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date: 22 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The funeral xylophone tradition of the Birifor people of Northwest Ghana is renowned across the West African hinterland for its musical artistry, cultural histories, surrogated song texts, and symbolic meaning. The Northwest as a whole has a historically high incidence of blindness, motivating a range of interpretations of visual impairment as disability. In rural Birifor communities, the music, bodies, and ability of blind xylophonists are filtered through a cultural ideology of ability that hijacks social conceptions of disability as biological deviance, and manufactures disability as spiritual deviance. This reveals a spiritual model of disability, which together with the mystical aspects of musicianship in Birifor culture, leads to a compound form of subordination for blind musicians. Against this culturally pervasive ableism, blind Birifor xylophonists compose and perform “enemy music” as an act of resistance, contestation, and catharsis that recasts disability as a lived reality and reframes the true locations of disability.

Keywords: spiritual model, ideology of ability, ableism, location of disability, subordination, blind musician, xylophone, enemy music, Ghana, Birifor

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