Women’s Voices Women’s Songs: Dagbamba Music, Gender, and Culture

Muslim communities in West Africa provide a unique space for conducting research on musical cultures since issues concerning religion, gender, tradition, economics, and family can all intersect in musical performances. In the capital city of Tamale in Ghana’s Northern Region, which is part of an area called Dagbon, women of the Dagbamba culture are at the heart of these multiple spaces of intersection. This project investigates how women actively participate in culture and tradition through music, what it means to them, and how knowledge is transmitted through this practice. Through an ethnographic study of the roles women play in Dagbamba musical culture and specific musical genres (such as tora), I examine the performance of music in Dagbamba women’s lives and culture. I am interested in the different knowledge(s) produced by women through their involvement with music. Additionally, I utilize feminist standpoint theory to highlight women’s lived experiences in order to explore this under documented aspect of West African culture. This study considers how music and dance genres function in the negotiation of traditional and contemporary values, as well as how advice and history are passed down through generations of women. I posit that women have a unique, albeit underrepresented, position in Dagbamba culture and society, which is witnessed most dramatically in and around the home, and central markets where women engage in the buying and selling of wares, including everything from food to batteries, soap, spices, cloth, and shoes. Women’s agency, knowledge, power, the complexities of their multiple roles in Dagbamba society and the home, and how this is reflected in vocal music and dance genres constitute the central focus of this dissertation.