The Oral-Aesthetic Perspective provides a cultural toolkit by which to analyze and evaluate the unique contributions and transforming/civilizing impact of Africa’s cultural custodians upon the world through the aesthetic expression of ancient oral traditions, which are often consumed as pop music. This toolkit comprises a series of seven distinguishing cultural motifs [see drop-down menu] which have recurred in the different global spaces and historic times of Africa’s presence and agency. Each motif represents a unique dynamic of Africa’s oral communication structures and their aesthetic expression, all of which collectively serve an ancestral mandate to ensure the well-being of successive generations and communities. The oral-aesthetic perspective takes into account the role of adversarial and/or countervailing forces – slavery, colonialism, industrialism, etc. – and places these matrix agendas and programs into the broader multi-dimensional context of human prophecy.
This curriculum ideally lends itself to full-fledged courses such as: African Cultural Forms, African Aesthetics, Black Popular Music, Comparative Race and Ethnicity – which I’ve taught separately at Temple and Howard Universities, as well as at the Irvine and Riverside campuses of the University of California. However, each motif can be tailored to address specific issues of concern across a spectrum of disciplines and industries. I’ve successfully applied the oral-aesthetic perspective within wonderful collaborations I’ve enjoyed in the arts, humanities, public health, nursing, communication, entertainment and media arenas – as the selected examples below show…
The Kennedy Center’s “African Odyssey” – a program of mixed-arts, featuring such legends as Harry Belafonte… McCoy Tyner… Hannibal… & Randy Weston with musical presentations; Ntsikelelo ‘Boyzie’ Cekwana’s choreography for the Washington Ballet… Dance Theater of Harlem… Garth Fagan dance performances; exhibits of Zimbabwe Stone Sculptures and African Textiles; theatrical performances of ‘Sundiata: Lion King of Mali’… ‘Marabi’… and KiYi M’Bock’s ‘Bercueses d’eveil (The Awakening)’. This ‘African Odyssey’ program was a wonderful opportunity to weave artistically-rendered Diaspora narratives together with my oral-aesthetic tools. The educational supplement I was commissioned to write for this memorable production was then incorporated into the Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge outreach curriculum for schools. These tools were applied in my subsequent commission by California Institute of the Arts [CalArts] to conduct and write a mixed method evaluation of their Community Arts Partnership [CAP] animation training program at Inner-City Arts for Los Angeles Unified School District [LAUSD] inner-city grade-school students.
Participant Media booked me to write a Worlds AIDS Day educational supplement for ‘Angels in the Dust’ – an award-winning documentary by Louise Hogarth about the village of Boikarabelo, established in 1990 by Marion Cloete in response to the crises of HIV/AIDS and orphans in South Africa. Other contexts in which my culturally-sensitive research perspective was effectively applied to the health-care needs of marginalized populations [see Publications] include projects with the UCLA School of Nursing as well as the Program for Appropriate Technologies in Health [PATH].
The University of South Africa [UNISA] Department of Communication Science invited me in 2011 to address the South African Communications Association [SACOMM] conference on the question of whether there is something uniquely African and of global significance that contributes to our understanding of communication as a discipline? My response was published among others in a special edition of Communicatio, and received the write-up below. “Towards a Transformation Theory of Communication: UbuNtu, Prince, and the Oral-Aesthetic Perspective” is a recent article along similar lines published in the Academic Section of The Journalist SA [September, 2018].
“Mutere approaches the topic head-on by indicating that ubuntu and the oral aesthetic perspective already form a theoretical framework for an Africa-centered theory of communication. She looks at communication from the perspective of (ethno)musicology. In the first part of her article she provides a valuable oversight over the historical development of ethnomusicology and American interest in Africa. Mutere analyses the concept of ubuntu by relating it to ‘being’ which is, in turn, reflective of the ‘universe of forces’ which she then explains. The African oral tradition effectively (and functionally) integrates with this to form what she refers to as the oral aesthetic, which in effect forms a theory of communication (because it is reflective of how people have changed). In this context she explains how some types of music (for example, pop) are a measure of the global significance of “oral-aesthetic modes of Bantu communication and ‘transformation’ outcomes.” [Danie du Plessis – Guest Editor, Communicatio 38:2, 2012]