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Year: 2009 Type: Report Language: English

Popular music plays a significant part in the everyday lives of people across age, class, religion, ethnicity and social occasion. In Africa, musicians are frequently powerful public figures capable of conveying ideologies through their lyrical and verbal pronouncements. Many popular songs portray women as sex objects and convey misogynistic constructions of women. At the same time, however, other songs hail women as perfect lovers and sacrificial mothers. Such images find their way into the public imagination, public discourse, and even formal and institutional responses to women locally and globally. In this paper, presented to 'Pathways: What are we Learning?' Analysis Conference, held in Cairo, 20-24 January 2009, we contribute to, but also challenge, existing theories on representations of women in popular culture, through analyses of Ghanaian popular music from the 1950s to date, and with special emphasis on (changing) narratives of sexuality. We look to the explicit and implicit ways in which women’s bodies are depicted in popular music. Given the emergence of women’s empowerment in the mainstream development agenda, as well as popular music’s role as an important conduit for the transmission of society’s cultural values, beliefs and norms, we will speak to both the empowering and disempowering notions around music for women, as well as how music not only influences but is also influenced by the Popular. These analyses will be informed by our engagement with popular musical artistes in which we seek to encourage them to conceptualise women with increased reflexivity in order to help change norms of sexuality that currently constrain women’s empowerment. The paper is thus representative of African women scholars’ strong commitment to both research and activism and the ways in which theory-building in gender studies in Africa uniquely converges and contends with the practical problems of development.

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