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Popular music is a powerful medium for reinforcing and dictating what is in vogue or considered the norm for society. The songs are played on radio, television and the internet, and in the two latter cases are typically accompanied by musical videos which often depict women’s bodies through dance (often quite provocative). Music is heard daily booming from shops, restaurants, taxis, buses, lorries, and other social spaces. Social gatherings such as marriage and naming ceremonies, funerals, commissioning of projects are deemed dull without music. Thus, the whole society is exposed to the songs and the messages musicians convey. The lyrics are repeated in daily conversations, and even children are heard repeating them at play times. 

Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Awo Mana Asiedu, researchers from the West Africa Hub of the Pathways of Women’s RPC have been studying the portrayals of women in popular music. On 9 June 2008, an in-house Textual Analysis Workshop took place at the University of Ghana, Accra. This workshop was a practical hands-on training on analysis of song texts taking account of the socio-cultural context of Akan, the language of most of the songs.  Akosua Anyidoho, the Director of New York University in Ghana, a linguist, was the resource person.    Another outgrowth of the project was the Reflection Workshop with Popular Artistes, also facilitated by Akosua Anyidoho, on 30 July 2008. This second workshop brought together researchers, musicians, DJs, and radio presenters to reflect on the messages encoded in the popular song texts, especially what the songs say about women. The participants were given the opportunity to brainstorm on alternative ways that women could be presented in popular songs.

The group discussed prevailing gendered stereotypes during the first session of the workshop noting both the positive and negative portrayals, such as women being fickle minded, unfaithful, competitive, gossips, submissive, and hardworking. Other themes that emerged from the analysis included women being perceived as educators, counsellors, virtuous, physically beautiful, bearers of culture, or as selfless, nurturing and dutiful.

Based on the foregoing, the participants considered alternative representations of women by working with specific texts. The artistes and the radio presenters agreed that they needed to expose the public to songs that do not stereotype women. According to Diana Hopeson, the President of Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA), most songs about women are composed by men. She suggested therefore that women needed to be encouraged to sing about themselves.

The West Africa Hub of the RPC intends to explore ways in which musicians can be encouraged to write alternative lyrics about women. We expect to hold a song composition, a collaborative effort of the researchers, DJs, and popular musicians which will be part of the communication and action-oriented efforts to bring about change in the conceptions and portrayals of women. In attendance at the meeting were RPC colleagues from Nigeria, Drs Bibi Bakare Yusuf and Charmaine Pereira, colleagues from Egypt, Drs Mona Ali Ibrahim and Sofa Rafaat Ibrahim, and from Ghana Prof Takyiwaa Manuh, Drs Nana Akua Anyidoho and Sika Ahadzie, Miss Nana Dansowaa Kena-Amoah, Mrs Judith Nketia Gyimah, Miss Tina Adomako, Miss Anne-Marie Bourgeois, and Mr Maxwell Adjei Addo.  The project has also been working with the veteran musicologist Prof. John Collins.  The musicians and radio presenters who attended the workshop included Mr. Gyedu Blay Ambolley, Mrs. Diana Hopeson, WunLov, DJ Abio, Miss Felyn Mensah, Messers Nii A. Dagadu, Nana Adjei and Dennis Abieku.

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