History 241

                                                          African Popular Culture

                                                                     Spring 2002


Holly Hanson                                                    Class Time: Monday 7-9:50 pm

314 Skinner                                                      Class Location: 2 L Cleveland

Hhanson@mtholyoke.edu                                 Office Hours: Thursday 1-4 pm.

office phone: 538-2094                                    Presentations/Writing Mentor: Jennifer Kyker


This course  uses popular music, dance, fiction, film, street art, bus slogans,  newspapers and  other sources to document African  interpretations of the decades since “flag independence” in 1960. We will let African musicians, writers, film-makers and artists direct our  investigation of the big questions of the class: Why is the gap between rich and poor in African societies increasing? What is happening to gender relations? What do African people think of their political leaders and how do they imagine political situations might improve?


Course Requirements

1.      Attendance at all classes is mandatory; attendance will be taken during each class session. Two absences will affect one’s final grade, three absences will drastically affect the final grade, and a student who is absent more than three times will fail the course.

2.      Reading assignments must be completed before the class for which they are assigned. Typed or neatly handwritten responses to the questions in the syllabus associated with each week’s readings will be collected at the beginning of each class. Late reading responses will not be accepted.

3.      Students will be required to identify the names and locations of African nations and capital cities in a map quiz on February 4.

4.   Each student will select any three of  sevem options for assignments. At least one assignment must be completed by  March 31.  You must  choose your assignment options by February 18.


Grades will be determined by

Reading responses and map quiz                                                           25%

three of the following:

1. 4-6 page paper on Congolese art and history (Feb 28)                      25%

2. 4-6 page paper on African music and lyrics  (Mar 31)                       25%

3. Performance of a play excerpt (Feb 18, Mar 11, Mar 25)                 25%

4. Power point presentation on one of the following:                              25%

            Islamic brotherhood associations (Mar 21)       

            Ghanaian funeral ceremonies (Mar 28)

            AIDS education in popular culture (Apr 18)

            Moslem  or Christian celebrations  (Mar 21)

5. Teaching dance, film or debt relief presentations                               25%

6. Reading response portfolio, with 3-5page synthetic essay                  25%

7. Final Exam (take home)                                                                    25%


Required Reading

Texts may be purchased at the Odyssey Bookshop. They are also on reserve.

Karin Barber, ed., Readings in African Popular Culture  (abbreviated as RIAPC below)

Karin Barber, John Collins, & Alain Ricard, eds., West African Popular Theatre

Phyllis M. Martin and Patrick O’Meara, eds., Africa.

not required but very useful: Johannes Fabian and Tshibumba Kanda Matalu, Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaire

A course pack (abbreviated CP) is available in the History Department office, Skinner 309.



January 28:       The problem with dichotomies: “tradition” vs. “modern” culture.

                        Video clips “A Great Tree has Fallen”, “The Dancing Church”

                        Video “You Africa!” Youssou N’dour

                        Dance class: Mbalax


February 4:       The concept of popular culture

                        Video clips “Mammy water” and “Nightsong”

                        Map Quiz: names and locations of nations and capital cities

Video: “In and Out of Africa”


RIAPC, Karin Barber, “Introduction,” 1-11.

RIAPC, Johannes Fabian, “Popular Culture in Africa: Findings and Conjectures,” 18-28.

Africa,  Phyllis M. Martin and Patrick O’Meara, “Africa: Problems and Perspectives,” 3-9.

Africa, Dele Jegede, “Popular Culture in Urban Africa,”,  273-294.

Africa, Mahir Saul, Economic Life in African Villages and Towns, 190-210

Africa,  Michael L. McNulty, “The Contemporary Map of Africa,” 10-36. (skim)

CP,  African Policy Information Center, “Talking about “tribe.” 1-8.

CP,  Map of African nations and capital cities, to prepare for the map quiz.

