The ANU School of Music Research Seminar is the premier forum for academic staff, invited guests and postgraduate researchers of the ANU School of Music to present their work. This seminar will feature Dr Bonnie McConnell.
What Cash Can’t Buy: Music, Money and Social Change in The Gambia
The conspicuous exchange of money is an important part of many music performances in The Gambia. In neighbourhood events, small denomination bills are passed from hand to hand, waved in the air, placed inside instruments, pinned to clothing, and collected in buckets. In contemporary Gambia, these highly visible practices of musical patronage and monetary exchange take place alongside dramatic social and economic change. Ongoing political and economic insecurity has threatened livelihoods and strained systems of social support and care. This paper examines female musicians’ responses to changing economic conditions in The Gambia. Music performance provides a lens through which to understand intersections between global economic ideologies and local systems of monetary exchange grounded in relations of reciprocity. I demonstrate that, in the context of neoliberal economic reforms and diminishing social services, musicians have been obliged to adapt and intensify their labor practices in order to survive. This project brings ethnomusicological analysis of music performance practice into conversation with scholarship on West African economic systems and social transformation. I show that female performers employ song texts, social interactions in performance, and changing musical labor practices, in order to assert their continued relevance in contemporary urban Gambia.