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Lip-synch Gospel: Christian Music and the Ethnopoetics of Identity in Kenya

  • Mark Lamont
Abstract

In recent years there has been an outpouring of Kenyan scholarship on the ways popular musicians engage with politics in the public sphere. With respect to the rise in the 1990s and 2000s of gospel music – whose politics are more pietistic than activist – this article challenges how to ‘understand’ the politics of gospel music taken from a small speech community, in this case the Meru. In observing street performances of a new style of preaching, ‘lip-synch’ gospel, I offer ethnographic readings of song lyrics to show that Meru's gospel singers can address moral debates not readily aired in mainline and Pentecostal-Charismatic churches. Critical of hypocrisy in the church and engaging with a wider politics of belonging and identity, Meru gospel singers weave localized ethnopoetics into their Christian music, with the effect that their politics effectively remain concealed within Meru and invisible to the national public sphere. While contesting the perceived corruption, sin and hypocrisy in everyday sociality, such Meru gospel singer groups cannot rightly be considered a local ‘counter-public’ because they still work their politics in the shadows of the churches.

Ces dernières années ont vu une effusion de travaux de recherche sur la manière dont les musiciens populaires kenyans s'engagent en politique dans la sphère publique. Concernant l'essor de la musique gospel dans les années 1990 et 2000, dont la politique est plus piétiste qu'activiste, cet article remet en question l’« interprétation » de la politique du gospel au sein d'une communauté linguistique restreinte, en l'occurrence les Meru. À travers l'observation de performances de rue d'un nouveau style de prédication appelé gospel « lip-synch », l'article offre des lectures ethnographiques de paroles de chansons pour montrer que les chanteurs de gospel de Meru peuvent aborder des débats moraux qui ne trouvent pas facilement leur expression dans les églises traditionnelles et pentecôtistes-charismatiques. Critiques de l'hypocrisie présente au sein de l’Église et engagés dans une politique plus large d'appartenance et d'identité, les chanteurs de gospel de Meru entrelacent la musique chrétienne d'ethnopoésie localisée, avec pour effet de dissimuler leur politique au sein de Meru et de la rendre invisible à la sphère publique nationale. Même si ces groupes de chanteurs de gospel meru dénoncent la corruption, le péché et l'hypocrisie perçus dans la socialité quotidienne, il serait faux de les considérer comme un « contre-public » car ils continuent de pratiquer leur politique dans l'ombre des églises.

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Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
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