Reading Response Questions: What evidence do these authors provide to disprove a traditional/modern dichotomy?


www.afropop.org  Classic Streams/Southern Africa/ “Southern Africa at the Crossroads”


February 11:     1930s-1950s: Subverting colonial power through cultural expression

                        Lecture “Beni, SAPEUR and Soukous: Cultural Explorations of Colonial Power”

                        Video: “This Magnificent African Cake” Video clip: Afrique, je te plumerai

                        Dance class: Soukous


West African Popular Theatre, Karin Barber, John Collins, & Alain Ricard, Three West African Popular Theatre Forms: A Social History 1-54

Africa, Sara Berry, “Economic Change in Contemporary Africa”, 359-374

Africa, Sheldon Gellar, “The Colonial Era”, 135-155

RIAPC: Leroy Vail , Landeg White, “Plantation Protest: The History of a Mozambican Song,” 54-63.

RRQ:  Make a timeline of economic and cultural change in Africa using Berry,  the essay on popular theatre, and Gellar. Why do people in Mozambique still perform a song about Paiva?


www.afropop.org Classic Streams/Where Guitar is King/”Where Guitar is King” –click on the first icon, the second one doesn’t work; also  Life and Times of/”Fallen Heroes” – I.K. Dairo segment


February 16: Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Concert in Northampton


February 18:     1960s: The Feeling of Independence

                        Lecture: Highlife music: an expression of elation

                        Video clips: “Matamata and Pilipili” “The Rise of Nationalism”

                        Demonstration African musical forms

                        Performance! Scenes from “The African Girl From Paris”                


West African Popular Theatre, “Text of The African Girl from Paris” 145-182

Africa, Edmond J. Keller, Decolonization, Independence, and the Failure of Politics, 156-174

Africa, Takyiwaa Manuh, “Law and Society in Contemporary Africa,” 330-343.

Africa, Ruth M. Stone, “African Music Performed,” 257-272.

RIAPC , C. A. Waterman, “Our Tradition is a very Modern Tradition: Popular Music and the Construction of Pan-Yoruba Identity, 48-53.

RRQ: What social changes are highlighted by Manuh, Keller and Waterman? What social tensions are conveyed in  The African Girl From Paris”?


www.afropop.org  Classic Audio Streams/Where Guitar is King/Leave 4/4 at the Door”



February 25:  1960s: The Tragedy of Zaire      

Lecture: Congo/Zaire in the Art of Tshibumba Kanda Matalu

Video: Lumumba


RIAPC, Bogumil Jewsiewikci, “Painting in Zaire”, 99-109.

CP, Bogumil  Jewsiewicki, “Popular Painting in Contemporary Katanga: Painters, Audiences, Buyers, and Sociopolitical Contexts, A Congo Chronicle: Patrice Lumumba in Urban Art, 1999, 13-27.

CP, Nyunda ya Rubango, “Patrice Lumumba at the Crossroads of History and Myth,  A Congo Chronicle, 43-57.

Look at Tshibumbma Kanda Matalu’s art, on course web site, and/or on reserve. or in  Johannes Fabian and Tshibumba Kanda Matalu, Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaire, 17-184. Use the map on p. xii.

optional: Bogumil Jewsiewicki with contributions from Dibwe dia Mwembu et al, A Congo Chronicle: Patrice Lumumba in Urban Art, on reserve.

RRQ: How are paintings by Congolese artists a commentary on political oppression in Zaire/Congo?


www.afropop.org Classic Audio Streams/Where Guitar is King/”Kanda Bongo Man-Live

(Note – click on the last icon for the program above this one “Back to Madagascar for salegy” because the icon for Kanda Bongo Man icon indicates the page is not prepared).








Option 1: Write a 4-6 page paper on an aspect of the message in Tshibumba Kanda Matalu’s art, due in 314 Skinner at 5:00 pm on February 28. Your paper should focus on a limited number of specific paintings, and clearly identify the paintings you discuss.



March 4:          The Post-Colonial State: Consolidation of Power and Wealth by the African Elite

                        Lecture The State As Show

                        Video clips: “Legacy,” Basil Davidson, “Xala”, by Ousman Sembene


CP, Larry Diamond, “Class Formation in the Swollen African State,” Journal of Modern African Studies 25 (1987), 567-596.))

CP, Achille Mbembe, “Power and Obscenity in the Post-Colonial Period: The Case of Cameroon,” in    James Manor, ed., Rethinking Third World Politics,  166-182.

