Following our recent call for applications to the BFE Fieldwork Grant Awards scheme, we are delighted to announce that three fieldwork grants have been awarded for 2017. It was a hotly contested competition this year, with a very high standard of applications; but we offer huge congratulations to Sophia Frankford, Pablo Infante-Amate and Katie Young, who are the 2017 grant recipients. Sophia, Pablo and Katie introduce their research projects below, and we look forward to hearing more from them when they return from the field.
My research focuses on Egyptian sha’bi music, a contemporary urban genre that emerged from working-class neighbourhoods in 1970s Cairo. Sha’bi is at once valourised as an antithesis to cosmopolitan genres of the elite, and criticised as an undesirable and backward genre of the uneducated masses. Through tracing the development of the genre from the 1970s to the present day, I plan to examine its role in shaping a working-class Egyptian identity, exploring how it served as an impetus for a reframing of cultural ideals and class stereotypes, and a vital path through which modern identities have been re-imagined.
My project explores the recent birth of a digital music economy in Equatorial Guinea, and how this has been facilitated and hindered by a combination of two key events: the discovery of large oil reserves in the mid-1990s and the introduction of digital technologies starting from the early 21st century. My research will thus bring together the anthropology of oil and the study of digital media in Africa to analyze changing musical practices, aesthetics, and ontologies. My broader goal is to understand how music is a mediator of musicians’ perceptions, expectations, fears, and hopes relating to oil and the digital and neoliberal world order; and how such an approach can help to theorize capitalism, precarity, and uncertainty in Africa and beyond.
My upcoming fieldwork focuses on the influence of Hindi film songs in the Mawlid festival in northern Ghana. Performed by Tijaniyyan Muslims across Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, northern Ghana, northern Nigeria and Senegal, the Mawlid festival throughout West Africa includes drumming, dancing and vocal texts used to praise and celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. In northern Ghana, the majority of the Mawlid repertoire sets Quranic texts to Hindi film song melodies. As Islamic festival performances are strongly influenced by regional musical and linguistic traditions, my fieldwork seeks to explore how Hindi film songs are employed as extra-Islamic music in defining a “localized Islam” in the northern Ghanaian context.