What Can Music Really Do For Us?

My research here in Ghana will be classified under “ethnomusicology” but I have never considered nor identified myself as a musicologist per se. Music enthusiast, expert-in-the-making, music journalist, hip-hop head, DJ, concert producer, promoter… I simply LOVE music. I always have. And I truly believe it has power. I am also an information junkie who does not allow myself simply to be interested in something; I am always delving in to find as much information as I can—which has led me to Ghana.

Music is literally everywhere in Ghana: there are churches all over the place filled with choirs praising Jesus or Gospel recordings blasting from their speakers; school children singing nursery rhymes as they walk to school; vendors harmonizing their products and prices into a non-abrasive pitch. Music and life seem to be inseparable in Ghana but I guess that may be true back home too? Have you been to ANYTHING (watching a TV show or commercials, going to parties, religious or non-religious ceremonies, funerals, grocery shopping, anything) where there was NO music being played? I’ve been racking my brain, but I couldn’t think of anything. That is just part of the reason that I love music. It can attach itself to any of our five senses, any point on our emotional spectrum, play the background or the foreground, diminish or amplify – it can make a scary situation even scarier or completely harmless – it is just always there. Most of my memories are tied to what I was listening to at the time, and I have never met anyone who flat out “doesn’t like music”.


My education (liberal arts university and interdisciplinary major) has led me to view the world in systems, systems that are all interconnected. Some people think that art reflects life, others that life reflects art, and reality is probably some combination of the two. And so I will study Ghanaian music from a political economist perspective because that is how I tend to view the world. A comprehensive history will be necessary, but I am interested in more than an anthropological assessment of this country’s music scene. I strive to find the ways that music has manifested itself here and shaped the country, its trajectory and its people – politically, economically and socially – as well as the other way around.

Is music a tool that can be actively harnessed to create a different future? Or is that power out of our real control and can only be evaluated in hindsight? My central research will be focused on how music can lend a voice to enact real change on both a large scale and at the community level. It will be narrowed down of course, but questions that I am considering at the moment include: In 2014, what role does modern music play in the socio-political landscape? Is there a formal music business – can people make a living off of their music alone? Have politicians taken any stance on music? Did they use it to their advantage through campaign songs and popular endorsements? Has anyone banned a song/musician/genre in order to consolidate power? Madagascar’s former president, Andry Rajoelina actually began his career as a radio DJ gaining popularity before making the jump to mayor of the capital Antananarivo and the eventual presidency at a very young age. That was not possible only because of his musical popularity but could he have followed the same path without it? In Senegal, some of the biggest political oppositions to the current regime are rappers who have the peoples’ ears and use their platform to progress their country. While I won’t be delving any further into Senegal or Madagascar’s musical history, I look forward to providing further examples from right here in Ghana!

I will be looking for the intersections and blurred borders of artistic output and the institutions that exist here in Accra as well as the rest of the country. With the use of the University of Ghana-Legon’s resources, the National Archives, BAPMAF and other secondary sources, I intend to address just how important of a role music has played in Ghana’s history. High Life music, for instance, was an important part of creating a national identity and fending off the colonizers’ influence upon Independence. In fact, the day that Ghana become its own republic in 1960, the newly named president Kwame Nkrumah declared High Life to be Ghana’s national dance music and at the same time, asked musicians and artists alike to eliminate foreign influence from their work to make it more completely Ghanaian. Although these are mostly symbolic gestures, the context demonstrates how important Nkrumah (and others) believed music to be. It was something that Ghanaians could take pride in. In addition, I also must take into account the waves of funk, soul, rock n’ roll, jazz and most recently hip hop music that have come from abroad only to be reworked by Ghanaians into something they could call their own. Music is of course ever-changing, and genres’ definitions are as unclear as they have ever been. Are Led Zeppelin and Imagine Dragons REALLY both rock and roll? Why do we even categorize art in this way? In addition, I will be conducting interviews with local and national musicians, educators, government officials and anyone else who will talk with me to find out what music means here today.

With a better understanding of music’s power and academic theoretical applications in mind, I will strive to put music to work through an education program. The research demonstrates music as a valuable tool; the program puts it to use promoting positive values. It creates opportunities to improve the community and the individuals within it. It will aim to help youth make music, learn about it, and have access to musical resources and guidance. This may lead to youth advocacy, personal expression, health related public service announcements, new strategies for success in school… The possibilities are endless, but it is not for me to say what the best use of music will be for others.

In the meantime I will be writing here at mtvU with updates about the project as well as glimpses of the music scene here. For certain, I will post interviews, music reviews and other windows into what I’m listening to in Ghana. Stay tuned and thank you for taking the time!

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