Comptes rendusReviews

Muslim Women Sing: Hausa Popular Song. By Beverly B. Mack. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004. Pp. 303, ISBN 0-253-21729-6)[Record]

  • Judith Klassen

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  • Judith Klassen
    Memorial University of Newfoundland
    St. John’s, Newfoundland

In her recent publication, Muslim Women Sing: Hausa Popular Song, Beverly Mack explores song and poetry among Hausa women in Kano, Nigeria. Basing her observations on doctoral fieldwork conducted between 1979 and 1983 (with return visits to Nigeria in 1987 and 2002), Mack suggests that the frequently sung but seldom documented songs of Hausa women are integral to their daily life. Upon arriving in Nigeria, Mack set out to collect praise songs performed by women associated with the emir of Kano. She soon realized however, that these songs were connected to non-royal praise songs and to other extemporaneous performances of non-praise songs. Further, following the advice from informant Hajiya Abba Bayero (the emir’s third wife), she became aware that any study of Hausa women’s song would be incomplete without a consideration of authors of written poetry. It was then that Mack expanded the scope of her research to include extemporaneous oral song and written poetry in addition to royal praise song. Hausa women’s song is most often performed in private, by and for Hausa women. Functionally, the performance of wakoki (pl. poetry, song) provides both performers and audiences with access to historical information, politics and current events, serving further to provide spiritual and educational fulfillment in their composition (4). While songs and texts may not be explicit in feminist intent, argues Mack, the content of wakoki reflects the changing roles of women within Hausa Muslim society (98). While performances of wakoki are contextually distant from Qur’an recitation, and apparent thematic contradictions between religious didacticism and secular satire may be read in song texts, Mack suggests that influences from Islam and Western styles are nevertheless evident in Hausa women’s song. The religious training of many poets has influenced their composition styles, with the Qur’an serving as the poetic basis for many written works (23). Orally composed works are also filled with invocations to God, but employ varying degrees of irreverent criticism and satire in their performances (80). While extemporaneous oral song and written poetry are often perceived as a bawdy/illiterate versus moral/literate duality, Mack is adamant that each informs the other, and that it is through this process that multiple interpretations are enabled, performer and audience connect, and deeper meaning is made possible. Mack goes on to assert that while the practice of wife seclusion in Hausa Muslim life has often been interpreted as a means of curtailing female autonomy, the poetry and song of Hausa women demonstrates that their status is “neither subservient, static, nor stoic” (3). In her words, “the sanctity of the family and the woman’s primacy in this context turn western models of public-private dichotomies on their head” (7). Rather than stifling creativity and performative freedom, the private nature of female wakoki performance makes for greater freedom in terms of thematic content and delivery (both vocal and gestural). Mack suggests that Islam has encouraged, rather than discouraged, literary composition among women (4). The provision of artist profiles is a useful formatting strategy; however, Mack’s detailed work might be well served by a few alterations. The poet/musician profiles, for example, might be more useful at the beginning of chapters than at the end, so that the reader is introduced to characters before they are referred to in the text. In addition, descriptions of musical instruments and performances inside the palace would be well served with the addition of illustrations. Mack’s descriptions are detailed, and “profile” sections include a few images; however, without a contextual knowledge of the emir’s palace, nor familiarity with Nigerian musical instruments performed in private contexts, the imagination is stretched to its limits when …