Music Department Colloquium: Florian Carl—“Ghana Gospel: Christian Popular Music, Ritual Performance, and Digital Media in 21st-Century West Africa”

Wednesday, March 8, 2023 at 4:30pm

FREE! Reservation required.

Gospel is, today, one of the most popular music genres in Ghana and neighboring West African countries. The boom of Christian popular music went hand in hand with the proliferation of the charismatic movement which, since the late 1970s, has sparked the emergence of myriads of new, independent neo-Pentecostal churches. In these, collective gospel music performance takes center stage. While gospel has thus become the principal medium of worship in Ghanaian churches, the videos and songs of gospel artists permeate the country’s mediascape and public sphere. In this talk, I will explore the Ghanaian gospel phenomenon at the intersection of popular culture, religious ritual, and everyday life. Tracing indigenous forms of Christian popular music through a range of media, performance, and reception contexts, I will investigate gospel as a musical multimedium as well as an embodied and affective ritual form. In my presentation, I will specifically highlight the role of gospel and Christian popular culture in Ghana’s recent socioeconomic transformation. Facilitated by the Ghanaian oil boom, which brought a massive increase in foreign investment in its wake, Ghana has made tremendous strides in modernizing and globalizing its economy in the past fifteen years, evidenced, perhaps most visibly, in the infrastructural transformation of urban space. While six-lane overpasses and huge shopping malls emerged in cities like Accra and Kumasi, the unexpected, new-found wealth also brought charismatic prosperity preachers and prophetic healers to the scene who skillfully fuel people’s hopes and fears. As I will show in my presentation, Ghanaian gospel music often centers around themes of prosperity, healing, and self-transformation. In their music and performances, artists offer audiences and congregations modes of embodiment and affect that facilitate self-empowerment and foster, at the same time, the emergence of new forms of subjectivity. Gospel music, thus, not only provides the soundtrack to Ghana’s recent neoliberal transformation, but it also reinforces this transformational process at the level of individual bodies and subjectivities.

Florian Carl is an Associate Professor in the Department of Music and Dance at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, and currently a research fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He studied musicology, African studies, and cultural anthropology at the University of Cologne and the University of Chicago and received his Ph.D. from Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media, Germany. His research centers around West African popular culture, intersections of popular music and religion, and the politics of listening in the African-European colonial and postcolonial encounter.

The colloquium is organized by Assistant Professor of Music John Dankwa and Assistant Professor of Music and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Saida Daukeyeva as part of the Music Department Colloquium Series.