To Praise or Critique: Music and Conflict Mediation in the Gambia
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 Gambian musicians engaged with 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. Griot musicians used the platform of the popular kora mbalax style, and their longstanding skill in conflict mediation, to intervene in the political future of their country.
Bonnie McConnell is Lecturer in Ethnomusicology and HDR Convenor in the ANU School of Music. Her research examines music in relation to issues of identity, social change, health and wellbeing in West Africa and Australia.