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Song Walking

Women, Music, and Environmental Justice in an African Borderland

Song Walking

Women, Music, and Environmental Justice in an African Borderland

Song Walking explores the politics of land, its position in memories, and its foundation in changing land-use practices in western Maputaland, a borderland region situated at the juncture of South Africa, Mozambique, and Swaziland. Angela Impey investigates contrasting accounts of this little-known geopolitical triangle, offsetting textual histories with the memories of a group of elderly women whose songs and everyday practices narrativize a century of borderland dynamics. Drawing evidence from women’s walking songs (amaculo manihamba)—once performed while traversing vast distances to the accompaniment of the European mouth-harp (isitweletwele)—she uncovers the manifold impacts of internationally-driven transboundary environmental conservation on land, livelihoods, and local senses of place.

This book links ethnomusicological research to larger themes of international development, environmental conservation, gender, and local economic access to resources. By demonstrating that development processes are essentially cultural processes and revealing how music fits within this frame, Song Walking testifies to the affective, spatial, and economic dimensions of place, while contributing to a more inclusive and culturally apposite alignment between land and environmental policies and local needs and practices.

288 pages | 10 halftones, 7 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2018 

Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology

African Studies

Music: Ethnomusicology


“Readers of this wonderful historical ethnography may never walk the same way again. Impey demonstrates how women’s walking songs, mouth harp playing, and foot trails express and shape their attitudes toward the injustices they have experienced during more than a century of exploitation and dispossession.  Weaving together historical documents, the memories and songs of older women, and the policies of a transnational conservation preserve, she argues convincingly for a more activist, inclusive, and transdisciplinary ethnomusicology.”

Anthony Seeger, University of California, Los Angeles

“This fine book traverses the landscape of conservation politics, land rights, and apartheid history. Its analyses of harsh struggle and vexed memory are balanced by Impey’s quiet love of the land and by the extraordinary women who walk and sing through her text. Scholars of development and of the aural arts will especially appreciate its achievement.”

Louise Meintjes, Duke University

"Song Walking is an ethnographic account with rich historical narrative on the song repertories, remembered and newly created, of two groups of women living in the border territories of South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique, in a space called Maputaland...the book is beautifully written, largely avoiding the jarring presence of academic jargon, to constitute instead, a feeling of warmth, deep respect, even intimacy with these two groups of women singers."

Carol Muller | International Journal of African Historical Studies

"This accomplished and moving monograph by Angela Impey provides a nuanced gendered history of the borderlands that lie at the intersection of South Africa, Mozambique, and Swaziland... I would encourage all those interested in South Africa, environmental history, conservation, and interdisciplinary methodology, that indeed, this book is an important contribution."

African Studies Review

Table of Contents

Part I
One Paths toward a Hearing
Two Amaculo Manihamba: A Genre Considered
Part II
Three Walking, Singing, Pointing, Usuthu Gorge
Four Cartographic Encounters: Settling the Southeast African Border
Five New Routes In and Out, Eziphosheni
Six Rain Is Only One Aspect of Water
Seven Dwelling in a Futurized Past: Longing for Ndumo
Part III
Eight Beyond Talk and Testimony
Appendix 1
Appendix 2


Women's Caucus of the African Studies Association: Aidoo-Snyder Prize
Honorable Mention

British Forum for Ethnomusicology: BFE Book Prize
Honorable Mention

Society for Ethnomusicology, Gender and Sexualities Section: Marcia Herndon Prize

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