"Colonial Governance as 'heard': Colonial Radio and the Power of Music from Morocco to French Indochina"

Event Info

A Musicology Colloquium Talk by Professor Jann Pasler (UC San Diego)

Scholars have recently begun to theorize radio and recordings, especially in the context of emerging sound studies and interest in the “war of the waves” before World War II. However, they have largely overlooked music programmed on radio, how and why programming evolved over time. If musical juxtapositions of old/new and serious/popular have long characterized western radio, of signal importance for colonial producers was the inclusion of indigenous music on radio from Morocco to Indochina, right next to western music and, in the late 1930s, urban alongside rural traditions. Colonial radio thus sheds on the nature of colonial coexistence, colonial governance, and the contribution music could make to new identities.

In this paper, Professor Pasler examines how musical programming on colonial radio from Africa to Indochina was used to support colonial modes of governance and how they evolved in the 1920s and 1930s. Drawing on archival work in Paris, Nantes, Aix-en-Provence, Rabat, and Saigon, she has concluded that French administrators, with the help of local elites, sought to shape westerners’ perception of indigenous peoples through exposure to their music, and local peoples’ attitudes toward French settlers through official support for it. Music enhanced and enabled radio’s role as a social and political force. If comparisons across North Africa shed light on the dynamic processes of canonization associated with Arabo-Andalousian music, a symbol of North African regional identity even in the post-colonial present, comparisons across the French empire shed light on attitudes and processes characteristic of French colonialism and its modes of governance.

About the Artist:

Musicologist, pianist, documentary filmmaker, and distinguished professor, Jann Pasler has published widely on new American and French music, interdisciplinarity, interculturality, race, gender, and radio. In recent years, her work on why music mattered in Third Republic France

has expanded to music, new media, and governance in the French colonial and postcolonial culture, 1860s-1960s, with particular emphasis on North Africa, Senegal, and Vietnam.