Ellan Read

sometimes witty book reviews

Abidjan USA

First published: 2016
Found: Part of course readings
Pages/read time: 350, two days


This is definitely not a book I would have read unless I’d had to. Admittedly, I have little knowledge of African continent cultures beyond reading Congo and perhaps I should start reading more books like this in the future. It wasn’t wonderful writing, but it wasn’t terrible either. And now I know a whole lot about four Ivorian musician/dancers –  Vado Diomande, Samba Diallo, Sogbety Diomande, Dr Djo Bi Irae Simon – and their lives in the USA.

But also, I know a lot about the author. Maybe more than I really wanted to. David Reed conducted field research for this comparatively succinct ethnomusicological text for almost ten years before publishing. Though he did not shy away from the fact that a decade with his four interviewees does push the subject-observer paradigm to breaking point, he appears to have made every effort to be as objective as possible in his study. Unfortunately, this means Reed’s own personality comes across as much as his subjects. Maybe it’s just a biographer thing, but as inevitable as the phenomenon is, Reed has perhaps unknowingly injected a fair amount of his own story into this book.

The first few chapters were hard reading. Reed, a white non-native African man, has tried to cover all bases all the time with regards to acknowledging cultural bias, explaining his decisions and confessing the various draw back a non-Ivorian ethnographer of Ivorian culture encounters. At points the explaining becomes a touch irksome. However, Reed has done well not inserting maps and graphs and superfluous representations of ‘life in the Côte d’Ivoire’. He doesn’t explain where Abidjan nor what various kinds of major instrument groups are, which challenges the reader to confront their un-worldliness on the subject. Which is refreshingly respectful of the readers’ own intelligence and the cultures which Reed is studying.

Reading suggestion: Follow the youtube links. If you not a dancer or a West-African ethnographer you will have a hard time visualising.

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