WARA 2023 Abstracts

West African Research Association (WARA) Southeast 2023 Symposium

Presentation Abstracts, in the panel order.

Author:  Eric Charry, Wesleyan University

Title: Return of the Griot

Abstract: The term griot originated several centuries ago as a French misapprehension of a term and its function in western Africa. It had pejorative connotations but has since been valorized outside Africa. In 1956 filmmaker Sarah Maldoror co-founded Compagnie d’Art Dramatique des Griots, the first Parisian theater company fully comprised of Black actors. The US-based the grio.com defines the term as “Storyteller. Journalist. Historian. Praise Singer. Poet. Curator,” and describes itself as, “A digital media network . . .  the largest Black newsroom in America” with a mandate “to focus on news and events with a pronounced impact on a Black global audience.” The Senegalese rap group Positive Black Soul’s “Return of Da Djelly” uses a Mande-language term for what outsiders called griot. The title track of Senegalese rap group Daara J’s Boomerang is summarized in the CD notes as “Been born in Africa, growing up in America, rap has just gone around to come back.” In this talk, I trace the role of Mande jelis, the history of the term griot, its global circulation and redefinitions, including within Africa (e.g., the recent Nollywood film The Griot), and its relation to community, national, and diasporic cohesion.


  1. Robert Trowers North Carolina Central University, Durham, N.C.

Paper Topic:

Abstract: Jazz has proven itself to be a great unifier of people, specifically in the United States and also at various times in different regions of the world. Its effectiveness as a unifier of the races in the United States caused consternation among those satisfied with the status quo of the time, while it served as a music of resistance to many in other lands who felt that their rightful liberties had been circumscribed. From early “Ragtime” piano and “Syncopated” band music through “Bebop” and other modern forms, previous generations saw the music as a corrupting influence on the musical taste of their progeny. However, it had little effect on the music’s growth and effect on the interaction between American musicians of European and African descent, which many view as the precursor to the wider integration of the country. In building peace in West Africa, this phenomenon might be replicated, if not specifically with Jazz, with interaction between musical artists of different West African musical groups. This potential could be explored through initiating and nurturing interaction of musical artists from the various music making traditions in the West African region.

Bio: Robert Trowers is a professional jazz musician and educator. His musical career spans over 40 years and includes work with artists and bands such as the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra directed by Wynton Marsalis, and Randy Weston’s African Rhythms Quintet, among others. He was the recipient of a 2011 North Carolina Central University Scholarly Creativity grant, from which he produced a case study, “The Big BandJazz Education Project”, currently available in the NCCU Music Library.

  1. Timothy T. Ajani, PhD. Professor of Language and Linguistics. Fayetteville State University.

Paper Topic: Nigerian Indigenous Languages and Cultures as Tools of Peacebuilding

Abstract: That language is probably one of the most important tools in peacebuilding is not open to debate: it is the primary means of human communication and has the dual role of being used to either escalate or resolve conflict. Language also has the distinction of being the avenue through which the culture, history, customs, needs, hopes and aspirations of a people is disseminated. Throughout history, humans have used language to effect positive changes in society or bring about untold hardship and destruction. Thus, language is a double-edged sword, as it can be used for good or evil intents. In Nigeria, too many times we have witnessed, particularly in more recent years, unscrupulous politicians and leaders use incendiary and divisive language that panders to ethnic, religious, and cultural differences to stir up negative sentiments among the people, leading to deadly riots and mayhem in order to advance their selfish political, and sometimes religious ends. This paper explores how Nigerian indigenous languages, and a common cultural ancestry can be deployed as part of a multi-tool process, to effectively manage, negotiate and mediate peace.

  1. Oladele Ayorinde. Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University, Bloomington ooayorin@iu.edu

Paper Topic: “What a Man can do, a Woman can do better”: Fuji and Women’s Musicking on the Streets of Lagos

Abstract: This presentation explores the contribution of women to the development of popular music in Lagos. Though Nigerian popular music has received considerable attention in west African scholarship, women’s voices and contributions to the development of Nigerian popular music remain marginalized in academic discourse. What might a focus on female social agents, bandleaders, and their enterprise mean for our understanding of Nigerian popular music and its industries? I draw cases from Fújì music—an urban popular music in Nigeria—to explain how some women have constantly negotiated themselves in a male-dominated Nigerian music industry and social life. I focus on how this women-led live music economy promotes and sustains a street music culture in suburb Lagos, where a distinct African urban popular and public culture is produced, performed, and circulated. Music-making on the street, or ‘street musicking’ in Lagos suburbs, is understood as an artistic practice, public culture, and convivial spaces where different people meet for diverse social transactions. It also constitutes a space of power where people renegotiate their social status and refashion themselves as modern subjects. In sum, while Fújì remains a male-dominated genre, I argue that the women-led live Fújì music economy in Lagos challenges the discourse of gender and male dominance in music and provides a new perspective on place-making and street culture in Africa.

