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Eric Charry




Funeral ceremonies are important social events in Dagaaba society. The funeral is by far the largest public ritual of the Dagaaba, celebrating and effecting the passage of a dead person’s spirit into the state of ancestorhood. Central in the organization and performance of Dagaaba funerals is the gyil, a wooden frame xylophone tuned to an anhemitonic pentatonic scale. Beginning from the announcement of death in a community to the performance of all important rituals, gyil music does not only mark the temporal structures of the funeral event but also defines and shapes it. The music that the gyil performs for the funeral is called kuurbine, a Dagaare word which literally means funeral dance music. Without the performance of kuurbine, the Dagaaba strongly assert that there cannot be a funeral ceremony. Beyond its normative role of accompanying the funeral proceedings, the Dagaaba ascribe much emotional functions to kuurbine music. The music is attributed with the power to evoke strong emotions in funeral participants. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork conducted among the Dagaaba in Nandom between November 2010 and June 2014, this dissertation examines the nature and purpose of kuurbine music in Dagaaba funerary rituals. It examines the processes by which musical forms become invested with emotion and, therefore, meaning. Kuurbine music embodies the very essence of mourning in Dagaaba society. It induces collective musicking, dancing, and wailing among the funeral audience that enables individual loss to become a communal affair, an affair that reinforces and strengthens people’s commitment to the communities in which they belong.



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