In Discipline

Since Ana first initiated In Discipline, we at the SU blog have had some wonderful interactions and connections with our fellow ethnomusicology students. One thing this series has taught me is that international connections are vast and important. While this series’ focus has been on students from Europe, this week’s contributor demonstrates how far these connections reach and the impact they can have on us as students. Cara Stacy is a PhD student in the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town and SOAS, London. She got in contact with us through the British Forum for Ethnomusicology because, as she rightly noted, “it seems you don’t have any Africans who have contributed yet.” She discusses some similarities and differences between UK and South African institutions but mostly focuses on her experiences in South Africa. Thank you so much for your contribution, Cara!

 M Bhemani

About you:

My name is Cara Stacey. I am a classical pianist by training but am currently in the third year of my PhD programme in ethnomusicology at the South African College of Music (U. Cape Town). I completed my BMus in Musicology at the same institution in 2007. Still quite focused on piano repertoire, I moved to Edinburgh University where I completed a MMus in Musicology, focusing my research on contemporary African piano composition. I returned to Cape Town following this and did some relief teaching at the SACM, where I taught some of the undergraduate ethnomusicology and classical historical courses. Now focusing on southern African musical bows, I returned to the United Kingdom to do a Masters in Performance at SOAS (University of London). On completing this course and having now moved across disciplines to African music and African studies, I returned to the SACM once more to register for my PhD focusing on the makhoyane musical bow of Swaziland (the country I grew up in). I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, but moved to Swaziland with my family as a teenager. As the university in Swaziland is small and doesn’t offer any arts courses, I made the decision to move to Cape Town for my undergraduate musical studies. I left the SACM in 2007 looking for further adventures and experiences, and now after many years travelling backwards and forwards to the UK, I feel I have gained good insight into the academic life of Edinburgh and now, London.

In my research, I am investigating notions around composition and innovation in the music of the Swazi makhoyane, a gourd-resonated musical bow. The last and only substantial study of this instrument was undertaken by a linguist, David Rycroft, in the late sixties and early seventies, and my research hopes to engage Rycroft’s work and archival recordings, and to update what is known about this music and these players. My findings so far demonstrate that though these musicians are rurally-based, often poverty-stricken, and geographically isolated from one another, they engage with their music and new modes of composition actively, despite the common image of them as rigid culture-bearers ‘maintaining tradition’.

About your program of study:

The ethnomusicology and African music programme at the South African College of Music is sadly a small one. We have increasing numbers of performance students within this sub-department but amongst many performers, research is not understood or seen as important. I am one of only a handful of doctoral candidates at the SACM, and most of my colleagues are within classical/ electro-acoustic fields. Despite this, my supervisor (Dr. Sylvia Bruinders) and head of African Music works hard to recruit new graduate students so that more of an intellectual environment can be fostered.

Between the various ethno/African music academics, there is scope for different types of studies. Dr. Michael Nixon has spent numerous years updating, maintaining, and researching the Kirby Collection of Musical Instruments (one of the largest collections of southern African instruments in the world). He and myself are a part of the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative, an interdisciplinary research platform and seminar group, which has been very important in shaping and challenging my doctoral ideas.

Within the rest of the SA College of Music, there is a much bigger focus on classical music and jazz studies, but hopefully this will change with time.

As an active performer, I feel there is so much possibility in using performance and composition as research tools broadly within music research, but especially within ethnomusicology. I play my bows in numerous contexts outside of my doctoral programme, but also use performance and composition as a research tool within my project. I feel that developing an understanding of how integral playing and composition are to fieldwork could be a key way of attracting more graduate students/performers, and of building more of an intellectual community.

The graduate programme at the SACM is relatively free. There are taught components recommended depending on the student, and I find this freedom and personal focus very useful. Through my Commonwealth scholarship, I have spent almost a year at SOAS in London as a visiting researcher and seeing how British doctoral programmes work has shown me how much responsibility is granted to students back in South Africa. Due to the eleven official languages spoken in South Africa, there are no fixed language requirements to the ethnomusicology programme but each student’s particular skills and focus will be weighed up and usually, prospective students will be fluent in the language used in their study. In my case, it is Siswati,* the national language of Swaziland, which is not taught at the University of Cape Town (African language departments in SA have suffered many cutbacks and so many languages are not available anymore).

The SACM is also the home of the Journal of the Musical Arts in Africa, edited by Dr. Anri Herbst, and having this journal in the vicinity is very useful. I have spent a few years working as an administrative assistant for the journal, and this was good work experience and taught me a great deal about the music departments in other African countries. SASRIM (the South African Society for Research in Music) is the main music research society in the country and was born out of the historic musicological and ethnomusicological societies approximately ten years ago. The SASRIM conferences are held annually in different parts of the country and are usually an excellent showcase for the research (classical, jazz, pop, and ethnomusicological) happening around the southern African region.

