Archiving Africa, Part 2: Chugging Along With Purpose

I warned Ar’Darius before coming here that the archival work we’d be doing was not going to be the most exciting work in the world. Our daily work consists mostly of data entry, data management, and organization. In that context, the occasional technical hurdle seems almost exciting. Almost.

It’s not easy to come to a place where many if not most of the foreigners we meet are spending at least some of their time enjoying safaris in Uganda’s national parks, rafting the river Nile, and partying, only to spend our days working without ceasing. We relax only briefly before coming back to the archive, and even our weekend expeditions involve more transport hassle than respite (more on those soon). Alas, we are here to work.

Lest the interns’ motivation wane, however, it is important to fire our efforts in the great crucible of the proverbial bigger picture. Constantly on the lookout for ways to do this, I treat them to tea or lunch, we take a break to enjoy the view on the top floor of the library, or we put our heads together on something to break the monotony of some of our individual tasks. Last week, I found this little gem in a recent book by my dear colleague, Jean Kidula. She writes,

Music documents and archives the past, negotiates contact, facilitates change, and comments on the resilience and transformation of culture. Music archived through written, audio, and video recordings, as well as ethnographic research, provides a transcript on a people’s choices in encounters with new systems.*

I hastened to add that archives of music (which is, per Kidula’s statement, already archival in nature) are meta-conjoining spaces wherein we create capacity for people to connect to each other and to be in the world together. We are in this sense, as I told the interns, waging peace by building up, creating, and conjoining space(s) as opposed to tearing them down or blowing them up as are some of our fanatical contemporaries around the world. In the terms of the Fulbright Commission, we are building capacity for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding.

We do not have any delusions of grandiosity about this project. The work of creating something worthwhile is often slow, and the work of building capacity for connecting creative endeavors is possibly bound to be even slower. Nevertheless, we find meaning and motivation in the broader goals of this work.

*Jean Kidula, Music in Kenyan Christianity: Logooli Religious Song, Ethnomusicology Multimedia Series (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).


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