UNT Research, Volume 16, 2006 Page: 35
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Steven M. Friedson i-s immersed himself in t
cii I ,1'o; people of Malawi and th
Ewe-speaking peoples of Ghana for his research co
music and its role in African healing practices
feminism from a previously unexplored
In contrast, her colleague Steven M.
Friedson, professor and coordinator of eth-
nomusicology at UNT, has done extensive,
ground-breaking fieldwork in Africa as
part of his research on music and its role
in African healing practices, which he
describes as medico-religious systems.
He has immersed himself in the cul-
tures of the Tumbuka people of Malawi in
southeastern Africa and more recently the
Ewe-speaking peoples of Ghana in western
Africa. He wrote a widely successful book
on his work in Malawi and has just fin-
ished a second on his research in Ghana.
Dancing, singing and drumming are
not mere entertainment in the cultures
Friedson studies, but an integral part of
community healing systems. Understanding
this, he explains, demands participation.
"You're not just standing back trying
to observe, but you engage in the culture,
he says, adding that his experience is not
the same as that of the people who are
part of the culture. What he experiences
through participation is something he
describes as "meeting in an in-between
"It's an interpretive stance. You can't
totally take yourself out of it. You have to
experience it firsthand. It's not that I'm
going to become an Ewe, but there is a
fusion of horizons; they get fused together
in the ethnography (the descriptive work
that comes from direct experience in
Friedson finished his forthcoming
book, Northern Gods in a Southern Land, based
on his research in Ghana, with support
from an American Philosophical Society
Fellowship. His earlier book, Dancing
i6 iiI V vVe L , V IUU iii iy Ni U)UA iU IU iL I L u Oi Iu ip [J U
understand that musical experience can be somethin
different from the way we think of it in the West
Prophets: Musical Experience in Tumbuka Healing,
based on his Fulbright-supported research
in Malawi, has been used widely at universi-
ties since its publication 10 years ago.
In examining music and trance, or
altered states of consciousness, and their
use in traditional African healing and reli-
gious ceremonies, Friedson emphasizes that
he is not taking a Western medical view-
point. He takes a different approach that he
believes gets more to the heart of what
happens in the ceremonies.
"Neurological research on rhythms
and brain waves tells us some things about
what's going on, but it doesn't understand
the phenomenon of what's going on,
"I take a phenomenological approach
to my research. I take people seriously
about what they say they are doing. I'm
looking at music, trance and medico-
religious practices as the people within the
culture understand them."
For example, "In Malawi, healers go
into trances to diagnose patients":' he says.
"In West Africa with the Ewe, healers don't
go into trances, but the members of the
shrines (religious orders) become possessed
by deities, and they're the ones who tell
people what to do to heal."
UNT RESEARCH 2006 } 35
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University of North Texas. UNT Research, Volume 16, 2006, periodical, 2006; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc29777/m1/35/: accessed April 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting University Relations, Communications & Marketing department for UNT.