Muslim Women Sing: Hausa Popular Song

Article excerpt

Muslim Women Sing: Hausa Popular Song. By Beverly B. Mack. African Expressive Cultures Series. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004. Pp. xii, 304. $60.00 cloth, $27.45 paper.

In this study, the author draws on a twenty-five yearlong familiarity with northern Nigeria to introduce her readers to Hausa women's songs and poems from the period 1960-1980. The book consists of two pans. Part One, consisting of six chapters, provides an analysis of songs and singers in their social and literary contexts, while Part Two presents the texts of thirty-five songs in English translation.

In the introductory chapter, the author, in defiance of common prejudice about Muslim women's lives, celebrates Hausa women as powerful, active in the private and public sphere, and highly articulate in the area of poetry and song. Women's songs, she argues, show their active participation in, and commentary upon all aspects of Hausa society. Chapter 2 traces the impact of almost two centuries of educational policy on women's (especially written) poetry. Qur'anic education goes back to the Sokoto Caliphate of the early nineteenth century, while secular primary education for boys and girls is a legacy of British colonial rule. Universal primary education and adult literacy programs, finally, are a postindependence phenomenon. The wakoki, or chanted poems or songs presented in this study, were all authored by urban, middle-class, Hausa women with some Islamic and secular schooling.

In Chapter 3, Mack analyzes how female poets and singers perform their songs (e.g., with or without musical accompaniment), how they learned their art, how society sees them, and so forth. She reserves the title of "poet" for those women who compose written poems. The latter have a high social status, because of their literacy, the didactic and moral content of their verse, their quiet style of delivery, and the fact that they do not recite their poetry in mixed gatherings or for money. Singers, on the other hand, compose orally and extemporaneously. Their social status varies widely depending on the content of their songs, their style of delivery, where and for whom they perform, and whether they get paid for their performance.

Chapter 4 deals with literary features of women's wakoki: the recurrence of praise epithet and word play, and the deft use of metaphor and proverb, whose hidden meanings engage and challenge their audience. In Chapter 5 the author analyzes some of the major themes of the texts presented in Part Two. These include the importance of obtaining an education and of supporting modern community development projects for the public weal, as well as historical and political themes such as the accomplishments of political leaders and the events of the Biafra war (presented from a decidedly anti-Igbo perspective-a feature that the author does not discuss). …