Listening for Africa, David Garcia’s theoretically ambitious and meticulously researched new text—far broader in scope than his well-respected but relatively specific monograph on Afro-Cuban musician Arsenio Rodríguez (2006)—provides what is sure to become a classic account of the discursive construction of blackness through music, in both academic and artistic practice. Garcia argues that Africa, as a figure of spatial periphery and temporal anteriority to modernity, became an inescapable element of how black music was heard during the period 1930-1960.

Calling out the displacement of modernity’s Others is not in itself novel, but Garcia makes specific contributions in a few senses. He traces the foundational role of...

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