Music, Dance, and Urban Popular Culture in Africa: The Role and Nature of Music in Embodying New Symbolic Forms


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships


Social Sciences


This project focuses on the contemporary ritual celebrations (weddings and funerals) among the Fon community in Benin. These celebration of rites are becoming ever more spectacular. The rituals are directed by musical groups and masters of ceremonies who are able to invent a new “hybrid” form of traditional songs, mixing new and old languages and symbols. Without changing the original meaning of the rites, the innovations make them memorable, actual, real, and highly participatory. These ritual celebrations are a major context for developing a new “hybrid” African culture. The innovators of these spectacular celebrations make particular use of music, which plays a central role in these rituals, in their discourses. Examining music’s relationship to ritual and dance reveals how it embodies symbolic forms in urban culture in Africa.