Sunday, August 31, 2008

Changing Portrayal of Women in Popular Music

‘Let’s have more positive lyrics about women’

Akofa Anyidoho and Nana Dansowaa Kena-Amoah

Daily Graphic, Saturday, August 30, 2008

Page 20, Entertainment

A forum dubbed The Reflection Workshop with Popular Artistes, which brought together researchers, popular artistes, disk jockeys and radio presenters to reflect on the messages encoded in popular song texts about women, was held at the Ellking Hotel in Accra on July 30th. The forum also sought to brainstorm alternative ways that women could be presented in popular music.

In attendance at the workshop which was facilitated by Prof. Akosua Anyidoho, the Director of NYU in Ghana, were RPC colleagues from Nigeria, Drs Bibi Bakare Yusuf and Charmaine Pereira, colleagues from Egypt, Drs Mona Ali Ibrahim and Sofa Rafaat, and from Ghana Prof. Takyiwaa Manuh, Drs Nana Akua Anyidoho and Sika Ahadzie. The project has also been working with the veteran musicologist Prof. John Collins. The musicians and radio presenters who attended the workshop included Mr. Gyedu Blay Ambolley, Mrs. Diana Hopeson, WunLov, DJ Abio, Nana Adjei Denkyebuor, Mr. Nii A. Dagadu, and Mr. Dennis Abieku.

The workshop was part of the research project, Changing Representations of Women in Popular Music, led by Prof. Akosua Adomako Ampofo, Head, Centre for Gender and Advocacy (CEGENSA) and Dr. Awo Mana Asiedu, Theatre Arts, both of the University of Ghana. This project is, in turn, part of larger research endeavour called, Pathways of Women’s Empowerment, involving an international consortium of researchers from academic institutions networking with women’s organisations, women’s rights groups and policy makers to examine and influence policy changes that affect women’s conceptions of empowerment, creating the framework for women in the public sphere and work and changing narratives of women’s sexualities. The Convenor of the West Africa Hub of the project is Prof. Takyiwa Manuh, the Director of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon.

Through an examination of the lyrics of some songs composed mainly by Ghanaian artistes, the participants found that the messages conveyed about women are often negative and tended to reinforce stereotypical societal perceptions of women. For example, they found that some of the songs focused on women’s bodies and portrayed them as sex objects, while others tended to portray women as fickle minded, unfaithful, money lovers, exploitative, competitive, gossips, submissive, jealous, etc.

The participants also found texts that portrayed positive images about women. For example, some of the texts reflected women as keepers of tradition and history, educators, counsellors, hardworking, virtuous, physically beautiful, virtuous, or as selfless and caring mothers/partners. Some of the lyrics on sexuality also portrayed positive notions of desire and female-male physical love. However, these positive representations in the collection of songs were by far fewer.

Discussing the negative representation of women in popular music, the resource person for the workshop, Prof. Akosua Anyidoho, stressed that such images might cause some girls and women to believe that those portrayals are what society expects of them, and they may fail to develop their potentials. She noted that popular music is a very powerful medium for (re)enforcing and dictating what is in vogue/fashionable or acceptable to society. Both the youth and adults look to popular music for relaxation and entertainment. The songs are played on radio and television, and in the latter case typically accompanied by musical videos which often depict women’s bodies through dance (often quite provocative).

Daily we hear music, booming from shops, restaurants, taxis, buses, lorries, etc. Social gatherings such as marriage ceremonies, naming ceremonies, funerals, commissioning of projects, etc. are deemed dull without music. Thus, the whole society, both young and old, is exposed to the songs and the messages musicians convey. The lyrics are repeated in daily conversations, and even children are heard repeating them during their play time in the streets, at school, or at home.

Based on the foregoing, the participants considered alternative representations of women. The artistes and the radio presenters agreed they needed to expose the public to songs that do not stereotype women. According to Diana Hopeson, President of Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA), most songs about women are composed by men. She suggested therefore that women needed to be encouraged and supported to sing about themselves. There were calls to involve female musicians in setting new standards: to write alternative songs texts about themselves.

*** Editorial changes have been made to the original publication that was made in the Daily Graphic, as boldened in the article.

No comments: