|Pathways to invention|
Ideas originate in individuals, not in abstracts. For this reason we cannot credit concepts such as culture or social structure, or community, or tribe, or nation, with generating a work of art. Spanish culture did not generate Pablo Picasso’s paintings. If that were so, there would have been thousands of Picassos. But the one Picasso picked ideas from here and there, in Spain, in France and elsewhere, processing them. Nor was it Ngoni culture, let alone “Malawian” culture which produced Daniel Kachamba’s work, although he had a wonderful song about the Angoni in South African harmonic style: “ Angoni ajia ngoma”. It is on the CD accompanying Vol.II of Theory of African Music (Kubik 2010:II: item 29).
'Pathways to invention' is Project no. P 23834-G15 sponsored by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).
Concepts are not agents. Only physical entities are capable of being agents – individuals within the confines of their specific life experiences. Out of resources of knowledge that has accumulated in the social environment, the individual selects some which then shapes the direction of his or her artistic endeavor.
Our current research team in East Africa, with Dr. Malamusi, Dr. Schmidhofer, Albert Bisaso Ssempeke, myself and some others, is therefore also engaged in a biographical project1 about musical personalities, often posthumously. We are trying to cover Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and parts of Moçambique. In Malawi, for example, we are focusing, among other things, on the legacy of bangwe zither minstrels such as Chitenje Tambala, studied by Moya A. Malamusi (1990), and Limited Mfundo of Chikwawa who was first recorded in 1958 by Hugh Tracey (cf.Tracey 1973), then by Maurice Djenda and me in 1967, by the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation during the 1970’s and finally by Moya A.Malamusi and me in 1984. This provides us with a rare chronology through half that musician-composer’s life-time. Today, one of the few remaining bangwe minstrels in Malawi is Mr. Labison Mpotandebvu nicknamed “Tsoka la atsikana” (Bad Luck of Girls) after one of his most celebrated songs (cf.Malamusi 2011:7-8).
If I stress that ideas originate in individuals, it implies that new developments in art, technology and other realms have individual starting points either coming from a single person or from a cooperative involving several persons. Each of them then contributes some specialist knowledge to a pool in which the ideas converge and combine.
Dissemination of art, on the other hand, is largely circumstantial. Whether something gets wider acceptance is difficult to predict. A case in point is the history of lamellophones in Africa, with some hundred forms, variations in the use of construction materials, tunings, buzzing devices etc. But one can notice that some innovative forms won the struggle for survival in contrast to others, as I learned while studying the large collections in the Berlin Ethnographic Museum and in the Museu Nacional de Etnologia, in Lisbon (cf. Kubik 1998, 2002). Some forms even perished shortly after their invention, which is suggested by the presence of just one or two specimens in museums from areas where otherwise hundreds of the more common types were collected. We often encounter blind alleys in culture history, pathways to invention that were not pursued.