- Women’s Voices from West Africa: An Anthology of Songs from the Sahel ed. by Aissata G. Sidikou, Thomas A. Hale, and: Women’s Songs from West Africa ed. by Thomas A. Hale, Aissata G. Sidikou
eds. Aissata G. Sidikou and Thomas A. Hale
Indiana UP, 2012.
xiii + 143 pp. ISBN 9780253356703 cloth.
eds. Thomas A. Hale and Aissata G. Sidikou
Indiana UP, 2014.
352pp. ISBN 9780253010179 cloth.
The past twenty years have seen significant growth in the production of critical discourses on femininities and masculinities in African contexts. In addition, these discourses highlight not only literary texts in their sociocultural contexts and in the larger issues of postcolonial identities and representations, but they also address, as these two volumes demonstrate, the wide range of performance genres that are central to African women’s creative expressions. The general philosophy and editorial principles guiding the two volumes actually build on those of closely related texts such as Women Writing Resistance and Women Writing Africa: West Africa and the Sahel that is, essays by mostly women authors/scholars of African origins. While most readers would readily appreciate these principles, especially the ways in which they are consistent with empowerment, representation, etc., there remains a fundamental question of how to qualify the gap between intellectual traditions of African women scholars and the lives of “market” (i.e., lacking formal education and professions in academia) women whose creative expressions are the subject of the intellectual exchanges.
Women’s Voices from West Africa and Women’s Songs from West Africa both draw much of their inspiration—and contents, to a large extent—from significant precedents and initiatives such as the Princeton conference of May 2003 from which Women’s Songs from West Africa (i.e., volume 2) derives its title. Further, and as acknowledged by the editors, these two volumes are inspired and guided by Sidikou’s Recreating Words, Reshaping Worlds: The Verbal Art of Women from Niger, Mali and Senegal. In addition, readers gain a wider but useful perspective by situating this project in the context of literary productions and discourses on African women’s creative expressions, for example the 2005 Women Writing Africa: West Africa and the Sahel and Women Writing Resistance (cited above).
Volume one, Women’s Voices from West Africa: An Anthology of Songs from the Sahel, goes beyond being a mere collection of songs/texts by providing brief but important analytical and contextual insights on each song. (Volume two elaborate on these analyses.) The core four chapters are titled after the four dominant themes: marriage, children, women in society, and death. Subthemes of the volume include wedding, polygyny, lullaby, praise and criticism, widowhood, children, sports, health, etc. The Sahel regions, cultures, and countries covered [End Page 181] include Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and the Gambia. Although the editors emphasize “cultural continuity” (4) for the selected cultures and their respective oral-musical traditions, the editors also appropriately acknowledge “diversity,” thus upholding the familiar notion of “unity in diversity.” This outlook, nevertheless, resonates strongly through the text, including the range of genres, organization, and many of the analytical conclusions.
The introductory notes, “The Powerful Voices of Women in Song” (2–34), briefly reiterate some of the research findings and conclusions in Hale’s earlier Griots and Griottes, such as the historical contexts and general significance of women performance traditions: “The evidence suggests that song is indeed a privileged medium of expression for women across the Sahel” (13). In addition and without engaging the entire complexity of orality and literacy debates, the editors stress significant interplay of the oral and the written in African contexts: “A more comprehensive way, then, of viewing the verbal art of women is to conclude that oral and written forms coexist today” (12). These debates, conclusions, and the actual performance materials and performers are inevitably imbricated in closely related discourses and contestations of genre and nomenclature. For example, narrative in oral forms stretches back for tens of thousands of years and Africans have been writing in African...