Music, Health, and Power offers an original, on-the-ground analysis of the role that music plays in promoting healthy communities. The book brings the reader inside the world of kanyeleng fertility societies and HIV/AIDS support groups, where women use music to leverage stigma and marginality into new forms of power.

Drawing on ethnographic research conducted over a period of 13 years (2006–2019), the author articulates a strengths-based framework for research on music and health that pushes beyond deficit narratives to emphasize the creativity and resilience of Gambian performers in responding to health disparities. Examples from Ebola prevention programs, the former President’s AIDS “cure,” and a legendary underwear theft demonstrate the high stakes of women’s performances as they are caught up in broader contestations over political and medical authority.

This book will be of interest to scholars and students of ethnomusicology, medical anthropology, and African studies. The accompanying audio examples provide access to the women’s performances discussed in the text.

chapter 1|22 pages


Music, health, and power

chapter 2|19 pages

Women’s power

Gender, Islam, and health performance in The Gambia

chapter 3|19 pages

Singing Teriyaa

Life, death, and HIV-stigma

chapter 4|20 pages

“Let’s insult the soldier’s mother”

Performative license and communication

chapter 5|19 pages

When money dances

Songs of health and wealth

chapter 6|17 pages

Stealing power

Embodiment and participation in kanyeleng performance

chapter 7|18 pages

“Touch the drum and they will come”

Music, tradition, and communication

chapter 8|9 pages

Beginnings and endings