Bio: Oladele Ayorinde is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. He was a 2022 ‘THInK’ (Transforming the Humanities through Interdisciplinary Knowledge) Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wits Schools of Arts and Department of Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and the 2022 Argelander Music Fellow/Lecturer, Department of Musicology/Sound Studies at the University of Bonn, Germany. Located in South Africa and Nigeria, his research explores music and music-making as a window into contemporary Africa’s complex social, political, and economic processes. Ayorinde’s work-in-progress monograph explores the political economy of Fújì music and everyday life in Lagos, Nigeria.

  1. Samba Camara. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Paper Topic: Performing Interfaith Dialogue in Senegalese Muslim Hip-hop

Abstract:  As the most accessible means of expression for people, music has always played an important role in the popular imagination of national identity and in channeling the sentiment of pan-ethnic solidarity in post-colonial Africa. This paper situates the mediating power of music in a West African context of persistent religious tension, and it explores how rappers in Senegal have mobilized hip-hop to counter Islamic fundamentalism by amplifying Sufi messages of tolerance and interfaith dialogue. The article analyzes Sufi-inflected rap songs and music media as innovative sites of poetic creativity and performance. Along with conventional rap lyricism, the paper shows how the language of Sufi hip-hop has capitalized on performance, videography, and the local grammar of ethical personhood (nite in Wolof) to articulate messages of religious pluralism and tolerance

Bio: Samba Camara is a Teaching Assistant Professor of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has published articles and book chapters on Senegalese popular music, culture, and West African Islamic cultural production. His current monograph explores the Afropolitan ethics of personhood in urban Senegalese popular music. He is the Co-PI of a digitization project, funded by the British Library, which preserved over 6,000 pages of endangered Pulaar Islamic poetry. Dr. Camara teaches courses in global black popular cultures, African literatures, black-Islamic cultures, and the Wolof language.

Panel#2 –

  1. Amy Schwartzott, Curator of University Galleries/Associate Professor of Art History, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, USA

Paper Topic: War as a Potent Instigator for Arts Projects Aimed at Peacebuilding: Mozambique’s TAE Project and West African Endeavors

Abstract: Because of Mozambique’s protracted history of war, the Transforming Arms into Plowshares/Transformação de Armas em Enxadas (TAE) project was established to heal, memorialize, and prevent further wars through its promotion of peace as weapons are dismembered in order to remember, as artists create sculptures utilizing recognizable parts of destroyed arms to evoke memories of violence from Mozambique’s long and painful history of war. Theoretical frames fundamental to this investigation draw heavily from Igor Kopytoff’s seminal essay, “The Cultural Biography of Things,” focused on an object’s transformation from its initial use through its many lives. Conceptually, this introduces the important artistic technique of recycling at work here, as the author argues that the life of an object does not end when it is destroyed, and recreated artistically, but gains more expressive power. Rooted in the tension of their strong visual presence, TAE artworks challenge viewers as weapons for killing are transformed into tools of reconciliation, peacebuilding, and healing. While the WARA conference focuses on peacebuilding in West Africa, I plan to use my ongoing research in Mozambique as a jumping off point for preliminary research that both links and contrasts artistic programs that tackle peacebuilding in these new areas of inquiry.

Bio: Dr. Amy Schwartzott’s ongoing research investigates recyclia used by Mozambican artists. Research for her dissertation, Weapons and Refuse as Media: The Potent Politics of Recycling in Contemporary Mozambican Urban Arts, resulted in a Centre for Conflict Studies Fellowship and two Fulbright awards. Recent publications include The Art of Emergency: Aesthetics and Aid in African Crises; ń Tydskrif vir Afrika-letterkunde/A Journal for African Literature (South Africa); and Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture. Dr. Schwartzott is currently Associate Professor of Art History at North Carolina A&T State University where she is Curator of University Galleries.

  1. Marame Gueye. African and African Diaspora Literatures at East Carolina University.

Paper Topic: Paper Feminist Organizing as Praxis Toward Democracy and Peace: The Case of Senegal

Abstract: In Senegal, the word feminist is diabolized, and feminists are often viewed as enemies of the nation and “destroyers” of families and traditions. Senegalese feminists are accused of importing Western values and being funded by foreign lobbyist organization that want to impose alien practices into Senegalese society. This label and accusations are not the reality and ignore how Senegalese feminists are for the majority deconstructed and apply Senegalese (Mostly Wolof) peacebuilding and negotiating tools of waxtaan (to have a conversation) masala (to negotiate in the form of picking one’s battles and knowing what to fight over and what to let go), sutura (discretion), teranga (hospitality, gift giving in order to strengthen a relationship), etc. Drawing from several critical feminist activities and engagements in the past couple of years, including my own, I show how feminists in Senegal diligently use traditional Senegalese cultural practices to create a peaceful and just society in which women are seen as full human beings who should be agents of their lives and engaged citizens of the nation.

