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Performing Religion

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<I>Performing Religion </I>considers issues related to Tanzanian <I>kwayas</I> [KiSwahili, “choirs”], musical communities most often affiliated with Christian churches, and the music they make, known as<I> nyimbo za kwaya </I>[choir songs] or <I>muziki wa kwaya </I>[choir music]. The analytical approach adopted in this text focusing on the communities of <I>kwaya </I>is one frequently used in the fields of ethnomusicology, religious studies, culture studies, and philosophy for understanding diversified social processes-consciousness. By invoking consciousness an attempt is made to represent the ways seemingly disparate traditions coexist, thrive, and continue within contemporary <I>kwaya </I>performance.<br/> An East African <I>kwaya</I> is a community that gathers several times each week to define its spirituality musically. Members of <I>kwayas</I> come together to sing, to pray, to support individual members in times of need, and to both learn and pass along new and inherited faith traditions. <I>Kwayas</I> negotiate between multiple musical traditions or just as often they reject an inherited musical system while others may continue to engage musical repertoires from both Europe and Africa. Contemporary <I>kwayas </I>comfortably coexist in the urban musical soundscape of coastal Dar es Salaam along with jazz dance bands, <I>taarab </I>ensembles, ngoma performance groups, Hindi film music, rap, reggae, and the constant influx of recorded American and European popular musics.<br/> This ethnography calls into question terms frequently used to draw tight boundaries around the study of the arts in African expressive religious cultures. Such divisions of the arts present well-defended boundaries and borders that are not sufficient for understanding the change, adaptation, preservation, and integration that occur within a Tanzanian <I>kwaya</I>. Boundaries break down within the everyday performance of East African <I>kwayas</I>, such as <I>Kwaya ya Upendo</I> [“The Love Choir”] in Dar es Salaam, as repertoires, traditions, histories, and cultures interact within a performance of social identity.

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