‘Sampling’ African-American Popular Music in Afropean Literature: Archive, Genealogy, and Intermedial Form (“Stars and Strife,” FSU, 2017)

This is a companion webpage for my conference talk entitled “‘Sampling’ African-American Popular Music in Afropean Literature: Archive, Genealogy, and Intermedial Form.” Here, you will find links to the major literary and musical works I discuss in my talk.


Blues Pour Élise, Léonora Miano, 2010

Léonora Miano’s Afropean Works

Afropean Soul Léonora Miano Katelyn Knox Afropean Studies

tels des astres éteints léonora miano katelyn Knox Afropean Studies

Leonora Miano Blues Pour Elise Katelyn Knox Afroeuropean studies Afropea

Chapters with African-American music in their ambiance sonores

  • Minor: Chapter 1: “Sable Sister” on Akasha, of Cameroonian/Martinican origin (3 songs by Millie Jackson)
  • MAJOR: Chapter 5: “Figures de l’altérité” on Estelle, Afropean (all African American artists)
  • Minor: Chapter 6: “Beau gusse” on Bogus (one song by Anthony Hamilton)
  • Minor: Chapter 7: “C’est l’amour” on Shale, Afropean (one song by Meshell Ndegeocello)
  • MAJOR: Bonus Chapter: “Newbian Luv: Let’s Barack our Lives!” (all African American artists)

Estelle’s Afropea and African-American culture

Estelle believes that Afropeans must “s’inventer, s’imposer, se dire” (106) like African-Americans, while Ernest suggests that for historical reasons, this comparison is not as straightforward as she suggests (105). The ambiance sonore for this chapter, reinforces the idea that Estelle looks to African-American cultural icons as models for conceptions of Afropean identity. Zap Mama’s “Bandy Bandy,” from the album Ancestry in Progress, plays an important role in the chapter, suggesting a cultural genealogy–at least for Estelle–between Afropeans and African Americans.

Shale’s Afropea and (the lack of) African-American culture

Shale’s ambiance sonore testifies to a different conception of Afropea. Born in France of her mother’s rape in Cameroon, Shale’s ambiance sonore only features one African American song–“Leviticus” by Meshelle Ndegeocello. This song relates to her cousin Bogus’s decision to come live with Shale after he is disowned by his mother for coming out as gay. Instead, Shale’s ambiance sonore is composed of mostly French pop songs: “C’est l’amour” by Léopold Nord et Vous, “Jim” by Jean-Louis Murat, and “Est-ce que tu aimes (vivre dans des pays sauvages)” by Arthur H. She is the only character to not have any songs in her ambiance sonore from her parents’ culture–the only other song is “Gadé yo” by the Antillean group Soft.

Élise’s ambiance sonore and the trans-Atlantic trauma

The ambiance sonore for Élise’s chapter, the title track to the novel, testifies to the way I read her rape as a metaphor for the trans-Atlantic slave trade (Race on Display). It triangulates Africa (works by Cameroonian artists Bill Loko and Francis Bebey), Guadeloupe (Alain Jean-Marie) and France/North Africa through the jazz/North African Fusion of Keyko Nimsay.

Different Perspectives on Color Consciousness as a Portable Model in the Bonus Chapter

The final chapter, not listed in the “Table of Contents” (like a “bonus” track is not listed on album track lists) examines the differing perspectives on Barack Obama’s election held by the different characters. All of the songs from the ambiance sonore are by African-American artists: “Teardrops” by Womack & Womack; “A song for you” by Donny Hathaway; “Can we Pretend” by Bill Withers; and “Kung Fu” by Curtis Mayfield.

Daddy est Mort, Insa Sané, 2010

Insa Sané’s comédie urbaine

Sarcelles-Dakar Insa Sané Katelyn Knox Francophone studies Afropean studies

Du Plomb Dans le crâne Insa Sane katelyn knox Francophone studies banlieue studies afropean studies

Daddy est mort Insa Sané Katelyn Knox Francophone Studies Afropean studies

Bande-son in Daddy est mort

The bande-son is composed of 19 songs and, unlike Sané’s other novels, US hip-hop and French rap comprise the overwhelming majority (c.f. Sarcelles-Dakar, where US rap is the majority, but French rap is hardly present, or Du plomb dans le crâne, where French rap comprises 50% of the bande-son, but US rap is less prominent than R&B or soul styles). I read the bande-son as mirroring the novel’s 5-part tragedy. 

Note that the divisions of time (and therefore the divisions of the bande-son are not equal. The novel begins with a “look back” (“retour aux sources”) at one of the earlier French rap groups, whose connection to hardcore/criminality in US hip hop is evident through Démocrates D’s song “Le crime.” The next act, during which the young protagonists act in ways that seem “gangsta” to them, brings together some of the most iconic American rap, with Nas’s “The Message,” The Firm’s “Phone Tap,” Mobb Deep’s “Street Life,” Wu Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.,” Cypress Hill (feat. The Fugees)’ “Boom Biddy Bye Bye.” It concludes, in my reading, with 2Pac’s “Changes,” a notable shift in style and tone from the songs preceding it. In the novel, it is at the end of this “épisode” that Daddy is killed. The next two episodes are characterized by different styles of French rap, concluding with a US rap song as a touchstone. In what I characterize as the third épisode’s soundtrack, we find X-Men’s “Retour aux Pyramides,” Oxmo Puccino’s “Pucc Fiction,” Davina’s “So Good,” (an outlier, but it served as the theme song for the 1997 film Hoodlum), and Lunatic’s “La lettre,” before returning to Method Man’s “Bring the Pain,” a song that, in part, praises individualism and the cult of celebrity among US rappers. In the fourth episode, we find less hardcore and more engaged French rap, from La cliqua’s “Un dernier jour sur terre,” Rocé’s “Habitué,” [sic] La Rumeur’s “Qui ça étonne encore,” and Casey’s “Apprends à t’taire,” before returning to the touchstone of Easy E’s “Real Compton City G’s” [sic]–a song which chronicles, in part, infighting within West Coast rap. In the novel, this episode corresponds to the height of misplaced violence to avenge Daddy’s death that evolves into an all-out war between the 19th arrondissement’s inhabitants and the Sarcellois. I read the concluding song, here, as reinforcing the theme of misplaced violence. Finally, in the last episode, corresponding to only one day, the bande-son abandons rap–French or American–and returns to African-American R&B music. I read this as a hopeful “look back” to African-American culture to inform a “look forward” to the promise of Daddy’s son’s birth. Here we find The Bar-Kays’ “Son of Shaft” and Aretha Franklin’s “Say a Little Prayer.” Though I don’ tmean to suggest that Sané is suggesting that African-American culture and ideologies can unproblematically or uncritically be remapped onto Afropea. Instead, he returns to the civil rights and black power movements as moments of inspiration that can inform black French culture going forward.