Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
How might we understand the potentialities of sound when it is misheard? What do we make of hearing when it generatively transcends the limits of aural intelligibility? This paper is a preliminary exploration of the phenomenon of aural apophenia—error of perception, a kind of mishearing—, to theorize the potentialities of sound to confuse, allure, and bring to life yet-to-exist, imagined affinities across difference. I pursue this inquiry by tracing the unlikely aesthetic reverberations and cultural affinities between Japan and Ethiopia through the circulation of < i >enka< /i >, a sentimental popular music genre from 1950s Japan. By tracking the circulation of enka from Japan to Ethiopia—via Japan’s former colony Korea, where Ethiopian soldiers fought along the UN troops during the Korean War—, I explore how imagination conditions our hearing and formation of affective alliances, and how these uncanny resemblances are listened to by others in return. Drawing on Jocelyne Guilbault’s theorization of the “politics of musical bonding” as a processual example of worlding and anthropologist Susan Lepselter’s work on resonance as the “just-glimpsed connections and hidden structures felt to shimmer below the surface of things,” I examine the politics and poetics of aural apophenia and the affective forces of, and desire for, uncanny affinities that emerge from such generative mishearings. Through this analysis, this paper also aims to contribute to both the growing body of literature historicizing the Africa-East Asia ties, and the critique of the U.S./Euro-centric discourses of global circulation within anthropology of sound and music.