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The Magic Trumpeter: An exceptional BaKongo statue & its links with Jazz & World War I

Duncan Caldwell, Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute

April 28, 2022 · 5:00 pm6:00 pm · 144 Louis A. Simpson International Building

The Program in African Studies; Princeton in Africa; Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies

After examining the history and practices surrounding the most impressive Bakongo statues pierced with metal, which are known as minkondi, this presentation analyzes the attachments and hidden structures of one modeled on a soldier. Several of the attachments, including apparent grenades, the regulatory knob from a German lantern used on the Western Front, and a trumpet sold by a New York company that supplied American military musicians during the First World War, were probably obtained in France, where Congolese soldiers fraternized with African-American troops in a sector with so many black soldiers that it was dubbed ’L’Afrique’.

The talk seizes the opportunity presented by the statue and its extraordinary assemblage to tell more about the hundreds of thousands of Africans who were thrown into battle and used in logistical capacities from France to Tanganyika, as well as the story of how those troops mixed with ones from the African diaspora, including musicians like Will Vodery, Tim Brynn, and James Reese Europe, who introduced jazz to Europe, and, by ricochet, back to white Americans. The consequences of those contacts in the midst of fighting in which black men were told to kill whites and exposed to unparalleled violence spawned civil rights.

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