RIAPC, Achille Mbembe, “The ‘Thing’ and its Doubles in Cameroonian Cartoons,” 151-163. (nb. this is a complex essay. Read it once, think about it, then read it again, very deliberately.)

RIAPC, Mamadou Diawara “Mande Oral Popular Culture Revisited”, 40-47

Sarkin Taushin Sarkin Katsina, “Nigeria Protects the Truth,” in Fremont E. Besmer, “An Hausa Song From Katsina,” Ethnomusicology 14:3 (1970), 437-437.

RRQ: According to Diamond, how did the structure of colonial states affect independent African states? How do Diamond, Mbembe and Diawara describe ordinary people taking actions that uphold the power of the state? According to Mbembe, what is obscene about Cameroon?  What do you think  is the purpose of Sarkin Taushin Sarkin Katsina’s song?


www.afropop.org Classic Audio Streams/Mali/”A Visit to Mali”




MARCH 9 PLEASE ATTEND AFRICA/CARIBBEAN DAY – DINNER, SHOW,  AND DANCE!  RRQ:  Please comment on A/C Day activities in relation to this class.


March 11: 1970s:         Nigerians Respond to Oil Wealth

                                    Video clip: “God Gave Her a Mercedes Benz”

                                    Performance! Scenes from The Secret is Out


West African Popular Theatre, Karin Barber, “The Eda Theatre and ‘The Secret is Out’,  183-209.

The Secret is Out, 210-270.

RIAPC, Karin Barber, “Popular Reactions to the Petro-Naira,” 91-98.

RIAPC, Ropo Sekoni “Politics and Urban Folklore in Nigeria”, 142-146.

RIAPC, Olatunde Bayo Lawuyi, “The World of the Yoruba Taxi Driver” 146-151.

RRQ: What effect did a sudden increase in oil revenues have on Nigerian society, and what did Nigerians think about it? What does the “The Secret is Out?” say about wealth?


www.afropop.org Classic Audio Streams/The Life and Times of/”Afrobeat Marches On”



March 25: 1970s:         Religion as a Response to Corruption and Inequality     

                                    Video Clips: “The Dancing Church”, “Tableau Ferraille”

                                    Lecture: Selfishness as Evil in African Cultures

                                    Performance! Scenes from Orphans do not Glance


Africa, John H. Hanson, “Islam and African Societies”, 97-114

CP, Michael Watts, “The Shock of Modernity: Petroleum, Protest, and Fast Capitalism in an Industrializing Society,” in Allan Pred and Michael John Watts, Reworking Modernity: Capitalisms and Symbolic Discontent, 21-58. (pay attention to oil wealth and Nigerians, skim or skip the theory)

CP, Misty L. Bastian, “’Bloodhounds Who Have No Friends’: Witchcraft and Locality in the Nigerian Popular Press,” in Comaroff and Comaroff, eds., Modernity and Its Malcontents, 1993, 129-166.

West African Popular Theatre, Orphans do not Glance, 56-114.

RRQ:  In these readings, what do people consider to be evil? How do they respond to evil?


www.afropop.org Classic Audio Streams/Where Guitar is King/ Ali Farka Toure – Live in Niafunke


Option 2: A 4-6 page paper exploring the social criticism in the lyrics of African musicians is due outside my office, 314 Skinner, at 5:00 pm on Friday, March 31. You may write about one musician, or explore a theme in the songs of several musicians. Be sure to provide an appendix with lyrics of all the songs that you discuss, connect the musicians to the particular society or societies in which they live, and provide proper citations for all your sources of information.


April 1: 1980s-90s:       Poverty and Power

                                    Video: “Le Franc”, Video clips: “La Vie est Belle”


CP, “Africa Policy Information Center, “Changing Africa: A Human Development Overview,” 1-16.

CP, Jean-Francois Bayart, The State in Africa, 1993, 87-103

Africa,  Richard Stryker and Stephen N. Ndegwa, “The African Development Crisis,” 375-394.

RIAPC, Werner Graebner, “Whose Music? The Songs of Remmy Ongala and the Orchestra Super Matimila,” 110-117.

