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MUSI 4523 African Electronic Music

African cities and urban areas have long been places for some of the most futuristic sounds being created, music and sounds that reverberate between local urban identities and international avant garde music scenes. Explosive, hypnotic and ultra-modern electronic sounds meld stunning dance forms with musical theatre and articulate the urban youth experience in cities as diverse and vibrant as Kinshasa, Jo'Burg, Nairobi, Lagos and Durban.

We will engage multiplex genres of futuristic music, including Congotronics, Shangaan Electro, and Gqom apocalyptic bass music, paying close attention to innovations in artistic practice, remix culture and Afrofuturism. We will explore the histories and futures of the sounds linking African beat making, technology, guitars, and the dynamics of twenty-first century amplified African cityscapes.

No prior musical experience is required.  Taught by Noel Lobley, Assistant Professor of Music (Critical and Comparative Studies)

LAR5590/PLAN5500 Uniting City and Landscape in Ghana

This course is a new offering by faculty associated with the African Urbanism Humanities Lab for the Spring 2018.  Climate change and human activities threaten African coastal cities including Winneba, Ghana and its adjacent lagoon, a sacred tribal landscape and protected bird migratory site. We will analyze and map the landscape, talk with coastal experts and Winnebarians, and study local informal economies of aquaculture, salt and mangrove production, reforestation, and tourism to create a resilient vision of city and landscape inter-dependency.

PAVS 4500: The African City

PAVS 4500 is a Pavilion Seminar for upper level undergraduates; it serves as a class for the Second Writing Requirement for the College.


The course explores the many dimensions of the African City. Specifically, we explore the city as a static representation (as in statistics used by the World Bank and UN), as a built space (so city form, design dimensions), as a lived experience (as much as possible), and as an aspirational space (e.g., a place of striving, a place of nation-building, political expression, etc.) The class will be primarily focused on the cities of Sub-Saharan Africa, although cities from North Africa will be integrated thematically (e.g.,Casablanca and colonial planning).


The objectives of the seminar are:

  • To analyze and challenge conventional representations of African cities in both scholarship and the media.

  • To explore the central debates in the study of African cities, across urban studies, geography, urban planning, and anthropology (to name some central disciplines) and to understand the implications of these different perspectives to residents of the city, international relationships, and so on.

  • To understand the varied colonial histories of African cities and reflect on how these histories have shaped city form, social interactions and other present day dynamics.

  • To understand the of different trajectories of urbanization and depict and analyze different patterns of social, economic, and political transformation wrought in and by African cities

  • To develop a deep understanding of a key sector or one area of transformation/change in an African city selected by participating students.


Human knowledge of our planet, and by extension any part of it, is necessarily derived from imaginaries. This is not to say that our knowledge is simply made up and untrue. Rather it is to acknowledge that our knowledge is culturally and technically mediated. We simply cannot know of places we have never been or scales too large or small to be perceived by our senses, except through images, maps, stories and related forms of abstraction and representation. We must, in short, imagine them. 


Africa, perhaps more than any other region, has been imagined as an unproblematically bounded and undifferentiated entity. There is, as novelist Chimamanda Adichie teaches, a Western tradition of storytelling about Africa. This tradition is the basis of many stereotypes --"stories you may have heard about Africa" -- that are repeated, disseminated, and amplified so as to drown out other stories. But there are of course many other traditions of storytelling, in Africa and its diasporas, which imagine Africa in very different terms.


Imagining Africa, as we shall learn, never happens in a realm of pure abstraction. It is a historically contested human activity, deeply entangled in material struggles, repeated displacements, and collective remembering. It is an activity that happens at diverse and interconnected scales and locales, as the people's everyday lives interact with mediated abstractions like economic development, global ecology, urban youth culture, the Internet, money, religion, and imaginaries of Africa itself. It is an activity that continues to emerge from the movement of people and encounters between them. It is an activity that has real and meaningful effects. For all these reasons, anthropologist James Ferguson reminds us, we need to arrive at more nuanced understandings of the ways in which Africa is imagined, by whom, and with what kinds of effects. In this course, we will practice modes of enquiry that are multi-faceted and ethnographically informed, and also consistently connected to the question of what we mean by Africa and why its realities matter.

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