This article is an exploration into the personal aspirations converging in Guangzhou’s African music scene. I argue that despite being often traversed, articulated, fuelled and constrained by economies and economic discourses, aspirations are not necessarily economic or rational calculations. I contend that the overarching trading narrative about ‘Africans in Guangzhou’ has left little space for issues of agency, emotion and aspiration to be considered in their own right. Drawing on a year of sustained ethnographic fieldwork, I show how aspirations are crucial arenas where the rationales behind transnational mobility are developed, reproduced and transmitted. Indeed, aspirations can be thought of as ‘navigational devices’ (Appadurai, 2004) that help certain individuals reach for their dreams. By bringing the analysis of aspirations to the fore, I intend to: provide a more complex and nuanced landscape of the multiple rationales behind African presence in Southern China; promote a better understanding (both conceptually and empirically) of how individuals navigate their social spaces and guide their transnational journeys; and draw attention to the incessant frictions and negotiations between individual aspirations while on the move, and the constraints imposed by more structural imperatives.
Keywords: ‘landscapes of aspiration’ – ‘Africans in China’ – music – Guangzhou – aspirations
*Accepted Manuscript at the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs for a special issue guest edited by Gordon Mathews – Expected Publication: Vol. 44 No. 4 (2015).