Performing whiteness; representing otherness : Hugh Tracey and African music

by Paulette June Coetzee

Institution: Rhodes University
Department: Faculty of Humanities, English
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: Tracey, Hugh.; Music  – Africa; International Library of African Music; Ethnomusicology  – Africa; Ethnomusicologists  – South Africa
Record ID: 1431932
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10962/d1016502


This thesis provides a critical study of texts associated with Hugh Tracey (1903–1977). Tracey is well-known for his work in African music studies, particularly for his major contribution to the recorded archive of musical sound in sub-Saharan Africa and his founding of the International Library of African Music (ILAM) in 1954. My reading of him is informed by a postcolonial perspective, whiteness studies and African scholarship on ways in which constructions of African identity and tradition have been shaped by the colonial archive. In my view, Tracey was part of a mid-twentieth century movement which sought to marshal positive representations of traditional African culture in the interest of maintaining and strengthening colonial rule. While his recording project may have fostered inclusion through creating spaces for indigenous musicians to be heard, it also functioned to promote racist exclusion in the manner of its production, distribution and claims to expertise. Moreover, his initial strategy for ILAM’s sustainability targeted colonial government and industry as primary clients, with the promise that promoting traditional music as a means of entertainment and self-expression for black subjects and workers would ease administration and reduce conflict. I believe that it is important to acknowledge and interrogate the problematic racial attitudes and practices associated with the history of Tracey’s archive – not to undermine its significance in any way but to allow it to be better understood and used more productively in the future.