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Interview with Louise Meintjes: Co-Winner of the SEM 2018 Alan Merriam Prize

Friday, October 18, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Stephen Stuempfle
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Interview with Louise Meintjes:
Co-Winner of the SEM 2018 Alan Merriam Prize

By Jesse Fivecoate, Indiana University Bloomington

Louise Meintjes, Associate Professor of Music and Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, was the co-winner of the SEM 2018 Alan Merriam Prize for Dust of the Zulu: Ngoma Aesthetics after Apartheid (Duke University Press, 2017). Through 2018 the Merriam Prize recognized the most distinguished English-language monograph published in the field of ethnomusicology.

Meintjes says that her path to ethnomusicology was an organic one. She began studying music in South Africa in the late 1970s but became increasingly aware of the disjuncture of this music and the world in which she was living. She saw a disconnect between how music was being taught in her university classes and the sociology and politics of music as it happened on the streets. She then went on to study ethnomusicology at the University of Texas at Austin, where the examination of music in context felt more connected to the world that she knew. For Meintjes, ethnomusicology gets at the intentionality of how music acts upon the world as well as how the world enters into music. She adds that the ethnographic component of ethnomusicological methodology allows researchers to understand this process intimately.

Meintjes states that the work that appears in Dust of the Zulu was inspired by two factors. First is the recording studio. She met ngoma artists in studios and then followed them out into the world and into their homes. In this way, she could document and understand the relationship between living in the world and producing and performing music. Second is the ever-present politics of race and class in music and the ways this shapes the enactment and performance of violence. She notes that Dust of the Zulu offers a fuller bodily and sensory analysis than her previous work.

More recently, Meintjes has moved into experimental multimedia presentations of her book. Working with a team that includes professional photographer TJ Lemon (her longtime collaborator), Cade Bourne and Jonathan Henderson (two ethnomusicology graduate students), and film editors, she has reworked the ethnographic materials of the book into a multimedia installation. This project invites a couple of questions for the ethnographer. The first concerns how to remix the materials collected in the field into a creative work that is collaboratively conceived in a multimedia realm for the general public, while still sustaining the precision and depth of ethnographic analysis. The second is how to lift a sensory ethnography, like Dust of the Zulu, off the printed page. These questions remain at the forefront of her ethnographic thinking and practice.

Meintjes states that she is very pleased to share the 2018 Merriam Prize with Alex Chavez, that it is an honor to join the legacy of previous prize-winning books, and that the award is also an honor for the artists that the book represents.

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