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Tuesday, October 2 • 09:00 - 09:30
The historical importance of old African popular music recordings

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African popular music records go back to the 1920s and consequently their lyrics are relevant to historians - and in particular what is called the ‘history of the inarticulate’. Originally this was a method of drawing on European folksongs in order to understand what the illiterate peasants were thinking during the medieval period, as compared to the histories written down by aristocrats and elites. However this history of the inarticulate approach can also be applied to old popular music recordings whose lyrics give a glimpse of what street people were thinking in days gone by. This paper examines the content of mid-20th century highlife songs that dwelt on themes that reflected the breakdown of the traditional Ghanaian extended family system that was taking place due to modernising processes: like urbanization, the cash nexus and imported Euro-Christian ideals of the nuclear family and patrilineal inheritance. Whereas colonialists and social planners saw the African extended family as a ‘brake on progress’ and encouraged moves towards small monogamous families, highlife music was able to provide the urban and rural poor with a running commentary on this family fragmentation. Consequently many highlife records were about male migration and broken homes, neglected children and orphans, ‘juju’ accusations and inheritance disputes within the family. Indeed 12% of the 1930s to 70s highlife records in the holdings of BAPMAF popular music archives that I chair are on these topics. This is one example of how old highlife records allows the voice of the subaltern classes, whose point of view is not usually written down, to be fixed in time and so provide historians with vernacular critiques of colonialism and westernization.

avatar for Lynn Johnson

Lynn Johnson

e.tv Pty Ltd., e.tv Pty Ltd.
Library systems manager for 10 years at e.tv, South Africa's first independent, free to air, terrestrial television station and home of eNCA, South Africa's first 24 hour broadcast news service. Work with digital asset managements systems that manages news and programme content and... Read More →

avatar for John Collins

John Collins

University of Ghana Music Department & the BAPMAF African Popular Music Archives
Since 1969 John Collins has worked as musician, band leader, music union organizer, writer, researcher and archivist in West African popular and neo-traditional performance. He obtained a degree in sociology/archaeology from the University of Ghana 1972, ran his Bokoor highlife band... Read More →

Tuesday October 2, 2018 09:00 - 09:30 GMT
Room 1: Prof Ebenezer Oduro Owusu Seminar Room Department of Economics, University of Ghana, Legon

Attendees (4)