Soundin' Canaan: Music, Resistance, and Citizenship in African Canadian Poetry

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Watkins, Paul
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University of Guelph

Idealistically, citizenship—like music—is not confined to any single space. Soundin’ Canaan (Canaan, as Canada was often referred to in spirituals during the Black migration to Canada) draws from a cross-fertilization of communicative techniques to examine how citizenship is explored by African Canadian poets’ resistive soundings. The dissertation investigates how many African Canadian poets draw from African American and pan-African musical forms (including blues, jazz, hip-hop, reggae, dub, and other improvisatory practices) in order to remap the concept of identity and citizenship within intercultural (or multicultural) spaces. I ask: what does Canadian citizenship sound like, particularly as voiced by African Canadian poets interested in a fluid citizenship that moves, like music, between local and global spaces? By looking at Canadian literature in a more global cross-cultural and interdisciplinary context and focusing, as Ajay Heble does in his article “Sounds of Change: Dissonance, History, and Cultural Listening,” on the values of dissonant histories “not in harmony” as a meaningful disturbance to knowledge production in Canada, my dissertation investigates poetic fluidity between African Canadian multimodal practices (particularly orality and music) and those of African Americans and the larger African diaspora. The Introduction outlines my methodologies, and sets the stage for the larger theoretical discussions pursued in Chapter One. Chapter Two establishes parameters for what defines a dub poem, converging around M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!. Chapter Three focuses on George Elliott Clarke’s musical dedications in Blue, Black, and Red. In Chapter Four I examine Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries, particularly the deconstructive jazz approach that Brand takes to remapping a historically marginalized, yet fluid community of resistance. Chapter Five focuses on Wayde Compton’s Performance Bond into which he incorporates hip-hop and turntable poetics. Chapter Six looks at hip-hop artist K’naan, whose song of global fraternity, “Wavin’ Flag,” was chosen as an anthem for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. The Outro (conclusion) brings the primary themes back into the mix, examining how citizenship, the self, and nationality are articulated in African Canadian poetry and literature through what I am terming “listening communities.”

Canada, African Canadian, Black, improvisation, music, resistance, multiculturalism, jazz, hip-hop, Zong, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pierre Elliott Trudeau, M. NourbeSe Philip, George Elliott Clarke, Dionne Brand, Wayde Compton, K'naan, remix, community, citizenship, CanLit, Toronto