"The Bukom boys" : subcultures and identity transformation in Accra, Ghana

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2003-08
Authors
Salm, Steven J., 1966-
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In the early 1960s, kpanlogo, a unique form of music and dance, became popular in Accra, Ghana. It was created by underclass youth from the Bukom area of Old Accra, the central and oldest part of the city. As a subcultural form, kpanlogo was preceded by rock ‘n’ roll dance clubs which first appeared in early 1957. Both, however, grew to be part of mainstream popular culture, transcending class and generation divides. This study reconstructs the history of youth subcultures in Accra in the late colonial and early independence eras by examining how unique group identities emerged and how they were closely integrated with the creation, adoption, and adaptation of popular culture forms from within and outside of the continent. It shows how the creation of these subcultures was closely tied to the changing economic, political, and social processes that began during the Second World War, but their creation was also connected to an expanding global cultural system carried by new technologies and the increased trans-Atlantic flow of people and ideas. Urban underclass youth successfully merged aspects of American, diaspora, and African influences into new networks of association and created a new urban cultural milieu that was both a reflection of, and acted as an agent on, their changing identity constructs. The development of urban subcultures in Accra interacted with other sociohistorical variables that gave meaning to particular groups of marginalized youth and helped to provide a sense of belonging during the early independence era. The analysis provides insights into group identity transformation among youth, as well as expand upon the broader divisions between the African elite and the masses, between older and younger generations with different worldviews, and between African and Western cultural production. The creation of rock ‘n’ roll and kpanlogo clubs was an act of opposition against class and generational divides, and an effort by the youth to merge their culture and identity into a new hybrid form that incorporated aspects of both global and local influences.

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