Women's Songs from West Africa

Women's Songs from West Africa

Women's Songs from West Africa

Women's Songs from West Africa


Exploring the origins, organization, subject matter, and performance contexts of singers and singing, Women's Songs from West Africa expands our understanding of the world of women in West Africa and their complex and subtle roles as verbal artists. Covering Côte d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and beyond, the essays attest to the importance of women's contributions to the most widespread form of verbal art in Africa.


Thomas A. Hale and Aissata G. Sidikou

The essays in this volume are the result of research presented at a conference titled “Women’s Songs from West Africa” held at Princeton University. For the conference organizers, the event was the climax of a long effort to bring together researchers in a variety of disciplines who had worked for years and in some cases decades on song, a genre that reveals much about the world of women in West Africa.

To a large extent, the focus of both the conference and the project out of which it grew was the content rather than the sound or form of these songs. Although it is difficult to dissociate form from meaning, both in song and in literature, the organizers, specialists in African literature and related fields, believe that song constitutes the most widespread form of verbal art produced by women in Africa. The lyrics cannot be ignored in our efforts to understand and communicate to others the richness of African literature today.

The conference organizers embarked on this project after recording songs by women in West Africa during the 1980s and 1990s. Aissata G. Sidikou, author of Recreating Words, Reshaping Worlds: The Verbal Art of Women from Niger, Mali and Senegal (2001), collected songs in Niger and then compared them with lyrics sung by other women in Mali and Senegal that had been recorded and published by researchers as part of larger projects. Although other scholars have published works that include a focus on the songs of women in particular contexts—for example, Karin Barber’s landmark study of songs by Yoruba women, I Could Speak until Tomorrow: Oriki, Women and the Past in a Yoruba Town (1991)—the study by Sidikou was the first to take a regional approach to the genre for woman singers. Thomas A. Hale, author of Griots and . . .

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