Music, masculinity, and tradition: a musical ethnography of Dagbamba warriors in Tamale, Ghana
Haas, Karl Joseph
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Chronic unemployment and decreased agricultural production over the last two decades have left an increasing number of men throughout Ghana’s historically under-developed North unable to meet the financial and moral expectations traditionally associated with masculinity. Paralleling the liberalization of Ghana’s political economy over this period, this “crisis of masculinity” has resulted in unprecedented transformations in traditional kinship structures, patriarchy, and channels for the transmission of traditional practices in Dagbamba communities. Driven by anxieties over these changes, Dagbamba “tradition” is being promoted as a prescription for problems stemming from poverty, environmental degradation, and political conflict, placing music and dance at the center of this discourse. Music, Masculinity, and Tradition, investigates the mobilization of traditional music as a site for the restoration of masculinity within the Dagbamba community of northern Ghana. Drawing on eleven months of participant-observation conducted with Dagbamba warriors in Ghana’s Northern Region, archival research, and ethnographic interviews, this dissertation explores the relationship between performances of traditional music, preservationist discourses, and the construction of masculinity in the first decades of the 21st century. Through analyses of the warriors’ ritual performances, including sounds, movements, and dramatized violence, I ask how traditional ideals and contemporary realities of Dagbamba masculinity are constructed, negotiated, and reinforced through performances of traditional music, suggesting links between the “iterative performativity” of the ritual and evolving constructions of gender. This dissertation offers insight into the musical construction of masculinity and the place of “tradition” in the 21st century. It also challenges over-determined notions of power/resistance through a critical evaluation of traditional musical performances as sites for the negotiation of ideas about gender, power, and history in contemporary Africa.
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