The African Studies Center (ASC) at U-M has a deep commitment to fostering collaborative research and scholarship in Africa, and with its scholars. Through our seed grant competition, ASC supports joint research projects bringing together U-M faculty and researchers affiliated with universities on the continent. We report here on the work that has been supported by recent ASC seed grants to showcase the breadth of this scholarship and to encourage other U-M-based scholars to consider applying for a Seed Grant award with one or more colleagues on the continent. 

Kwame Ampene, a scholar and practitioner of ethnomusicology, is an associate professor at DAAS and the School of Music, Theater and Dance. He was awarded a seed grant (2020/21) through the African Heritage and Humanities Initiative (AHHI) for a research project entitled ‘Musical Expressions and Traditions in the Borderlands: Collaborative Field Research at Aflao-Ghana.’ Together with Kofi Kudonu (University of Ghana), Ampene will conduct field research in the border town of Aflao, in the Volta Region of Ghana. This research will assess “the impact of ambiance and soundscape on the drumming, song, and dance repertoire of Yeve religious rites in a major border town. The activities making up this soundscape include human and vehicular traffic and border crossings, the movement of goods and services in the ancient market and modern stores with imported goods, daily routines of border guards and immigration officers, the presence of foreign religions, and urban life in Aflao.” Ampene and his collaborators will study the musical traditions of the Yeve Religious Shrine and ask how such music impacts the activity of the religious shrine, with specific attention to drumming, dance, and the rituals associated with them. 

Commenting on the vibrancy of the border region between Ghana and Togo, Ampene notes that the border itself is an “artificial line that does not exist for many people on either side of it. The cultural and religious practices have been transported from the region to the Americas, Haiti, and Brazil.” The transfer of music and cultural actions speaks to “a historical connection between these practices - what we find there may have significance for analysis in other countries around the world.”

Ampene told ASC that his research is aimed at facilitating interaction and collaboration with scholars on the African continent. He outlined that funding is often a major obstacle to field research with many of his colleagues, so collaboration through this seed grant assists in building scholarship across institutions. Given the constraints of travel and fieldwork during COVID-19, Ampene hopes to conduct his fieldwork in June and July 2021 and will seek to publish at least two peer-reviewed articles in collaboration with his research partner.