Rendering Audible: Voice, Creative Practice, and 18th-century Airs about African Enslavement

Joncus, Berta. 2024. 'Rendering Audible: Voice, Creative Practice, and 18th-century Airs about African Enslavement'. In: 2024 American Musicological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting. Chicago, United States 14 - 17 November 2024. [Conference or Workshop Item] (Forthcoming)

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Abstract or Description

AMS Proposals Workshop

Session Topics: 1650–1800, 1800–1900, Race / Ethnicity / Social Justice. Keywords: airs, Abolitionism, performance

Chair(s): Naomi André (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Presenter(s): Berta Joncus (Goldsmiths, University of London, academic lead). With Awet Andemicael (Yale University), Rebecca Cypess (Rutgers), Julia M. Hamilton (Ithaca College), Maria Ryan (Florida State University), Jasmin A. Henry (University of Pennsylvania)

In the 18th century, as Europe’s slave trade forcibly dispersed Africans across the lands bordering the Atlantic, dozens of polite British airs about Black enslavement were sung and published. Participants in this workshop will consider whether performance and critique can turn this music, composed and versified by empathetic whites, into a useful witness to African displacement and suffering. That there were also Black authors of 18th-century music will be vivified through a performance of works by Ignatius Sancho, Britain’s first published Black composer, who embedded subtle social critiques within music.

Inspired by Jasmine A. Henry’s recent work on reparative public musicology, the workshop will first consider whether Abolition-themed airs can genuinely impart any of the Black experience they appropriated. Second, it will explore how critical awareness of Sancho’s use of polite musical allusion to counter white social prejudice might be brought across in performance of his songs and keyboard works. Finally, attendees will be asked whether this workshop’s preparation and performance has made audible the antislavery intentions behind Abolition song, this hopefully opening out into a wider discussion about how to approach 18th-century music by or about Black people. The workshop team will agree on criteria for selecting Abolition airs that seem most sensitive to their subjects. In rehearsal, soprano Awet Andemicael and keyboardist Rebecca Cypess will work to re-imagine the African lives Abolition songs referenced, and to recover Sancho’s practice. The team will consider additions to the program – such as post-1800 Black song, including Francis Johnson’s Abolitionist 'The Grave of the Slave' – that can deepen audience experience of the earlier music.

The workshop will start with a 30-minute performance by Awet and Rebecca of materials downloadable in advance. Chair Naomi André will give an overview of the workshop’s preparation, after which each team member will speak for 10 minutes about their own approach to and learning from the workshop. Naomi will then invite and moderate input from attendees.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Panel)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



5 June 2024Accepted
November 2024Completed

Event Location:

Chicago, United States

Date range:

14 - 17 November 2024

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

18 Jun 2024 14:14

Last Modified:

18 Jun 2024 14:14


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