Despite the breadth of the collective exhibitions, certain content gaps raise some questions: Would it have been out of place for LACMA’s otherwise stunning exhibit (“Music for the Eyes: The Fine Art & African Musical Instruments”) to include some artifacts from contemporary culture? (An electric guitar from a Congolese or Malian band could have been displayed alongside a traditional instrument, such as a likembe thumb-piano or balafon xylophone, with blurbage about how folkloric riffs and rhythms mutated into urban dance sounds.) Couldn‘t CAAM, which does a fine job of showing the African-American legacy -- from minstrelsy to mack daddyisms -- in its “Rhythms of the Soul: African Instruments in the Diaspora” installations, have enhanced the Caribbean and Latin American displays with more memorabilia on Jamaican reggae, Cuban son, Brazilian samba and the regions’ other Africa-rooted pop musics? Why isn‘t there any acknowledgment of the fertile musical soil of Ethiopia? And what’s up with the whispery speaker volume heard in several installations? Turn it up, please.
Many Angelenos think of Africa as nothing more than a place of war, disease and famine; “The Heritage of African Music” festivities will hopefully bring some clarity to these perceptions. “The images you always have of Africa are very, very negative,” says UCLA‘s DjeDje. “Yet this music has a universal kind of appeal. These shows celebrate the greatness, the contribution, the beauty and the impact that it’s made on world culture.”