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Accepted Paper:

Abissa nights: popular music paradoxes in a West African border festival  
Francesco Saverio Longo (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on the Abissa festival celebrated across the Ghana-Côte d’Ivoire border as an arena where the paradoxes of partition are reproduced, negotiated and/or contested in the organisation of popular music events and in the articulation of performance aesthetics.

Paper long abstract:

The Abissa (or Kundum) is an annual itinerant festival celebrated by Nzema-speaking communities across the Ghana-Côte d’Ivoire border. Starting in August in southwestern Ghana, the festival crosses the international boundary and (usually) concludes its westward journey in the ancient Ivorian capital of Grand-Bassam in early November.

While the ritual, symbolic and political aspects of the festival have been widely scrutinised, my contribution proposes to look at the Abissa as a key arena for the articulation of regional music scenes in both countries and the negotiation of transborder relations. Rather than concentrating on institutional actors and traditional politics, I will focus on the perspectives of recording artists, DJs and other cultural producers who animate the nights of ambiance during the weeklong guazo (the public phase of the festival). From the structure of events to the aesthetics of performance, Ivorian and Ghanaian iterations of the Abissa show substantial differences that reflect broader trends in their respective national contextes and reveal the presence of misunderstandings and temporal disjunctures. At the same time, they constitute an opportunity for artists to take advantage of the interplay between cultural intimacies, close relations and possible gaps of meaning to project themselves into new musical landscapes and hopefully more desirable elsewheres.

The ‘Abissa nights’ highlight the tensions and contradictions surrounding the politics and economies of popular music in the Nzema borderlands and speak to the general paradox of partitioned communities.

Panel Hist18
African border festivals in comparative perspective: between everyday life and contestation [CRG ABORNE]
  Session 1 Friday 2 June, 2023, -