to revise Euro-centric cultural historiography through cross-cultural and interdisciplinary dialogue. All four past conferences, organized through the Foundation for Iberian Music at the CUNY Grad Center and held in New York, Los Angeles, and Veracruz, in collaboration with the University of California Riverside, the Universidad Veracruzana and Universidad Cristobal Colón in México, and the Fashion Institute of Technology, a community college which is part of the State University of New York, have been published as anthologies and/or proceedings available open access on the internet. Having focused on the transatlantic circulations of genre (fandango, malagueñas and zapateados, and flamenco) and musical features (rhythm), and having met in the U.S. and in México, we turn our attention to the embodiment of gesture, and to Africa, as a foundational yet under-appreciated source of transatlantic—and indeed global—culture. In addition to expanding geographically, and in addition to the conference itself and the resulting book, we aim with this project to expand our output to create a permanent digital resource that will invite sustained engagement with scholars and students from around the world.

The conference meeting is important in fostering dialogue and building an international community of scholars. Holding the conference in various geographical locations is essential because it encourages and facilitates the participation of local scholars and artists, whose work is then disseminated internationally through the resulting conference output. The proposed conference in Africa offers an opportunity for participants to learn about the theoretical, historiographical, and aesthetic perspectives of African scholars regarding Europe and the Americas and, vice versa, to contextualize, enrich, and revise our understanding of the cosmopolitan cultures of a continent that has so importantly shaped our own.

Books are essential to global knowledge-building and sharing, and the books that have resulted from the previous conferences have enjoyed wide distribution. For example, the first book published in this series, The Global Reach of the Fandango in Music, Song and Dance: Spaniards, Indians, Africans and Gypsies is available open-access on the internet as vol. 12 of Música Oral del Sur, a publication of the Centro de Documentación Musical de Andalucía, and the print volume (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), is held in almost 800 libraries around the world. 

The digital platform aims to create a permanent site for this global community to come together, share ideas and research, and access all manner of virtual information. Modeled on sites such as, the Dominican Studies Institute at the City College of New York, Elizabeth Eva Leach’s Musicology, Medieval to Modern website, the CUNY Digital History Project, Amin Chaachoo’s Andalusian Music – Arabian Music – Modal Music website, Iberian Connections: Medieval and Early Modern Iberian Studies at Yale University, and the online database at the Centre for the Study of the Cantigas de Santa María at Oxford University, the site will archive videos of performance, ethnographies, and all manner of lectures and conference presentations, as well archival resources, scholarly articles and blogposts, and, potentially, pedagogical and course-building materials. Thus, while the conference is held overseas, the benefits of participation will redound to the benefit of our U.S. partners, both in raising their profiles as international cultural institutions, and benefiting students seeking to imagine a sustainable and ethical global future.

The team

The lead institution for the purposes of the NEH grant would be FIT, and the Project Director would be K. Meira Goldberg, Adjunct Associate Professor in Film, Media, and Performing Arts at FIT and Scholar in Residence at the Foundation for Iberian Music at the CUNY, directed by Antoni Pizà, which would co-direct. Other U.S. institutional collaborators would include the Center for Iberian and Latin American Music at the University of California Riverside, directed by Walter A. Clark, and the Ashesi University Foundation, based in Seattle, Washington. International partners include Pashington Obeng, former Chair of the Department for Africana Studies at Wellesley College, affiliate of the Institute for Africana Studies at Columbia University, and Head of Humanities & Social Sciences at Ashesi University, a private, non-profit liberal arts university located in Berekuso, Ghana, and Kojo Yankah, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the Pan African Heritage World Museum (PAHWM), located in Pomadze, Ghana, which has expressed enthusiastic interest in hosting the conference. Additional African partners include the Association of African Universities at East Legon, Ikbal Hamzaoui at the Institut Supérieur de Musique et Théâtre au Kef in Tunis, and Sébastien LeFèvre at Gaston Berger University, Saint-Louis, Senegal. European and Latin American partners include Raquel Paraíso and Jessica Gottfried in México, and Miguel Ángel Rosales at the Universidad Pablo Olavide in Sevilla.