Debbie (Debra Lynn) Klein (born 11 December 1970) is an American anthropologist and social justice activist. She is a professor in the Anthropology Department at Gavilan College. Since 1990, Klein has been conducting extensive collaborative research in Nigeria with Yorùbá performing artists. Recognizing Klein's decades of collaborative written and video documentation of Yorùbá culture, the town of Èrìn-Òșùn, Nigeria bestowed an honorary chieftaincy title, Iyalode of Èrìn-Òșùn, upon Klein alongside her long-term mentor and collaborator, Chief Làmídì Àyánkúnlé. Throughout her career, Klein has advocated at local, state, national, and international levels on behalf of faculty and students within the realm of public higher education.
Klein received her B.A. from Brown University and completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. In Nigeria, Klein studied as an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan and returned to the University of Ibadan as a doctoral student and Fulbright scholar affiliated with the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Teaching and research
Upon receiving her doctoral degree, she served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of California at Davis and visiting assistant professor at Vassar College.. In 2005, she joined Gavilan College. She has contributed and written many articles and an ethnography on a range of anthropological subjects within African studies, performance studies, and ethnomusicology. She has created numerous video shorts documenting Yorùbá performance genres.
Some of Klein's notable works include:
- Yorùbá Bàtá Goes Global: Artists, Culture Brokers, and Fans (2007)
Klein's first ethnographic work, funded by the Fulbright and Wenner-Gren Foundations, documents how practitioners of bàtá—a centuries-old drumming, dancing, and singing tradition—have recast themselves as traditional performers in a global market. This book delves into the lives of Yorùbá musicians, focusing on their strategic collaborations with artists, culture brokers, researchers, and entrepreneurs worldwide. This book contributes to the field of global studies and analyzes the inequitable power dynamics characterizing transnational collaborations in the world music market.
- A Political Economy of Lifestyle and Aesthetics - Yorùbá Artists Produce and Transform Popular Culture (2012)
This article pays tribute to the work of Karin Barber by analyzing the political and economic conditions of Yorùbá culture production, illustrating how the aesthetics of Yorùbá popular culture emerge from Yorùbá artists' creative innovations contextualized within the material and cultural conditions of their everyday lives. Filmic portrayals of Yorùbá traditional performance and culture often produce an aesthetics of nostalgia, a longing for a mythic past disconnected from the everyday lives and creativity of artists whose lives and work are being portrayed. The paper analyzes Klein's original ethnographic data from Yorùbá singing, dancing, drumming, and masquerade performances and a Yorùbá film by Tunde Kelani to illustrate the interconnections between everyday life and aesthetic production.
- Fújì - Indigenous and Islamic Popular Music Fusions in Nigeria (2019)
This article draws upon original ethnographic research, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and documents the musical genre of fújì, a fusion of an Islamic-influenced vocal style, Yorùbá praise poetry (oríkì), and driving percussion. Fújì’s popularity hit a peak in Nigeria and on the global stage in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and fújì bands continue to record their music and perform throughout Nigeria and across the globe into the twenty-first century. During the course of her research, Klein was hosted by the Department of Performing Arts at the University of Ilorin as a visiting research scholar.
Allow Peace to Reign: Musical Genres of Fújì and Islamic Allegorise Nigerian Unity in the Era of Boko Haram (2020)
This article argues that the genres of fújì and Islamic allegorise Nigerian unity—an ideology of tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and equity—while exposing the gap between the aspiration for unity and everyday inequities shaped by gender and morality. The article is based on interviews and performances in Ìlọrin during the 2010s.
- Yorùbá Performance Videos
Klein's video shorts provide documentation of a range of Yorùbá performance genres and events. With the assistance of research collaborators, Rasheed Ayandele, Rafiu Ayantayo, and Jeleel Ojuade, Klein has recorded, edited, and produced these videos as forms of cultural documentation.
Racial, Economic, and Gender Justice Advocacy
Getting involved in anti-apartheid and women's rights movements in the 1980s and 90s, Klein learned the tools and power of activism and advocacy. Her advocacy for public education and educators began with her work as an organizer within her graduate student and faculty unions. She went on to serve as president of the faculty union and senate of Gavilan College. She has advocated for part-time faculty equity and was appointed to serve on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Implementation Task Force of the California Community Colleges, whose charge is to transform the California Community Colleges into a more equitable system for its students and those who work within the system. Klein served as president (2019–21) of the statewide Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, during which she advocated for increased investment in public education, and faculty in particular, as a means for the residents of California to achieve economic and social justice.
- "Gavilan professor named honorary chieftain by Nigerian town". BenitoLink. 2017-04-03. Retrieved 2020-12-28.
- Klein, Debra (2011). Dictionary of African biography. Akyeampong, Emmanuel Kwaku., Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 307–309. ISBN 978-0-19-985725-8. OCLC 767838646.
- "Home". www.faccc.org. Retrieved 2020-12-31.
- "Ph.D. Recipients". anthro.ucsc.edu. Retrieved 2020-12-29.
- "UC Santa Cruz Fulbright Students". global.ucsc.edu. Retrieved 2020-12-29.
- "Archive from Thursday, September 23, 2004 - Nigerian Drum and Dance Troupe to Perform - News - Info - Vassar College". info.vassar.edu. Retrieved 2020-12-29.
- "Staff Page- Gavilan College". www.gavilan.edu. Retrieved 2020-12-29.
- Yorùbá Bàtá Goes Global.
- Klein (2012). "A Political Economy of Lifestyle and Aesthetics: Yorùbá Artists Produce and Transform Popular Culture". Research in African Literatures. 43 (4): 128–146. doi:10.2979/reseafrilite.43.4.128. JSTOR 10.2979/reseafrilite.43.4.128. S2CID 53021434.
- Klein, Debra (2019). "Fuji" in Continuum encyclopedia of popular music of the world. Shepherd, John, 1947-. London. pp. 145–151. ISBN 978-0-8264-6321-0. OCLC 50235133.
- Latestnigeriannews. "How Were, Fuji hook Anthropologist Debra Klein". Latest Nigerian News. Retrieved 2020-12-28.
- Klein, Debra L. (12 October 2020). "Allow Peace to Reign: Musical Genres of Fújì and Islamic Allegorise Nigerian Unity in the Era of Boko Haram". Yearbook for Traditional Music. 52: 1–22 – via ScienceGate.
- "COMMENTARY: Calbright funds would be better spent on health benefits for part-time community college faculty". EdSource. Retrieved 2020-12-28.
- "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion | California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office". www.cccco.edu. Retrieved 2020-12-29.