Baansi ni Yila: A critical history of the music industry in Northern Ghana

Accepted at the International Communication Association Annual Conference, May 27-31, 2021 (Virtual).

Abstract: This study examines the intricacies of the expanding music industry in Northern Ghana, centering the perspectives of artistes. We examine how artistes create and produce music, how they market and promote the music and their images, and also the nature and art of their performances and the scope of their export beyond Tamale. The contemporary popular musicians of Tamale, one of Ghana’s biggest cities, have for some time now been making efforts to gain national attention. We assert that, for a long time, as long as an artiste was based in Northern Ghana, they would most likely never become a national music icon in Ghana: until they migrated to Accra. We ground the study and situate it in conversations on the traditional and neo-traditional music of Dagbaŋ. Through interviews, we draw on the perspectives of musicians to discuss the history and present of contemporary music politics in Northern Ghana. Guiding the study with symbolic interactionism, we argue that the contemporary Northern Ghanaian music industry was born and grew out of contextual factors such as using music for social change, the desire for cultural affirmation and the potential music presented to construct and (re)negotiate Northern ethnic identities. Tamale is the center for these contemporary popular artistes and their music, but most of them until 2008/2009, only recorded their music in Accra and Kumasi. Many artistes and their music appear not to have travelled much beyond their home region especially into southern Ghana. Other problems identified include limited formal education among artistes, and the lack of capital investment. This study sets the tone for critical discussions of the music industry in Tamale based on history, facts and verifiable information. We also uncover and critically discuss some of the challenges of the industry. The study sheds light on the challenges faced by many young people in the Tamale area, who have the gift of music, which they wish to use as a medium to enhance their socio-economic livelihood. Our study builds the foundation for understanding Northern Ghana’s contemporary music industry today.

Wunpini Fatimata Mohammed 

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