Music, dance, and family ties: Ghanaian and Senegalese immigrants in Los Angeles



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This ethnography explores the music and dance performance practices during lifecycle rituals such as baby naming ceremonies, weddings, and funerals among firstgeneration Ghanaian and Senegalese immigrants in Los Angeles. By comparing the musical performance practices of two West African diasporic communities from different countries, Ghana and Senegal, in a global city, Los Angeles, the ethnography demonstrates that a singular African immigrant Diaspora is difficult to locate or define. My results detail the different kinds of transnationality that different immigrant groups create and experience based on their interactions with the host society, their cultural expressions of particular genres of locally identifiable music and dance, and their mediations with their home societies. In listening and dancing to particular, meaningful musical genres from their home areas, West African immigrants index local cultural identities and form boundaries of exclusion around like-identified communities. Themes of dislocation, disrupted kinship networks, and the transformative power of music and dance in ritual contexts have fueled my inquiry in developing a comparative analysis of African transnational immigrant performance and identity politics. The ethnographic analysis of the music and dance during lifecycle rituals among immigrants is imagined along two axes of comparison. The first axis concerns the differences between lifecycle rituals performed in Africa and lifecycle rituals performed by African immigrants in America. The second axis of comparison concerns the differences and similarities between Ghanaian and Senegalese musical performance practices. The transnational character of family rituals is maintained through three main channels – through the flow of remittances from immigrants to their families back home to fund family celebrations, through the performance of family lifecycle rituals through which music and dance re-inscribe ethnic, national, religious, and kinship-based identity, and through the circulation of videotaped media of family ceremonies, which help increase the status and prestige of extended families. Through these three channels, the members of these transnational communities stay connected with their families in agentive ways. They reassert family relationships, while they also compromise, adapt, and transpose their performances in ways that signify a new phase of African presence around the world.