Carolien Hulshof

Carolien Hulshof, doctoral student in Musicology

ABSTRACT This thesis examines the music of two female ngoma, or music-dance events, that are associated with weddings in Zanzibar: unyago and msanja. Zanzibar is a Muslim island, and there are distinct social spheres for men and women, each with their own norms and expectations with regards to speech, dress, and behavior. Unyago and msanja songs not only represent these norms and expectations; they also negotiate and contest them.

Based on the concept of heterotopia by Michel Foucault, this thesis understands music as an Other space, a space which is both connected to Zanzibari society, as well as existing separately in it and from it. While music as such is not a physical, actual site, it is inextricably tied to, and informs our sense of, space. Moreover, music is able to transform a space into one where different rules apply. Drawing on audio and video recordings made in Zanzibar as well as interviews and informal conversations, this study shows how an engagement with the music, in addition to lyrics and social context, can lead to a more profound understanding of how Zanzibari women play with, and challenge, societal expectations. The performance of, and discourse on, female wedding ngoma allow women to ‘walk the line’ towards knowledge about gendered expectations, and towards the ability to contest existing power relations at the same time.


Carolien defend her thesis on June 12, 2023.