Exploring the African story through dance and music

Music may be food for the soul – however, students who enroll in John Collins’ African Dance and Music class, immediately get the sense that music transcends merely entertainment.

“At the basic level, in terms of human evolution, language and music co-evolved together, and it’s likely that our ancestors sang; even the ape-like ancestors, they sang,” says Professor Collins. “In the days when we didn’t have books, we passed down culture through proverbs and songs.”

Since moving to Ghana over fifty years ago, Professor Collins has been deeply immersed in the West African music scene. While he’s played for several bands and musicians in Ghana and Nigeria, including Koo Nimo and Fela Kuti, he’s also served as an executive of the Musicians Union of Ghana, and is also an honorary life-member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM).

In class, Professor Collins shares this wealth of knowledge and experience with the students, while guiding them to explore the significance of music and dance to our culture and society.

“The class is essentially a history of African popular music with a focus mostly on Ghana,” he explains. “Through the course, we discuss the various brands of hiplife, the emergence of dancehall, raga-life, afro pop, and gospel music. While the class’ core is built around music, we also deal with Ghana’s history; the Independence struggle, urbanization and our identity. It’s really a multi-disciplinary course with music as the focus, where we also try to answer some of the most important questions we deal with as an industry and a society.”

For the students who take his course, the semester-long study helps them explore varying depths of Ghana's music, culture and history.

“I never quite understood the different genres of African music and their origins until I took this class,” said Ronald Nettey ’18. “It’s great having a lecturer as knowledgeable as Professor John Collins to share with us in class. You also get the sense of closeness to several iconic figures on the African music scene, especially because Professor Collins has literally worked directly with them. Very cool.”