Ethnomusicologists and anthropologists of southern and South Africa have long argued that the composition and performance of songs and dances is integral to affirming or creating identities. Early research, with an apparently more conservative emphasis, highlighted the role of musical performance in configuring fixed social contexts, delineating life-cycle stages, political allegiances, or gender positions. A subsequent generation of scholars, with a more transformative focus, has embraced social theories that account for the emergence of popular forms in the wake of capitalism and industrialization. They have examined how musical performance can transcend social positioning to create new practices and ideas of society and selfhood (The current chapter challenges both of these approaches by providing a critical analysis of musical performance in a context of high HIV/AIDS prevalence: the Venda region of South Africa, whose rich musical tradition was initially made known to the academic community by the writings of John Blacking. This is an extended version of an article published in South African music studies, 28, 2008 . pp. 1-30
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