RRQ: This week’s readings all provide explanations of  why poverty is such a significant dimension of African realities in the present. Compare the explanations provided by APIC, Bayart, Stryker and Ndegwa, and Remmy Ongala.


www.afropop.org  Classic Audio Streams/Where Guitar is King/”Radio Tanzania Extravaganza”



April 8:1980s-90s        Culture and Gender: Women as Scapegoats and Saviors

                                    Video clips: Ghanaian Video Film, Prime Time South Africa


Africa, Claire Robertson, “Social Change in Contemporary Africa,” 316-329.

RIAPC, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, “Images of Women in Nigerian Television,” 125-131.

CP, Nimrod Asante-Darko and Sjaak van der Geest, “Male Chauvinism: Men and Women in Ghanaian  Highlife Songs,” in Christine Oppong, ed.,  Female and Male in West Africa,  1983, 243-255.

CP, John Kiriamiti, My Life in Crime, 1984, 57-117.

RRQ: What are the powers of women to shape society in John Kiriamiti’s “autobiography”  and in Nigerian TV  shows and Ghanaian highlife songs?


www.afropop.org   Classic Audio Streams/Southern Africa/ “South African Update 1995”



April 15:1980s- 90s     Popular Culture in Liberation Struggles in Southern Africa

                                    Video: Rhythm of Resistance: The Black music of South Africa

                                    Video clips: “SongoLoLo”,  “On tiptoe”

                                    Dance class: Kwaito


RIAPC,  Andrew Horn, “South African Theatre: Ideology and Rebellion,” 73-81.

Africa,  “C.R. D. Halisi and Patrick O’Meara, “South Africa,” 395-412.

Mongane Wally Serote and Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali,  selected poems, The Lava of this Land, 1997, 39-48, 81-89.

RRQ: How do Serote, Mtshali and South African dramatists and musicians convey struggle in South Africa?


www.afropop.org  Classic Audio Streams /Southern Africa/”Music and Culture in the New South Africa”


Please consider hosting participants in the International African Students Association Conference, who need hospitality on April 19 and April 20 – contact Michelle Mhlanga.

You may wish to attend the African Cultural Event on April 20th in celebration of the Conference, details TBA.


April 22:1980s-90s      Zimbabwe: popular culture during Chimurenga and the crisis of AIDS

                                    Video Clips: “Neria” and “Everyone’s Child”, Tsitsi Dangarembga, director.

                                    Lecture/Performance Zimbabwean Mbira


RIAPC,  Alec J. C. Pongweni, “The Chimurenga Songs of the Zimbabwean War of Liberation, 63-72.

CP, Brooke Grundfest Schoepf, “Health, Gender Relations, and Poverty in the AIDS Era,” in Kathleen Sheldon, ed., Courtyards, Markets, City Streets: Urban Women in Africa,  1996, 153-168.

CP, Caroline Bledsoe, “The Politics of AIDS, Condoms, and Heterosexual Relations in Africa: Recent Evidence from the Local Print Media,” in W. Penn Handwerker, ed., Births and Power:  Social Change and the Politics of Reproduction,  1990, 197-223.

RRQ: How has the content of Chimurenga songs changed over time? How is the spread of HIV/AIDs in Africa related to women’s status relative to men's, and how is it related to the place of African nations in the world economy?


www.afropop.org Classic Streams/Southern Africa/Singing the Situation Zimbabwe 2001 or The Soul of Mbira (note, click on the last icon of the previous program)




April 29:           Structural Adjustment and the Possibilities for Well-Being

                        Presentation: Debt Cancellation

                        Film: “Hyenas,” Djibril Diop Mambety.



http://www.jubileeplus.org/analysis/reports/needle.htm (front page only)

http://www.africaaction.org/docs99/dbt9903b.htm  No RRQ



May 6: “Academy Awards” of  History 241 African Popular Culture/Write Final Exam (Students may propose essay questions that will allow the exam taker to reflect and synthesize readings, films, and classroom presentations. Class will choose the questions).



May 13  Optional Reading response portfolio due in Skinner 314 by 5:00 pm. Portfolio should contain all reading responses from the semester, and a 3-5 page synthetic essay.


May  15 Optional Take Home Final exams, no longer than 8 double-spaced pages, due in Skinner 314 by 5 pm.