Jocelyne Guilbault: April 17, 2014

Roy Cape’s Labor of Love: Theorizing Work Ethics through Musical Biography

Jocelyne Guilbault, University of California, Berkeley

In a compelling and evocative article published more than twenty years ago, sociologist Eliot Friedson coined the expression “labors of love” (in the plural) to address work he viewed as the antithesis of alienated labor described by Karl Marx. He reasoned that while this labor still refers to activities enabling one to earn a living, it can be a source of enjoyment and fulfillment. The problem is that employers also use this kind of logic to justify their underpayment of musicians. What is missing in the two cases is the recognition of what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have called “immaterial labor”—what is immeasurable in fixed units of time and excessive with respect to the value of capital “because capital can never capture all of life” (2004:146), that is, all the social life that people such as musicians create.

Even though musical biographies have proliferated recently, few have addressed the work world of musicians. In the competitive arena of successful musicians where talent is assumed, what other aspects in music making take pride of place or even precedence over exceptional musical abilities? This paper theorizes musical work ethics which, I argue, for musicians is key not only to their survival, but also to their commercial success and recognition. I consider the case of Roy Cape, a renown Trinidadian saxophonist and bandleader, drawing on our in-press book titled, Roy Cape: A Lifetime on the Calypso and Soca Bandstand (due Fall 2014).


Jocelyne Guilbault is Professor of Ethnomusicology at the Music Department of the University of California, Berkeley. After completing her Master’s degree with Charles Boilès at the Université de Montréal, she earned her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan with Judith Becker. Since 1980, she has done extensive fieldwork in the French Creole- and English-speaking islands of the Caribbean on both traditional and popular music. Informed by a postcolonial perspective, she published several articles on issues of representation, aesthetics, the cultural politics of West Indian music industries, multiculturalism, and world music. She is the author of Zouk: World Music in the West Indies (1993), a study that maps the complex musical network among the French-Creole speaking islands, and the vexed relations that are articulated through music between the West Indian French Departments and the Metropole, France. Her book, Governing Sound: the Cultural Politics of Trinidad’s Carnival Musics (2007), explores the ways the calypso music scene became audibly entangled with projects of governing, audience demands, and market incentives. Co-editor of Border Crossings: New Directions in Music Studies (1999-2000), she has since then been on several Editorial boards, including The Black Music Research Journal, the Society for Ethnomusicology Journal, and MUSICultures (Canada). Her latest book, Roy Cape: A Lifetime on the Calypso and Soca Bandstand (in press, Fall 2014), is both a study about reputation, circulation, and work ethics, and a dialogic experiment in story.


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