The Sahelian Factor in the Contemporary Idioms of Music-Making in Dagbon of Northern Ghana

Author: Dominik Phyfferoen (University of Ghent Institute of African Studies)
Speaker: Dominik Phyfferoen
Topic: Ethnographical Language Work
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


In this paper we present the theoretical model of the Sahelian factor in the music and dance of Northern Ghana. The Sahelian factor is a research model and contains key components that we extracted from our audio-visual field data. The Sahelian factor disconnects the phenomenon of music-making from the phenomenon of local languages and local ethnicities in this part of Africa. The model shows that the prevailing ethno-linguistic anthropological classification of languages in the Northern parts of Ghana cannot be fully applied to the classification and division of music and dance cultures in the area. The division of musical cultures according to tribal groups, tribalism and local ethnicities is an outmoded model that no longer fully applies to the current dynamics of music-making in this area. The production, reproduction and distribution of music in the Sudanic Savannah Belt has become mobile, digital and transforms from the traditional idioms of music-making into a hybrid form of neo-traditional and contemporary idioms of music-making. The Sahelian factor is a key component that contributes to the dynamics of music-making in the Sudanic Savannah Belt showing a clear distinction between cultural key components and structural key components in music-making. On the one hand, the concept of the Sahelian Factor shows that on the semantic level there is an intimate close relationship between music and the local languages e.g. the lyrical use of probers, narratives is the drum rhythms, tone language in drum messages when played in the speech mode of drumming. On the other hand the paper argues that on the level of the structural key components, a disconnection of language and ethnicity occurs. On the semantic level are the different relationships between tone language and music. By the hand of structural analysis the paper shows how music traditions and music and dance cultures in the Sudanic Savannah Belt of Northern Ghana interact with each other and that these idioms of music-making have more similarities than differences. By the hand of cultural analysis we show the distribution of the Bamaaya, Takai, Tora simpa and tindana dances. Our audio analysis shows that the distribution of a nasal timbre, the concept of the movable one, musical texture, modal structures in the harmony and the intensity factor are structural key components that contributes to the dynamics of music-making in the Northern Region of Ghana.

Keywords: African studies, Ethnomusicology, Hiplife, The Sahelian Factor, The Movable one, Transformational processes in music-making