Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Patrick Burke


My dissertation explores the development of new musical styles based on gwoka, a Guadeloupean drum-based music and dance tradition. During five visits to Guadeloupe between 2007 and 2009, I interviewed musicians, music professionals, and cultural and political activists. In addition, I attended numerous musical performances, learned to play and dance gwoka, and performed with several ensembles. I combine this ethnographic data with archival evidence to reveal how Guadeloupe's atypical path to decolonization and economic dependency has fueled the growth of nationalist sentiment on the island. Using transcriptions and analyses of musical recordings, I demonstrate how musicians have participated in Guadeloupe's political debates by deploying specific musical strategies in order to define and express their national cultural identities. Following an ethnographic description of traditional gwoka as it is practiced in Guadeloupe today, I explore the music's historical roots. I demonstrate how, from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century, colonial social dynamics not only allowed for the creation of new creole musical practices but also determined the social capital of these new musical genres, resulting in the stigmatization of African-derived music. Next, I reveal how separatist middle-class activists turned to rural African-derived music to build a sense of national cultural unity in the late 1960s. In the process, these militants modified gwoka to fit their cosmopolitan modernist values, adapting a participatory music for stage performance and adding European and North American instruments. I then follow the evolution of instrumental gwoka through the 1970s and '80s, bringing to light the different musical strategies used to express Guadeloupean identity. Finally, I conclude by highlighting how a younger generation of Guadeloupean musicians have transformed both the form and meaning of instrumental gwoka in order to adapt to new economic and political conditions. These musicians, liberated from the weight of nationalist ideology, are able to embrace their creoleness and express transnational identities by mixing gwoka with other musical styles. Through the study of music, this project brings to light the political and cultural impact of Guadeloupe's nationalist movement, thus offering a way to better understand contemporary Guadeloupean society. Using Guadeloupe as an example, this study contributes to our understanding of cultural nationalism in postcolonial societies. In particular, it reveals how music and discourse about music capture the tension between race and class solidarity as well as between national and diasporic consciousness. It demonstrates how nationalism, diasporic intimacy, and creolization restrict one another without being mutually exclusive. In response to the widespread use of creolization theories in globalization studies, this dissertation brings creolization home to the Caribbean to reveal its particular significance as a post-nationalist strategy.


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