On Saturday, 21st November 2009 the Launch of Winning Songs: Changing Representations of Women in Popular Music event was held at Alisa Hotel, Accra. This event was sponsored by the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Research Project Consortium (RPC), West Africa Hub of the Center for Gender Studies and Advocacy (CEGENSA), and the University of Ghana. The purpose of the event was to share the three winning songs from a contest launched in April with the public. The competition looked for song entries that counter the stereotypical roles in which women are seen in the popular music industry. (Left to right: Dr Awo Asiedu, Kwabena Quaku and Prof. Akosua Adomako Ampofo. Photo Credits: Akofa A. Anyidoho)
Today, there are many songs that objectify women sexually, and that reinforce the need to be submissive, or that place them solely in the domestic sphere. The reality is that women have many characteristics, talents and responsibilities that are often ignored. Since the media and popular culture play such a large and influential role in our lives, we need to use these vehicles to transform the negative images and depictions of women. The Women in Popular Music project of the West Africa RPC launched the contest to catalyze such transformation.
After assessing the 26 submissions including 2 by women, a judging committee of 9 people from varying backgrounds and expertise chose the winning three songs based on a set of criteria that captured the lyrical strength, musical quality and innovation. Kwabena Quaku’s ‘As Long As You Are a Woman’, won the first place prize, Osei Korankye’s song, ‘Emmaa Mmo’ came in second and Born Africans, ‘Equal Rights’ was adjudged third. All artists were awarded a recording of their song, and the winner, Kwabena Quaku was also granted a music video.
The launch was informative, moving and inspiring. Ms. Jessica Opare-Saforo, from Citi FM was the MC for the event and she eloquently introduced the performers and various speakers.
The Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor Kwesi Yankah made some comments about the way in which women are represented in popular culture and noted the importance of the University coming into town and linking up with those on the ground in their research.
Professor Takyiwaa Manuh, the Convener of the West Africa Hub of Pathways of Women’s Empowerment RPC, introduced project to the gathering. She explained that it is a under a five year contract sponsored by the UK Department for International Development and the Norwegian Foreign Affairs ministry which seeks to explore the complex pathways that women around the world have traveled to empower themselves. (Prof. Takyiwaa Manuh, speaking about Pathways WE RPC at the event the Photo Creidts: Kwabena Danso)
Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo, the head of CEGENSA introduced the Centre, explaining its mandate, areas of specialty and functions at the University of Ghana. She explained the purpose of the Popular Music Project highlighting the importance of the song competition. She drew on some artists, such as Miriam Makeba and Bono from U2 as socially conscious messages, as well as successful musicians.
Two students from the University of Ghana recited poetry on women’s empowerment and another student from SOS Hermann Gmeiner International College sang a song titled, “Amazing.” Ms. Bibie Brew, a veteran musician, excited the audience with strong rendition of some popular old tunes.
The evening continued with the performance of all three songs as well as Kwabena Quaku’s song video. ‘As Long As You Are a Woman’ highlights influential and prominent female figures who are appreciated members of society because of their work and expertise--not their bodies. The audience surely felt the energy from all of the performances, and many left their seats to dance!
(Photo Credits: Geoffrey Buta)
Pathways and CEGENSA is bringing about change. The time has come to look at the messages that are being spread in today’s popular music and to look closely at how these differ from reality!! ‘The Launch of Winning Songs: Changing Representations of Women in popular Music’, was a gateway to this change, but it should not stop there. We need to facilitate the composition of songs that positively reflect women and their diverse roles in society.
*Alison Roadburg is a recent graduate of McGill University, Canada and is research intern at The Center for Gender Studies and Advocacy (CEGENSA) at the University of Ghana, Legon.