The Interdisciplinary Forum for Popular Music – ifPOP– is the working title of a project that explores music in popular cultures in Southern Africa. It is a platform where academic and public domains meet; it’s a provocation for conversation and artistic response.

The ‘if’ of ifPOP puts a question mark next to the notion of the “popular”: not all the music the project takes in its purview may be populist, commercialised, or mainstream. Yet “pop” captures the ethos of a vernacular – that which develops independent of institutions and formal training – and provides a starting point to unravel the histories and debates for which “popular” serves as a placeholder.

ifPOP’s intellectual project is to develop critical frameworks from an African context to trace the creative strategies and social dynamics of popular musics in South Africa. Through a series of public talks, symposia, performances, and conversations, it interrogates the ways that the notion of the popular finds expression and is challenged in Africa.


Why a Forum? 

A forum is a platform for debate and exchange, and captures the public dimension of the project.

ifPOP embraces a spirit of collaboration, notably between

  • different disciplines
  • academic and the public domains, bringing together scholars, performers, artists, collectors, recording studios, producers, and music journalists.
  • popular music and the archive. While the idea of popular music is often connected with current music (current hits, the latest releases), it also has a historical aspect. DOMUS houses one of the most extensive archives of popular music, the Hidden Years Music Archive, as well as important collections such as the Kaganof, Anton Goosen, Nico Carstens collections. IfPop not only engages with these archives, but also creates and contributes an archive of contemporary South African practices.

Jazz Conversation: Kyle Shepherd

19 September 2017 | Gallery University Stellenbosch (GUS)

A performance and dialogue about jazz practice as research, about developing an own artistic voice and two figures who shaped Kyle’s practice, Abdullah Ibrahim and Zim Ngqawana.

On 19 September 2017, the award-winning pianist and improviser Kyle Shepherd gave a public talk and performance as part of the ifPOP Conversations series organized by the Interdisciplinary Forum for Popular Music (ifPOP) at Africa Open, Stellenbosch University. Shepherd, who was at the time a masters student at Stellenbosch University, was interviewed by Stephanie Vos (Africa Open Institute) about about jazz practice as research, about the importance of developing an own artistic voice and the two figures that shaped Kyle’s practice, Abdullah Ibrahim and Zim Ngqawana.

The connections between music practice and research is a topic that academia takes increasingly seriously as it investigates alternative knowledge systems and how arts research might engage with non-written forms of knowledge production. In jazz research in particular, these conversations are important. Much of the knowledges about jazz are not found in academic sources, and musicians remain the main bearers of knowledge and history surrounding jazz practice. For this reason, voices like Kyle Shepherd’s are particularly valuable.

Shepherd’s performance and talk is the second event in the IfPop Conversations, a series of free public talks. The Interdisciplinary Forum for Popular Music (IfPop) is part of Africa Open, a new research institute for music, research and innovation in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University.


Conversation traces

Tsepang Tutu Molefe wrote a feature article on Kyle Shepherd, published in Business Day shortly before the Conversation, available here.

Aryan Kaganof made a short film of the event:

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