"Salsa comes from here": Claiming the roots of salsa in Benin
(Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3 University)
Paper short abstract:
From "Beninese salsa" to a hybrid genre called "salgota", the paper will address the contemporary processes pertaining to the "creative appropriation" (Manuel 1994) of salsa in Benin and therefore question the complex phenomenon of "roots in reverse" (Shain 2002) across the Black Atlantic.
Paper long abstract:
In today West Africa, a salsa scene is currently developing, following on the global popularity of this social dance form worldwide. This phenomenon has been preceded by the appropriation of Cuban music on the continent from the 1930s, especially invested as a main creative resource for the constitution of modern African musics around the 1960s. "Salsa comes from here," assert many salsa musicians and dancers I met in Benin. By saying this, they mainly refer to the role of the slave trade to claim the Beninese origins of salsa. However, they use several musical and choreographic transformative processes aimed at the local appropriation of salsa, from the definition of a "Beninese salsa" to the creation of a hybrid genre called "salgota". At the same time, they also engage with the transnational community of salsa aficionados worldwide, through the use of videos on the Internet or in the frame of the Benin International Salsa Festival. The paper will then analyse the empirical implications of the claims of a Beninese ownership of salsa: how has this transnational dance practice been given a local meaning and visibility? How are the music and the dance transformed in the process of producing a Beninese salsa? Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and archives research, the paper will address the contemporary processes pertaining to the "creative appropriation" (Manuel 1994) of salsa in Benin and therefore question the complex phenomenon of "roots in reverse" (Shain 2002) across the Black Atlantic (Gilroy 1993).
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