South African Jazz and Exile in the 1960s: Theories, Discourses and Lived Experiences

Stephanie Vos

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis presents an inquiry into the discursive construction of South African exile
in jazz practices during the 1960s. Focusing on the decade in which exile coalesced
for the first generation of musicians who escaped the strictures of South Africa’s
apartheid regime, I argue that a lingering sense of connection (as opposed to rift)
produces the contrapuntal awareness that Edward Said ascribes to exile. This thesis
therefore advances a relational approach to the study of exile: drawing on archival
research, music analysis, ethnography, critical theory and historiography, I suggest
how musicians’ sense of exile continuously emerged through a range of discourses
that contributed to its meanings and connotations at different points in time.

The first two chapters situate South African exile within broader contexts of
displacement. I consider how exile built on earlier forms of migration in South
Africa through the analyses of three ‘train songs’, and developed in dialogue with the
African diaspora through a close reading of Edward Said’s theorization of exile and
Avtar Brah’s theorization of diaspora. A case study of the Transcription Centre in
London, which hosted the South African exiles Dorothy Masuku, Abdullah Ibrahim,
and the Blue Notes in 1965, revisits the connection between exile and politics,
broadening it beyond the usual national paradigm of apartheid politics to the
international arena of Cold War politics. The final chapters present an extended case
study of the South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim’s early years of exile – a
period that has received little attention in music scholarship. I trace the notions of
‘home’ and ‘exile’ in the biography, musical thought and music practices of this
iconic figure of South African exile. Finally, I argue that exile is a state that is always
in flux, and theorize ambivalence as a key trope of exile.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ramnarine, Tina K., Supervisor
Award date31 Aug 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • South African music
  • exile
  • jazz
  • diaspora
  • African diaspora
  • Abdullah Ibrahim
  • South African exile
  • music and politics
  • global jazz
  • Dollar Brand

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