Representations of Women in Ghanaian Popular Music

11 September 2008

Popular music is a powerful medium for reinforcing and dictating what is in vogue or considered the norm for society. Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Awo Mana Asiedu, researchers from the West Africa Hub of the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Research Programme Consortium (RPC), have been studying how women are portrayed in popular music.

Pop music is played on the radio, television and internet, and in the two latter cases is usually accompanied by videos depicting women’s bodies through dance (often quite provocatively). Music booms from shops, restaurants, taxis, buses and other social spaces. Social gatherings such as marriage and naming ceremonies are deemed dull without music. We are exposed to the songs and the messages musicians convey – lyrics are repeated in daily conversations, and even children are heard repeating them at play times.

On 9 June 2008, an in-house Textual Analysis Workshop took place at the University of Ghana, Accra. This was a practical hands-on training on analysis of song texts – taking account of the socio-cultural context of Akan, the language most of the songs were sung in – facilitated by Akosua Anyidoho, a linguist and the Director of New York University in Ghana.

A second workshop – the Reflection Workshop with Popular Artistes – was then held on 30 July, bringing together researchers, musicians, DJs, and radio presenters to reflect on the messages encoded in popular songs, especially what they say about women. Participants were given the opportunity to brainstorm alternative ways that women could be presented.

The group discussed prevailing gender stereotypes, noting both the positive and negative portrayals, such as women being fickle minded, unfaithful, competitive, gossips, submissive, and hardworking. Other themes that emerged from the analysis included: women being perceived as educators, counsellors, virtuous, physically beautiful, bearers of culture, or as selfless, nurturing and dutiful.

Participants considered alternative representations of women by working with specific texts. The artistes and the radio presenters agreed that they needed to expose the public to songs that do not stereotype women. According to Diana Hopeson, the President of Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA), most songs about women are composed by men. She suggested therefore that women needed to be encouraged to sing about themselves.

The West Africa Hub of the RPC intends to explore ways in which musicians can be encouraged to write alternative lyrics about women. They expect to hold a song competition, a collaborative effort of the researchers, DJs, and popular musicians which will be part of the communication and action-oriented efforts to bring about change in the conceptions and portrayals of women.

About the author

Akofa A. Anyidoho is Programme Administrator and Communication Officer for the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment West Africa Hub.

Image: Akofa A. Anyidoho