Music and Conflict Mediation in the Gambia - ANU African Studies Reading Group

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

The ANU African Studies Reading Group focuses on music and politics in West Africa this month, welcoming Dr. Bonnie McConnell from the ANU School of Music.

In December 2016, the Gambia appeared on the brink of violent conflict when Yahya Jammeh, the country's dictator of 22 years, refused to accept defeat in the presidential election. As Gambian youth took to the streets and social media in protest, musicians gave voice to the tension. This presentation will use the framework of a conflict-harmony continuum to tease out multifaceted ways that Gambian musicians engaged with questions of political conflict and conciliation during this challenging period. Romanticised views of African popular music have often over emphasized resistance and protest, neglecting the politics of accommodation and silence.

This presentation moves beyond an accommodation/critique dichotomy to explore the intersecting approaches that musicians employed in response to political crisis, suggesting a three-pronged framework encompassing conciliation, praise, and critique. Griot musicians used the platform of the popular kora mbalax style, and their longstanding skill in conflict mediation, to intervene in subtle and sometimes more dramatic ways in the political future of their country. 

About the presenter: Bonnie McConnell is a lecturer in the ANU School of Music. She holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Washington. Bonnie has been involved in collaborative research and performance projects in the Gambia since 2006. Her research examines music in relation to issues of identity, social change, and wellbeing in West Africa and Australia.