Enemy Music: Blind Birifor Xylophonists of Northwest Ghana

Enemy Music: Blind Birifor Xylophonists of Northwest Ghana

Enemy Music: Blind Birifor Xylophonists of Northwest Ghana is the title of Brian Hogan’s Ph.D. dissertation in ethnomusicology.

Combining his interests and skills in New Media, Ethnomusicology, Percussion, and Disability Studies, the dissertation sets a new model of scholarship both through forging new connections between disability studies and ethnomusicology, and through an innovate online companion.

Through the representational power of anthropologically rooted scholarship leveraging film, photography, and music analysis, the online companion provides an updated and interactive perspective on the subject of ethnomusicological and anthropological discourse.

Excerpt from the dissertation abstract:

“The heartland of xylophone music in Ghana lies not in the coastal regions where drum ensembles proliferate, but far to the north and west of the country spilling over into Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire.

This area, which includes the Northern Region and Upper-West Region of Ghana, is home to several distinct ethnic groups that maintain traditions of xylophone performance.

Featured in public ritual contexts such as funerals and festivals, xylophones are a primary cultural icon and instrumental resource for these ethnic groups.

The North as a whole has also been the location of Ghana’s worst epidemics of disease borne blindness, largely caused by the vast river network of the Black Volta, in which the parasite responsible for river blindness (Onchocerca volvulus) thrives.

Both blind and sighted xylophonists of the Birifor ethnic group of Northwest Ghana play the deep and raspy kogyil (funeral xylophone), usually in the context of public multi-day funeral ceremonies.

In these ceremonies xylophonists as musical ritual specialists negotiate social, cultural, spiritual, and ideological relationships critically remaking culture, history, and the self through songs of new and old.”