South Africa after 1994, Stellenbosch in the twenty-first century, Stellenbosch University in its centenary year 2018: places where the eviscerating consequences of one the twentieth-century’s most infamous crimes against humanity continue to play out. Neutralizing this crime does not depend on the word ‘apartheid’ never being spoken in the land, the town or the university. Nor does it mean that the racist and societal destruction inflicted through this ideology is not discursively acknowledged. On the contrary: enunciating the word ‘apartheid’, discursively accepting responsibility, staging self-reflection – all of these rhetorical devices aid particular forms of denial by creating an affirmative culture that resists radical thinking and urgent change.

In this context, in South Africa and Stellenbosch today, art should play a crucial role in challenging conventionalism, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, opposition to the imagination and the subjective position, categorical thinking, excessive exercise of power, the invention of new enemies and dangers to articulate old fears. But art can also be used as an alibi for these reactionary values, all too readily recognizable from South Africa’s apartheid past, or even to promote these categories of what was once called a ‘new anthropological type’: the authoritarian personality.

Africa Open Institute cares about cultivating the critical role of music to challenge instant accommodation and conformity to the wishes of power. The Institute intends to break the conspiracy of silence invoked by the endorsement of complacent, conformist thinking in our spaces of creation and thought. In order to do this, the Institute does not only encourage freedom to imagine different ways of existing in the university, but also interrogates the old ways that endure so palpably in the chambers where apartheid was once the very oxygen of intellectual, and also artistic, endeavour. The Institute also recognizes that music in all of its rich diversity does not live in our South African institutions of higher learning, and it is therefore committed to be open in its engagements with extra-institutional musical thought and practises to explore how we can contribute to changing this.


AOI acknowledges the inevitability of the influence of South Africa’s past in our work and actively works to reject colonialism and apartheid in their historical and contemporary manifestations.

AOI functions within the tension of continued and perpetuated socio-political injustices and economic inequalities, and the anticipation of engaging the potential of South Africa’s musical heritage and practices.

AOI opens up music research and the disciplines associated with institutional music teaching (performance, composition, historiography, theory, analysis, musicology, ethnomusicology).

AOI is open to all aspects of music and research, embracing any epistemology that enables knowledge production rooted in the here and now.

AOI is a laboratory for scholars and artists to pursue experimental work that seeks to give new meaning to what is conventionally understood as ‘research’.

AOI engages the archive and its publics and sees them as integral to intellectual and creative innovation in music research.


We work towards establishing an institutional space hospitable to experimentation and risktaking with respect to conventions on all levels of music practice and research in the university, and to develop an institutional home to all scholars and artists who are interested in cultivating new knowledge from the here and now.