Accepted paper:

Striving Shabomen. Young Musicians in Accra and some Reflections on the Production of Masculinities in Ghanaian Music


Katharina Gartner (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

This ethnographic case study asks how young instrumentalists perform masculinities in Accra. It explores their opportunities and constraints in creatively participating in the production of gender roles in popular music. Thus, dominant narratives of young African men as a threat are disrupted.

Paper long abstract:

Young African men are often not presented in a flattering light in academic and public discourses: Africa's growing youth is diagnosed to be "in crisis" or "in waithood", and in development and political discourses, the demographic overhang of young men is regarded as a major threat for outbreaks of violent conflicts. Case studies on violence and gangs engendered by youthful males are common. And in recent studies on popular culture, African variations of male dominated hip-hop have been criticised for promoting misogyny and other qualities associated with "toxic masculinity". However, during my ethnographic fieldwork with instrumentalists in Accra between 2013 and 2018, I encountered numerous young men (aged between 20 and 32) who did not fit into those narratives. These instrumentalists, wryly naming themselves "shabomen", ambitiously pursued professional aspirations with high discipline, trained girls how to play musical instruments, and favored wistful romantic love songs. This paper therefore contrasts dominant narratives of young African men as a threat by documenting various other facets of young men's everyday lives. Furthermore, I critically explore the young instrumentalists' possibilities and limits in participating in the production of shifting masculinities in their musical practice. The case study links insights from studies on music and masculinity in Ghana (Asante-Darko & Van der Geest, Collins, Adomako Ampofo & Asiedu) with a perspective on the performativity of gender in popular culture (Butler, Leonard). It contributes to understanding unspectacular forms of the production of manliness, with a focus on alternative young masculinities.

panel Anth36
Aspiring men: disrupting the narrative of African masculinity in crisis