SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

Kate Bolgar Smith

  • Overview


Kate Bolgar Smith
Ms Kate Bolgar Smith
Email address:
Thesis title:
Soundtracks of the City: Listening to Film Music of the African Diaspora in Paris and London
Internal Supervisors


I came to African Studies through an undergraduate degree in French and Italian literature and langage at Oxford which left me curious about 'Francophone' cultures when studied outside of the French context. At SOAS, the courses in film and music caught my eyes and ears, and I completed the MA with a thesis on the Burkinabé film director, Dani Kouyaté, with a particular focus on the links between the West African musical traditions of the griot and the region's cinematic styles.
This PhD allows me to further explore my interest in the interaction of music with the filmic image whilst drawing cultures from around the Atlantic into one specific study. Having been brought up in London and lived in Paris for a short spell, this study allows me to combine my interests in the role played by these multicultural cities with the musical and cultural traditions from West Africa, the Caribbean, and the US.
I am presently in my second year of the PhD, completing research in Jamaica, Paris, and London.

PhD Research

The vocabulary used to describe the experience of film is revealing of our analysis of it – we 'watch' a film; the audience is conceived of as a 'viewer'. These terms refuse to acknowledge the importance of audio to a film. This research project aims to bring a focus on to what we hear in a film through an exploration of the soundtrack. Both lyrics and music layer further meaning into the film texts that deserve to be studied as a whole. To do so, I suggest, will perhaps reveal a musical narrative that all too often remains unheard.

My research project therefore aims to provide the first monograph-length study of the film music within the cinema of the African diaspora. The research will constitute a contextualised study of films made within the African diaspora from the vantage points of London and Paris, with a particular focus on film music. In spite of the apparently grounded locations of these films in London and Paris, these specific sites in fact open up a flexible and wide-ranging map, allowing dialogue across the Atlantic and between often separated fields of study. To listen to the stories told through the film music leads the film 'viewer' away from these former imperial centres to hear the histories and cultures from around the Atlantic Ocean. The London films, for instance, bring a focus on to the traditions of Black British filmmaking with its particular emphasis on reggae music and Caribbean influences; while the soundtracks of the Parisian films tell different stories, with West African music cultures heard alongside the African-American traditions of jazz and hip hop.

With a necessarily interdisciplinary approach, my research draws together film and music studies, urban and diaspora studies, and Francophone and Anglophone African studies. Throughout the work I aim to keep London, Paris, the African diaspora and the connecting space of the Atlantic in constant focus, suggesting the need for both a global outlook and a contextualised, local perspective.

PhD Publications

  • “Questions Of Source In African Cinema: The Heritage Of The Griot in Dani Kouyaté’s Films.” Journal Of African Media Studies 2.1 (2010): 25-38

PhD Conferences

  • "Soundtracks of the City: Tracing the Paths of Reggae in London through British Cinema" at the International Reggae Conference, UWI Mona Campus, Kingston, Jamaica, 2013
  • "Hidden Subjects in the City of Light: Exploring the Absence of Black Paris on Screen", Remapping the Black Atlantic: Diaspora (Re)Writings of Race and Space, an International Conference, DePaul University, Chicago, 2013