Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jane Sugarman

Committee Members

Stephen Blum

Jonathan Shannon

David Font-Navarrete

Patricia Tang

Subject Categories



Music, Politics, Africa, Urban Life, Islam, Public Space


What can you understand about a city through its music? Most days and nights in Dakar’s Médina­­––a crowded quartier populaire adjacent to the city’s central administrative zone–– streetscapes are transformed by musical assemblies, including life cycle ceremonies and events produced by the neighborhood’s robust array of civic and religious associations. This dissertation examines how the confluence of music, public spaces (streets), and associational life shapes the possibilities of urban living in the contemporary African city. The musical assemblies that fill the neighborhood, I argue, spatialize social life in the city, organizing people’s movements, exposing them to a common sense-world, and helping them reconfigure the conditions of collective life in a space where roughly 100,000 residents are concentrated within an area of less than two square kilometers.

Part I of this dissertation examines Médina as a nexus of three overlapping spaces: the indigenous city, the spiritual city, and the militant city. Each chapter offers an experiential perspective on music in the city, complemented by accounts of different histories and cosmologies that operate in the space of Médina. These chapters also offer an analysis of how music spatializes social life, arguing that music moves people through the city, funnels them towards performance styles and associations, teaches them new competencies, and facilitates the formation of heterogenous links that can be worked and reworked as people navigate urban lives.

Part II links music to the city’s political economy, beginning with the concept of “music in the second person,” which shows how music helps people establish intensely personal relationships of gratitude, devotion, and interdependence that help the city run. I demonstrate connections between musical personalism and a “distributive economy”––the circulation of incomes through the neighborhood as they are divided into smaller and smaller streams. This leads to an analysis of the political capacities that people engage through their music, including ways of invoking rights-based discourses, and ways of negotiating the patron-client relationships that provide vital resources to neighborhood residents. Furthermore, I examine how musical labor within associations allows residents to reimagine what work can and should be in an environment marked by persistent youth unemployment. These case studies help build a model for how music both participates in and challenges notions of liberal governmentality, offering alternative models for popular politics in the African city.

Throughout the dissertation, musical “lessons” help orient the reader in the sound world that animates Médina’s social life. Put together, the sonic and kinetic dimensions of Médina’s associational life highlighted throughout this work provide a unique understanding of this postcolonial African city’s flows and contingencies, its institutions, its changes, and its politics.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Monday, September 30, 2024

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