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Popular Music Audiences in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Michael Stasik

Publication Year: 2012

This book offers an intriguing account of the complex and often contradictory relations between music and society in Freetown’s past and present. Blending anthropological thought with ethnographic and historical research, it explores the conjunctures of music practices and social affiliations and the diverse patterns of social dis/connections that music helps to shape, to (re)create, and to defy in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. The first half of the book traces back the changing social relationships and the concurrent changes in the city’s music life from the first days of the colony in the late 18th century up to the turbulent and thriving music scenes in the first decade of the 21st century. Grounded in this comprehensive historiography of Freetown’s socio-musical palimpsest, the second half of the book puts forth a detailed ethnography of social dynamics in the realms of music, calibrating contemporary Freetown’s social polyphony with its musical counterpart.

Published by: African Books Collective


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-5

Copyright Page

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p. 6-6

Preface, Dedication

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pp. iv-11


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pp. ix-xi

List of photos / Maps

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pp. xii-15


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pp. xiii-16

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pp. xiv-xv

This book is about the social dis/connections that music creates in Freetown. These words of thanks – and apology – are for the social dis/connections that the work on this book created between me and those close and loved by me. In this sense...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-5

This book is about the patterns of social connection and disconnection that the consumption of music helps to shape, to (re)create, and to defy in Freetown, the capital city of the West African country Sierra Leone. As a conceptual gateway for this work I draw...

Part I: The music/society nexus - some introductory reflections and observations

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pp. 7-42

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2. Introducing the city and its sounds

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pp. 9-19

As I sit on my flight back to Sierra Leone from a visit to Ghana, a Nigerian trader sitting next to me starts cursing about Freetown. “This place is such a noise! When I come to Freetown I cannot hear my own...

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3. Music and society – a preliminary theoretical outline

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pp. 20-31

Looking back at the centuries-old discussions about an understanding of music, Polish phenomenologist Roman Ingarden (1962) makes a curtly but fundamental shift in the theorizing approach towards music. Rather than engrossing the mind in long reflections...

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4. Revisiting methods of socio-sonic inquiry

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pp. 32-42

Much of the recent, sociologically-inclined music research in African studies is based on two main paradigms. The first paradigm evokes the claim that music “reflects” the wider cultural, social, political, economic etc. realities and institutions it is produced...

Part II: From class to mass – Freetown’s music and society in historical perspective

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pp. 43-112

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5. Introduction

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pp. 45-48

In a rather peripheral remark to Barber’s (1987: 100) seminal essay on Popular Arts in Africa, Frederick Cooper poses the somewhat rhetorical question “whether popular arts have a history as well as a sociology”. As suggestive and trivial...

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6. Early developments – the 19th century

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pp. 49-57

Freetown society grew out of a highly eclectic conflation of people settling and being settled on the peninsula from across the Atlantic world and from the African interior. This increasingly eclectic socio-cultural assembly of “overlapping...

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7. Socio-musical approximations – 1900s to 1930s

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pp. 58-63

The pronounced segregation – or disconnection – between the Western-style music of the upper classes and the fusing, “Atlanticized” musical forms of the lower classes began to show first clear signs of blurring in the years of the First World War. As in many...

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8. The heydays of local popular music – 1940s to 1970s

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pp. 64-76

With the Second World War, the pace of new musical developments – in particular what, by now, might well be described as developments in popular music forms – increased significantly. Freetown’s music scene was brought to new highs...

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9. Popular music in the time of decay – the 1980s and 1990s

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pp. 77-94

In the 1980s, Sierra Leone was descending into insolvency. Growing foreign debt, rampant inflation, currency devaluation, budget deficit, grand-scale corruption and declining exports wrenched the economy to several successive lowpoints...

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10. Post-war boom and post-election decline

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pp. 95-107

After the shock of the January 6th invasion, Freetown’s local music scene in fact revived relatively quickly. The new millennium brought the scene to new highs. Already before the official declaration of the war’s end in January 2002, developments...

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11. Conclusion – beyond the ephemerality of style

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pp. 108-112

If we are to approach Freetown society by the use of such a heuristic device as the long-termed evolutions of its changing (popular) music styles and social relations (as I just presumed to do), the city presents itself as somewhat consistently...

Part III: Disconnection – social dynamics in the spaces of music

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pp. 113-208

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12. Introduction

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pp. 115-119

The third part of this book is built around three main elements and their interaction in the realms of collective music consumption: (1) sounds – of music; (2) spaces – of the city, of music consumption, of imaginations, and of social interactions...

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13. (Night)life at the edge of chaos

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pp. 120-125

Music events are complex social phenomena. During a music event a great many independent variables are interacting with each other in a great many ways. They involve a mix of, among others, ritualized and idiosyncratic behaviours, of independent...

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14. The seasonality of music

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pp. 126-135

Despite the apparent flightiness, there are several discernable factors that give Freetown’s music event scene, the city’s music market, and the patterns of audiences’ attendance a broad but nevertheless identifiable structure. In fact, we can even...

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15. Building, binding and dividing

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pp. 136-149

Music events in Freetown, as elsewhere, occur in a wide variety of contexts. Generally, a music event can be understood as referring to any form of performance that involves musical elements, regardless of whether this performance implies the play...

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16. A topography of Freetown’s social imaginary

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pp. 150-170

Reflecting upon one of his first excursions into the tributaries of the Amazon, Claude Lévi-Strauss philosophizes about the “nature” of towns and the inherently metaphysical qualities of space they...

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17. The politics of price, prestige and consumption

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pp. 171-187

Besides – and in addition to – the distance to be traversed and the transport to be paid to reach a music venue, the second major obstacle many Freetonians face when planning a night out in a music venue are the financial expenditures in the venue...

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18. The king and his followers

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pp. 188-202

During the weekend right before Christmas, a popular local artist (though, living in the US) performed two shows on two consecutive nights in two different venues – for two fairly different audiences. I attended both shows. In this chapter I give...

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19. Conclusion – dis/connections

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pp. 203-208

In the preceding seven chapters, I have taken a thorough look at various social patterns and dimensions of music consumption in contemporary Freetown. I commenced with the introduction of notions central to the subsequent...

Part IV: Topia of utopias

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pp. 209-229

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20. Dreams vs. reality

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pp. 211-228

With his fabulous deconstruction of Western philosophy’s commonsensical notion of common sense, Geertz (1983: 77) gives an illuminating example for how anthropology can be of use for approaching fundamental philosophical questions...


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pp. 229-237

Back Cover

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p. 258-258

E-ISBN-13: 9789956728572
Print-ISBN-13: 9789956728510

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: color
Publication Year: 2012