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Bandiri Music, Globalization, and Urban Experience in Nigeria
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Social Text 22.4 (2004) 91-112

Brian Larkin

Beside Kofar Nassarawa, a gate to the mud wall that once ringed the Muslim heart of Kano, a city in northern Nigeria, there is a mai gyara, a mechanic who repairs scooters and motorbikes. On this atrophying wall in the 1990s there was a poster of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, a radical Islamic leader, and next to him one of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Shia leader Zakzaky championed. No doubt the mechanic or one of his assistants was a fan of Zakzaky, a figure of some charisma among the Muslim youth of the North, but the fact that someone else had tried to tear off the poster of Khomeini registered the wider suspicion that Hausa Sunnis have for Shia worship. Once, while my Vespa was in a line waiting to be repaired, one of the assistants switched cassettes on an old tape player and started playing a bandiri tape. As he did so, one customer started to hum along, recognizing the Indian film tune on which the song was based, but not knowing the words of this Hausa variation. Bandiri singers are Hausa musicians who take Indian film tunes and change the words to sing songs praising the prophet Muhammad. This action sparked an immediate response from two customers who looked on with distaste—clearly uncomfortable at being subjected to this music while waiting for their bikes to be repaired. Their discomfort provoked a mild but clear debate splitting the mechanics and customers—all from the old city of Kano—into three discrete groups: those who wanted to hear the bandiri music; those, including the man humming along, who did not care one way or another, and the last two customers asking for the music to be stopped.

Knowing the controversy over bandiri music because of my research on Indian film in Nigeria, I found it interesting that two of the customers reacted not with anger but with a palpable sense of distaste, a sort of weary disappointment, as if the music, like cigarette smoke in a restaurant, was a repugnant physical presence being forced on them. It emphasized the ambivalent quality of a musical form such as bandiri that, with roots in a secular realm of entertainment, is also religious. It partakes of the elaborate Sufi tradition in which recitation of praises to the Prophet carry with them spiritual and sometimes magical benefits and sound has tangible properties beyond the aural. The distaste for bandiri may well have been motivated by a dislike of the migration of Indian films into Hausa popular culture. But while one may not like Indian music, it does not make the same claims on one's spiritual well-being and mode of honoring God. It was the ability of bandiri to compromise its orthodox religious listeners by creating an unorthodox, Sufi environment that generated unease.

Singing live at public ceremonies such as weddings, or selling cassettes through local markets, bandiri singers are effecting a transformation from the profane to the sacred when they sing Hausa praise songs to Indian tunes. The popularity of the genre rests, however, on the common cultural competence of listeners who recognize their favorite Hindi film songs. By doing so, these listeners see through the mask, so to speak, as the profane original haunts the sacred copy. As suggested above, this is a contested phenomenon in a Muslim society undergoing an Islamist revival. Is it really Islamic, many Hausa Muslims ask, to use songs taken from sensual, un-Islamic origins for religious purposes? Moreover, the controversy over bandiri music is not just about Indian love songs. Bandiri is named after the drum—the bandir—used in ritual practice by Sufis to enter into trance. Is it really Islamic, many Hausa Muslims ask, to enter into trance, or to use drums inside the mosque, indeed to be Sufi in a world where Wahhabi belief moves provocatively across the Muslim world? Bandiri sits at the nexus of these very different sorts of transnational flows, Islamist revival and Indian popular culture that meet and make sense in northern Nigeria, in the context of a spatial configuration of culture, media, and religion.

Producing Urban Space in...



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