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Transforming Vòdún

Musical Change and Postcolonial Healing in Benin's Jazz and Brass Band Music

Subjects: Music, Ethnomusicology, African Studies
Open Access : 9780472903283, 256 pages, 17 illustrations, 6 x 9, September 2023
Paperback : 9780472055968, 256 pages, 17 illustrations, 6 x 9, September 2023
Hardcover : 9780472075966, 256 pages, 17 illustrations, 6 x 9, September 2023
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How musicians from the West African Republic of Benin transform Benin’s cultural traditions

Table of contents


List of Illustrations

Fon-language Pronunciation Guide



Part I: Multiple Temporalities

1.              History and Healing in Vòdún Practice, Power, and Value

2.              Making la Musique Moderne: Cultural Renaissance in Postcolonial Benin

Part II: Transforming Vòdún

3.              Gangbé Brass Band: Producing Vòdún, Producing Livelihood

4.              Eyo’nlé Brass Band: Transforming the Blues

5.              Jomion and the Uklos: Hwedo-Jazz and Vòdún in the New African Diaspora

Conclusion: Trauma, Translation, Transformation




Transforming Vòdún examines how musicians from the West African Republic of Benin transform Benin’s cultural traditions, especially the ancestral spiritual practice of vòdún and its musical repertoires, as part of the process of healing postcolonial trauma through music and ritual. Based on fieldwork in Benin, France, and New York City, Sarah Politz uses historical ethnography, music analysis, and participant observation to examine three case studies of brass band and jazz musicians from Benin. The multi-sited nature of this study highlights the importance of mobility, and diasporic connections in musicians’ professional lives, while grounding these connections in the particularities of the African continent, its histories, its people, and its present.  

Sarah Politz is Assistant Professor of Music at The City College of New York.

“This tour de force study of vòdún music and religion addresses how the two intersect, interpenetrate, and inform each other—and the world at large. A beautifully written book, at once intellectually rigorous and poetic, Transforming Vòdún is a must-read for scholars, students, practitioners, and the general public alike—anyone interested in global music, religion, and how Africa has shaped both.”
—Suzanne Blier, Harvard University

- Suzanne Blier

“This is a colorful, nuanced, and dynamically conceived manuscript that makes the sounds and concepts of one of West Africa’s most important music cultures accessible to the wider world. It is destined to sit among the classic works of African musical history.”
—Michael E. Veal, Yale University

- Michael E. Veal

Transforming Vòdún contributes to the literature on Beninese jazz and brass bands and vòdún, approaching these topics from the viewpoint of postcolonial trauma studies, diaspora studies, and music and ritual. For all of these reasons, the manuscript will be of interest to ethnomusicologists and can be used in classes on African music, global pop music, jazz studies, and West African history.”
—Patricia Tang, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

- Patricia Tang

"Transforming Vòdún shines as an exploration of Vodun's part in adaptable West African communities of practice and its role in the transformation of postcolonial trauma into multimodal performed histories. Demonstrating the cultural dynamics of Beninese jazz and Vodun, Politz's book offers a vision of Black Atlantic sacred arts as portals into fraught pasts and culturally, visually, and sonically interconnected futures."

- Elyan Hill