Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Staging Heritage, Sounding "Gamei Kusum": Ga-Dangme Community Festivals, Urban Space, and Informal Media Infrastructures in Accra

Community festivals in Ghana have drawn considerable attention from scholars for their rich visual spectacle and artistry, yet researchers have been comparatively slow to consider the powerful sonic dimensions of these festivals—how do festival sounds shape spaces, create communities, and become implicated in politics and public debate? For peripheral Ga-Dangme ethnic minority communities in Accra, festival sounds are imbued with dense symbolic and political meaning. Tracing the intersections of community festivals, sound, and politics, my dissertation project focuses on emerging relationships between intangible cultural heritage discourse, neoliberal capitalism, and struggles over urban space and gentrification in the indigenous Ga communities of Accra. Integrating theoretical perspectives on capitalism and intangible cultural heritage, economic ethnomusicology, and sound studies, this project interrogates the complexities of today's capitalism and informal media infrastructures, arguing that Ga communities in the margins mobilize notions of Ga intangible cultural heritage or "Gamei Kusum" in service of political and entrepreneurial projects. During twelve months of dissertation fieldwork in Accra's urban spaces of festival organization and celebration, independent recording studios, and community media, I intend to investigate the following research questions: (1) How do communities monetize culture, heritage, and ethnic identity by staging community festivals? (2) How are local informal infrastructures, community media networks, and corporate, government, and NGO funding implicated in festival organization? (3) What role do community festivals play in cultural sustainability and musical transmission? (4) How do festival soundscapes shape urban space, articulate anxieties about community marginalization, and assert the continued relevance of "Gamei Kusum" as intangible cultural heritage within the modern nation-state?