By Martin Banham
READINGS IN AFRICAN POPULAR CULTURE, ed. Karin Barber. Oxford: James Currey, 1997, £12.95.
In her introduction to this collection Karin Barber discusses both the status and the range of African popular culture and promises a volume about "what people in Africa have actually been producing". Her twenty-one contributors' essays are grouped under six headings, Views of the Field, Oral Tradition Revisited, Social History, Social Criticism and Interpretation, Women in Popular Culture, Little Genres of Everyday Life, and The Local and the Global. This is an extraordinarily rich collection full of informative detail and excellent interpretative analysis. There is not a single piece that fails to fascinate; my own favourites include Olatunde Bayo Lawuyi on 'The World of the Yoruba Taxi Driver', Achille Mbembe on Cameroonian cartoons, and Alec J.C. Pongweni on 'The Chimurenga Songs of the Zimbabwean War of Revolution'. Broader contextualising essays include Barber's own scholarly Introduction and Johannes Fabian's 1978 essay 'Popular Culture in Africa'. The volume both reprints pieces that have previously been published (mainly in journals) and offers pieces specially commissioned for this publication. The bibliographical information brought together is worth the price of the volume alone.
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 62 (1997), p. 65.]