Teju Cole talks music, pleasure at African Studies conference

Teju Cole addresses the crowd during his keynote address at “Pleasure in the Pleasurable in Africa and the African Diaspora.” (Photo by Kyra Fox)


Midway through his keynote address at “Pleasure and the Pleasurable in Africa and the African Diaspora,” Teju Cole checked in with his audience.

“How are we doing on the pleasure?”

The writer and photographer had been DJing his presentation for the past hour with an eclectic compilation of African music, from Naija Jamz to Drake’s One Dance. Audience members were delighted.


His presentation, entitled “My Black Ears: How Listening Made Me African,” explored the music that connected him to his home.

Cole was born in the U.S. to Nigerian parents and spent the first years of his life in Nigeria.

“I’ve been raised by my own ears,” he said. For Cole, listening to Yoruba music “became a point of contact with a language that was rare in Michigan or Massachusetts or New York.”

When asked why he chose to give his presentation in the format of a playlist, Cole replied, “I put a very high personal premium on freedom… so I asked myself, could this be a lecture I gave with the assistance of Spotify?”

Cole was not the only one to tackle an unconventional topic at the three-day conference on pleasure in Africa. Naminata Diabate’s lecture explored neoliberalism and sexuality in Africa, while Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́ questioned why the living find pleasure and purpose in funerals.

Pleasure and the Pleasurable in Africa and the African Diaspora was hosted by the Department of African Cultural Studies and the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.