Review | Marc Chade-Poulsen- Men and Popular Music in Algeria: The Social Significance of Raï; Robert G. O'Meally- The Jazz Cadence of American Culture By Dale Chapman

Men And Popular Music in Algeria: The Social Significance of Raï. By Marc Schade-Poulsen. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999. ISBN 0-292-77739-6 (cloth); ISBN 0-292-77740-X (pbk.). Pp. viii, 250. $35.00 (cloth), $15.95 (pbk.).

 Marc Schade-Poulsen’s discussion of raï—a genre of popular music that has become significant in Algeria and throughout the North African diasporic community—is important because it constitutes an example of how politically engaged musical ethnography might be done, as it contributes to a growing list of works in the field of ethnomusicology that combine traditional ethnographic methods with a critical impetus informed by scholarship in gender and postcolonial studies. Moreover, the strength of this work lies in the way in which it foregrounds the constructedness of raï’s narrative, the way in which its meanings are differently negotiated and interpreted by its producers, its consumers, the Algerian media, the French media and so forth, occupying different roles as it emerges from its early position as a locally known tradition to become part of the ubiquitous amorphousness known as “world music.”

Schade-Poulsen refuses to treat raï as a self-contained social entity, using it instead as a lens through which to view the totality of social, religious and political life in Algeria. His analysis delves into a diversity of issues, inquiring into the unique configuration of the Algerian music industry, while also engaging with individual listeners in extensive dialogue about their own critical appraisal of various raï songs. The only area where I felt the book could have extended its reach is in terms of the discussion of the music of rai. Schade-Poulsen argues that the “unspeakableness” of music, its resistance to verbalization, requires him to read around raï, through its texts and its social context. My feeling is that what he refers to as the “pure sound” of raï might itself be subject to scrutiny, in the sense that it, too, is involved in the production of social meanings.

The Jazz Cadence of American Culture. Edited by Robert G. O’Meally. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-231-10448-0 (cloth); ISBN 0-231-10449-9 (pbk.). Pp. xvi, 665. $49.50 (cloth), $22.50 (pbk).

The recent boom in scholarly texts devoted to jazz and its corollary traditions has consisted, in the main, of two broad categories of works: on the one hand, numerous scholars have sought to combine straightforward, linear narrative accounts of the genre and its individual musicians with formal analyses of the music, thereby attempting to provide authoritative statements defining what jazz “is”; on the other, a number of scholars and critics have employed various strategies—assembling compilations of competing texts, interviewing musicians, and so forth—to raise not necessarily the question of how jazz shouldbe defined, but rather, the question of how such contention over the definition of jazz comments productively upon jazz, musical culture, and American society.

O’Meally’s anthology addresses the question of jazz by means of this latter approach. As his title indicates, he views jazz not as an isolated, specifically musical entity but as a sensibility—a manner of living that extends beyond the bandstand to permeate all aspects of American culture. To this end, after an initial section (“What is jazz?”), in which he presents a variety of essays articulating contending ideas of how jazz should be defined, each subsequent section is devoted to the ramifications of jazz culture for an area of inquiry that has conventionally been situated outside the reach of “music.” “Part 2: One Nation Under a Groove,” for example, brings together perspectives as varied as those of Amiri Baraka and Stanley Crouch to bear upon the issue of how jazz operates as a metaphor for American democracy. “Part 4: Jazz is a Dance” includes Michael Eric Dyson’s “Be Like Mike? Michael Jordan and the Pedagogy of Desire,” an insightful discussion of the cultural site of basketball, which shares with jazz the uneasy co-existence of African-American culture and issues of mass commodification. The sheer diversity of materials brought together here—including pieces by Zora Neale Hurston, Wynton Marsalis, Benny Golson, Ralph Ellison, Bill Evans, scholars Allan Merriam, Eric Lott, Scott DeVeaux, Lawrence Levine and many others—justifies the admittedly steep cost of this weighty tome.

Dale Chapman
University of California, Los Angeles