Bio: Marame Gueye is Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Literatures at East Carolina University. She is a member of the Collective of Feminists in Senegal and a is a founding member of Dafadoy (It is Enough), an organization that fights violence against women in Senegal and was very instrumental in the passing of the 2021 law criminalizing rape in Senegal.

  1. Samuel Fury Childs Daly Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies, Duke daly@duke.edu

Paper topic: The Oputa Panel and the Promises of Peacebuilding in Nigeria After Military Rule

Abstract: For nearly four decades, Nigeria was ruled by its military. After the sudden death of Gen. Sani Abacha in 1998, soldiers retreated from politics, leaving the running of the state to civilians. The most egregious crimes of the fallen regime were tried in the courts. From 1999 to 2002, a truth and reconciliation process called the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of Nigeria investigated the events of military rule, producing thousands of pages of documentation. Cases of misconduct by soldiers, military interference in politics, coups, and the events of the Biafra War all came under the purview of the commission. The head of the commission was Justice Chukwudifu Oputa. Oputa had given juridical form to militarism’s disciplinary spirit, so there was some irony in the fact that he presided over the reckoning. Obasanjo decided to bury the commission’s report, and it only became publicly available when an activist leaked a copy on the internet. What motivated this attempt at peacebuilding through law? What form of reconciliation did the Oputa Panel, as it was known, provide? What did it foreclose? This paper examines the records of the commission with attention to larger questions about truth commissions and peacebuilding processes in the region at large.


  1. Alfredo Rojas and Dr. Colin Thor West. UNC-Chapel Hill

Paper topic: “Cooperation and Cashews: Household Labor in Northwestern Côte d’Ivoire”

Abstract: West Africa has undergone land use and land cover transitions driven by human activities. In Côte d’Ivoire, the expansion of agriculture has characterized much of the land use change detected by satellite observations. In the north of the country, farmers are diversifying their agricultural activities by growing cashew orchards alongside subsistence crops and other cash crops like cotton. Recently, the country became one of the world’s top exporters of raw cashew nuts. But how do local households organize to meet such demands? This project demonstrates that households rely on reciprocal and family-based labor to achieve various farming tasks. It also shows that households rely on cashews as an important source of income and use family-based labor to meet their needs. As the world relies heavily on export-based economies, like that of Côte d’Ivoire’s, understanding the ways households organize, improve their livelihoods, and interact with their local environments is of global significance.

Bio: Alfredo Rojas is a graduate student in Anthropology at UNC-Chapel Hill. His research focuses on agricultural change and household labor in northwestern Côte d’Ivoire.

Panel#3 – Workshop – “Carrier building in African Studies.”

Abstract: A roundtable in which leading Africanists in the Triangle will share about their scholarly careers and views of African Studies from various disciplinary perspectives.

Panel#4 – Peace through enriching social capital: The Case of the American-Senegalese Cultural Association

Abstract: Social capital is an instantiated informal norm that promotes cooperation among members of society. It is a byproduct of tradition, shared historical experience, and other types of cultural norms. Senegal is rich with social capital, ranging from its deeply rooted demokrassy to its many forms of peaceful religious brotherhoods.

However, social capital is a form of capital that needs to be continuously reconditioned. To avoid inefficient local government, reinforcement for corruption, and repressive hierarchical sources of authority, the stock of social capital must be continually increased. This is the logical way of maintaining harmony and peaceful cohabitation. In this renewal, society’s radius of trust needs to be expanded through education, communication with outsiders, and technological adaptation.

The American-Senegalese Cultural Association regards promoting English and digital learning in Senegal as necessary for a more efficient maintenance of the country’s peaceful social capital. The current dominance enjoyed by French limits opportunities for both Senegalese students and the business community to engage with the wider and learn about best practices. Without a degree of proficiency in English, outside Africa, Senegalese opportunities for learning new skills or maximizing the profits associated with globalization are largely limited to France and Quebec. English maximizes opportunities for Senegalese institutionally and socially in America, Asia and Europe. It also helps refurbish the historical link between Senegal and the African American community within the Diaspora. ASCA represents a step toward facilitating a more global and impactful engagement by establishing and expanding centers for English and digital literacy across Senegal.