Bambeh’s Song: Music, Women and Health in a Rural Community in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone


  • Kate Bingley


If we knew more about “music” as a human capability and its potential as an intellectual and affective force in human communication, society, and culture, we could use it more generally to enhance general education and to build peaceful, egalitarian, and prosperous societies in the twenty-first century, just as our prehistoric ancestors once used it to invent the cultures from which all civilisations evolved.(Blacking, 1995, p. 242)
In December 2008 I travelled to Sierra Leone to undertake research into the role of music in effective health promotion. Situated on the coast of West Africa, Sierra Leone sits at the bottom of the UNDP human development index, and has the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; the country is recovering from a ten-year civil war which decimated infrastructure and traumatised the nation. These facts notwithstanding, I took as my premise that music continues to be a vibrant part of Sierra Leonean culture, and has a key role to play in promoting good health, but that its full potential has yet to be fully harnessed. My field research was funded by a Gerry Farrell Scholarship, awarded by the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research (SEMPRE). This paper follows on from my field research; through a combination of ethnographic method, musical and textual analysis, and insights from the ethnomusicology literature, I examine the different ways in which music can be used to promote health and well-being in rural post-conflict Sierra Leone.