Ethnomusicologists have long cherished the tradition of conducting field research with living societies. They travel to different cultures and partake in the society’s music-cultural practices by observing and participating in various events. Some ethnomusicologists review artifacts, oral histories, and historical sources for their analysis. My investigation of the heartrending experiences of enslaved Africans in dungeons, and how they may have used music and dance to cope, resist, and survive was fraught with challenges because the “field,” Elmina Castle in Ghana, was empty. The last group of enslaved Africans was shipped out in the late 1800s, so there were no shackled Africans to interview; there were no witnesses, either. There were no fingernails, hair, pictures, notes, or letters to read and touch, nor music-cultural practices I could participate in and observe. No one recorded them. All I had to work with were empty chambers enclosing damp, odorous, bumpy floors caked with ancient human waste and blood, scripted narratives by tour guides, and scant historical information. None referenced music.
Without tangible field evidence, I relied on the sparse historical information available to me, my emotional and visceral responses to the various spaces, and other “modalities of interpretation” to construct an ethnomusicological past that was just as relevant as one based on traditional research methods. I wrote an original play, Walking With My Ancestors, based on that research. In this talk, I use different ethnographic scenarios to examine the effects of historiopoiesis, space, and memory on constructing an ethnomusicological past. The theoretical base borrows from aural architecture, memory, and post-colonial and post-structuralist authors who dispute history as a politicized, “contested space” and challenge the rigid dichotomies between self and other. I also expand upon discourse begun by third-generation writers on slavery, who by presenting new approaches to the “issue of traumatic history and racial memory,” contest the “conventional mimetic historiographic praxis.” Ultimately, the varied forms of analysis move us beyond conventional ways of interpreting the lives of people in distant times, places, and music. They also open up discursive spaces where fact and fiction can be blended liberally to fashion creative field methods. Furthermore, by blending fact and fiction, I confer possible memories, genealogies, identity, and an ethnomusicological past on a people whose histories have been neglected in official accounts. What emerges is an ethnography that is both evocative and performative. This will help to stimulate and broaden conversations about the various ways in which our identities inform ethnomusicological methods, knowledge, and the production of texts.