Sarah Politz

  • Post Doctoral Fellow

Profile

My work focuses on creative practice in African and Afro-diasporic music, particularly in the context of popular music and new African diasporas in Europe and North America. As a Dietrich School Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at Pitt, I am currently working on a book project about sound, spirituality, and migration in the lives of brass band and jazz musicians from Republic of Benin, West Africa, where I have been conducting fieldwork since 2007.

My dissertation, “Entrepreneurship, Style, and Spirituality in Benin’s Jazz and Brass Bands,” examined how jazz and brass band musicians in Benin, West Africa transform their music in the context of post-colonial networks of power and economics locally and internationally. I focused on two groups, the Gangbe and Eyo'nle Brass Bands, and the artistic and professional choices they deploy in their adaptation of local Beninese songs, rhythmic textures, and dances for audiences in Europe. I investigated how these musicians creatively root their musical practices in Benin’s traditions of vodun music, dance, and ritual, and how they market their representations of these traditions abroad.

My publications have explored a wide range of topics, from phenomenology, semiotics, and history in music analysis, to culturally grounded definitions of musical genre and style, the aesthetics of jazz, and Afro-modernism. My most recent writing is focused on issues of protest and indirection in African brass band music in Europe. My second research project in development examines the role of health and well being in the transmission of African spiritual and musical practices.

I completed my PhD in ethnomusicology at Harvard University in 2017, and I also hold an MA in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University (2011), and a BM in jazz studies and a BA in English from Oberlin College and Conservatory (2007). Before coming to Pitt in fall 2018, I previously taught at Williams College. I perform actively as a jazz trombonist in several groups, including the Theodicy Jazz Collective and the Makanda Project.

Current courses

Introduction to World Music (fall 2018 and spring 2019)

Publications

2018. “Indexicality, Multiple Temporalities, and Resonance in the Music of the Gangbe Brass Band of Benin,” Ethnomusicology, 62(1):28-57.

2018. “We Don't Want to Be Jazz-Jazz: Afro-Modernism, Jazz, and Brass Band Music in Benin,” Jazz and Culture, 1:12-48.

2018, forthcoming. “Kaka,” “Masse Gohun,” “Tchinkoume,” “Zenli,” and “Brass Bands of Benin” in the volume African Genres for the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music, London, UK

Recent and Upcoming Presentations

2018 “Fetish Drummer: Josephat Honnou and the Pedagogy of Beninese Vodun Rhythms in Brussels,” Annual Conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Albuquerque, New Mexico, November 15-18

2018 “The Valorization of African Culture Among Benin’s Brass Band Musicians,” ICTM Africa Study Group Conference, University of Ghana-Legon

2018 Participant, President’s Roundtable: “The Role of Ethnomusicologists in the Age of Expanding Grassroots Political Advocacy,” Annual Conference of the New England Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Wellesley College, MA

2017 “Producing Local and Global Traditions in Beninois Brass Bands,” Annual Conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Denver, Colorado

2017 “Cultural Reproduction and National Representation in Benin's Jazz and Brass Band Music Abroad,” World Conference of the International Council for Traditional Music, University of Limerick, Ireland

2017 “Hidden Transcripts, Production Strategies, and the Blues in the Music of the Eyo'nle Brass Band of Benin,” Annual Conference of the New England Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Middlebury College, VT

2016 “'Zenli Renove' and Benin's Brass Bands: Continuity, Social Reproduction, and the Representation of Local Histories of the Global,” Annual Conference of the African Studies Association, Washington, DC

2016 “Multiple Temporalities in Benin's Brass Bands: A Postcolony's Local Histories of the Global,” Annual Conference of the New England Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology, University of Massachusetts-Boston

2012 “Jazz and Vodun in Beninois Brass Bands,” Annual Conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology, New Orleans, LA

Education & Training

  • PhD, Harvard University, 2017
  • MA, Wesleyan University, 2011
  • BM and BA, Oberlin College, 2007

Faculty Groupings

Core Faculty

Subdisciplines