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Music and Power

Court-music instru- ments of the sultan of Damagaram
Ethnic group: Hausa
Canadian Museum of Civilization

Video Excerpt

  Court-music instruments of the sultan of Damagaram / Photo: Musée national du Niger


This official set of musical instruments is considered noble because it is used to play the genealogical repertoire that traces the history of a chiefdom and constitutes the ancient royal music of the Hausa countries. The instruments are the embodiment of power: the number of horns, drums and double bells is proportional to the importance of the chiefdom. There can be close to a hundred of them at important events.

Court musicians sing and play only for members of the royal family or for a person whose authority is linked to tradition, such as the sultan; the head of a province, district, village or tribe; and court dignitaries. The musical ensemble, called the makadan hwada, entertains the court during festivals and enthronement ceremonies, and on Thursday evenings, before the days of worship. A piece called Sara, which traces the history of the chiefdom, is played in honour of deceased chiefs. It is a type of greeting addressed to those in power and their descendants in the form of instrumental mottos that are also played during the principal Muslim celebrations (Ramadan and Tabaski) and on national holidays. This music accompanies the sultan on his travels, heightening his prestige in other villages or the region.