Ethnomusicology, power, and production:

Some music departments have historically had more money and resources than others in South Africa, due to our Apartheid legacy and other factors. South Africa in general (but especially politically) is undergoing some radical changes at the moment, and so I am looking forward to seeing my institution respond to these changes. The University of Cape Town is known for its wealthy students, but the Music department is a racially and economically diverse space. It feels like classical music in the department (closely followed by the jazz section) has historically received a greater proportion of students and so resources, and this means that currently, the university is looking to the ethnomusicology department to increase its profile on campus. The department has started building partnerships with notable African performers in an artist residency programme and this has brought a lot of life to the department. What this all means is that when I enrolled to do research into a relatively unknown southern African instrument, it was quite easy to find funding as my University (above the SACM) and the South African National Research Foundation seems to give preference to studies like mine, studies with an African focus and that examine previously ignored musics and traditions.

At the University of Cape Town, there is some pressure to publish and attend conferences but from what I have seen in the UK, the pressure in South Africa is much less. English is the language of all academic publications (and most tertiary institutions) in the region as far as I am aware and considering the eleven official languages in the country, this means there are many barriers to entry for students who are not fluent in English when attending university, and later in publishing. In terms of resources at the SACM, our music library is very well stocked and our librarians are very open to any book suggestions from staff and students. Sadly, this is not necessarily the case at other tertiary institutions and definitely not in municipal or public libraries. In terms of policy and decision making at the University of Cape Town, there are numerous student reps and boards which provide opportunities for the voice of students to be heard. Having said that, UCT is a huge university with a vast student body and much of the administrative ‘backstage’ is out of reach for students.

Ethnomusicology students and finances:

Considering economic inequality in South Africa, the University of Cape Town (like other institutions) has a responsibility to fund students from around the country who are unable to pay their university fees. Considering how unaffordable these fees are for the majority of South Africans, a lot of public and private funding is aimed at those from previously-disadvantaged backgrounds. This results in lots of moaning from the wealthier students who would apply for merit-based funding, but this is how it should be. Until inequality is addressed (if it ever shall be), education is where these issues really come to the fore. There are many students from hard backgrounds who don’t enjoy any privilege and often coming to university is, for them, an intimidating, stressful experience where they are far from home and due to the size of our universities, often do not have access to adequate pastoral care. It is these students who need as much financial support as possible. Often these students are not registering for music degrees however, but rather engineering and medicine.

My own experience with funding, as I mentioned earlier, has been good. I wanted to continue my studies in the UK after my Masters at SOAS but at that stage was unable to find the funds to do so. I returned to South Africa and applied to my home institution and since then, I have been incredibly fortunate with funding. I was awarded the Commonwealth Split-Site Scholarship for 2013 which allowed me to return to SOAS anyway for two six-month periods. Whilst in South Africa, I received different awards from the University of Cape Town, a SAMRO (South African Music Rights Organisation) scholarship, funding from the Oppenheimer Memorial Fund, and finally, a grant from the National Research Foundation. I believe that, due to the focus of my study and the lack of other ethnomusicological doctoral candidates, I have had an easier run with funding and I am so grateful for it! Often it means little bits of money from here and there, and not a huge singular grant but with hard work and careful organisation, it has all worked out very well.

Ethnomusicology and future times:

Past my doctoral studies, things become less clear. There are few postdoctoral opportunities in South Africa and now, a slowly growing number of qualified ethnomusicologists are looking for work. There are not enough positions at tertiary institutions yet but perhaps this will change over time. Often academics move into other fields of work, such as musical festivals, journalism, etc. In terms of the field, this means that academic discussions are broadened and the connection between the academy and actual music-making/festivals/policy making, etc. is strengthened. The downside is that it is hard to find work as a young graduate. Due to my split interest between research and performance itself, I am not sure what I will do when I have completed my study. There is definitely much more research to be done on Swazi music, and I hope to continue this. At the same time, I hope to continue to play and engage with the musical bows in performance contexts.

*Editor’s note: Cara related to us that the reason her whole response isn’t also in Siswati is because the majority of the vocabulary she used in English doesn’t exist in that language. That being said, there was one thing Cara wanted to include:

Emsebentini wami, ngitama kusebentisa Siswati kakhulu. Nga-2014, ngiye eSwatini ngavakashela bantfu labahlala ehlandzeni. Lapho ngidlale umculo futsi ngifundze kushaya makhoyane. Bashayi betingoma bajabulile kakhulu kungiva nangikhuluma Siswati noma nangihlabela ngaso. Manje ngisebentisa emagama esiSwati kucondza umculo kodvwa kumatima. Ngiyetsemba kutsi umsebenti wami utawusita labanye kuva kutsi lulwimi lwesiSwati sigamu lesibalulekile sekufundza ngemculo wakaNgwane. Kusasa kuphekwe ngagalaza!

In my work, I try to use Siswati a lot. In 2014, I was in Swaziland and travelled to visit people who lived in the lowveld (of Swaziland). There, I played music/songs and I learned to play the makhoyane bow. The song beaters (musicians) were very happy to hear me speak in Siswati and sing in Siswati also. Now, I use Siswati terms/words to understand the music because it is important. I believe that my work can help others to understand how Siswati language and terms are essential in learning the music of Swaziland. Tomorrow/for the future, the pot is overflowing! (There is much work to be done).

M Bhemani 2


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