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.

Africa Synthesized: Electronic Music Pre-MP3

Africa Synthesized brings together scholars, artists, producers and archivists to map 20th-century itineraries of electronic music in/about/from Africa.


Update: June 2020

Africa Synthesized Online Gathering 

26 June 2020  |  16:00-18:30 (GMT+2)

You’re warmly invited to the Africa Synthesized Online Gathering on Zoom, part of the Africa Synthesized online conference.

While most of the conference will be hosted in herri issue #4 (www.herri.org.za), the Online Gathering creates an opportunity for real-time discussion and conviviality.

Join us on Zoom:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89695026046

Meeting ID: 896 9502 6046


16:00-17:00   Roundtable on Vinyl in Africa

Dr Stephanie Vos (Africa Open Institute) in conversation with Atiyyah Khan (Future Nostalgia), Matt Temple and Chris Albertyn (Matsuli Music), Uchenna Ikonne (Comb & Razor) and Calum MacNaughton (Sharp-Flat)

17:10-18:10   Electronic Instrument builders (discussions and demonstrations of artistic process)

Afrorack (Brian Bamanya), Luka Mukhavele (Mukhambira project) and Asqus/Aragorn23 (Aragorn Eloff)

18:10-18:30   Virtual drinks and snacks

Hope to see you there!


Update: April 2020


Africa Synthesized has morphed from what was initially planned as a physical gathering into an online conference. To make this virtual turn, Africa Synthesized has teamed up with herri (www.herri.org.za), and the Africa Synthesized conference contributions will form the ‘Theme’ section of herri issue 4.

We will miss meeting in person and the opportunity for conversation. To address this as best we can, a virtual event is planned for 26 June that will allow us to greet each other and share ideas in real time.

Further details will be announced soon.


Africa Synthesized: Electronic Music Pre-MP3

Virtual Conference  |  Contributions due 26 June 2020

Call for Contributions

From tape loops and mix tapes to boomboxes and turntables, early developments in sound technology shaped understandings of sound, space and sense-making in Africa. Coinciding with political struggles for independence after WWII, electronic music technologies created the potential to re-envision and rearticulate African modernities. These modernities played a formative role in the development of electronic music globally: not only was the postwar musical avant-garde heavily influenced by field trips to Africa and other parts of the developing world, the World Music and ambient music industries also relied heavily on exoticized sonic worlds extrapolated from Africa. Predating Pierre Schaeffer’s first work of musique concrete by four years, Halim El-Dabh’s tape compositions trenchantly remind us that the global north was not the exclusive harbinger of innovation. Electronic music not only highlights the dynamic between the global north and south, but also between genres and spaces. The same sound technologies and techniques animated music creation in diverse settings, from the formal studios of conservatoires and radio laboratories, to clubs and home studios, blurring distinctions between highbrow and lowbrow.

Africa Synthesized will address electronic music in Africa before the advent of MP3 (c. 1995). The conference will bring together scholars, artists, producers and archivists who work with electronic sound technology broadly defined. The theme cuts across the fields of art music and popular music, and invites dialogue between academics and music producers. Africa Synthesized aims to map 20th-century itineraries of electronic music in Africa, to consider the role of Africa in the development of electronic music in the Western world, and to seek out encounters with sonic artists and practitioners working beyond academia.

We invite 20-minute papers, panels consisting of 3 to 4 papers, panel discussions, as well as performances and artistic responses. Audios, videos or texts welcome. We’re investigating the possibility of live streaming or other means for virtual gatherings. Possible topics could include:

  • Histories of electronic music studios in Africa
  • The role of Africa in the postwar music avant-garde
  • Electroacoustic art music from/about Africa
  • Ambient music from/about Africa
  • Afrofuturism
  • Contemporary uses of analogue sound equipment/recordings
  • Intersections between environmental sound recording and music
  • Electronic sound archives in/from Africa
  • Histories of vinyl and cassette in Africa
  • DIY studios, synthesizers and other electronic instruments
  • Electronic instrument builders and collectors in Africa
  • The Moog in Africa
  • Analogue nostalgia

Please send proposals to svos@sun.ac.za by 6 April 2020. Proposals should include:

  • an abstract with title (250 words for individual papers, 400 words for panels) + biographical note (max 50 words)
  • the format of your contribution (audio/video/text/other digital formats?)
  • any additional requirements (e.g. technical requirements)

Notifications of acceptance will be sent by 10 April 2020. Contributions are due 26 June 2020.

The e-conference is organized by Willemien Froneman and Stephanie Vos (Africa Open Institute, Stellenbosch University) and Carina Venter (Department of Music, Stellenbosch University), and funded by the Interdisciplinary Forum for Popular Music (ifPOP) at Africa Open Institute. 

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