When the Streets Speak: Investigating Music, Memory, and Identity in the Lives of Abidjanese Street Children

Africa currently has tens of millions of street children roaming its city streets, making it one of the leading regions in the world for children who have made the streets their home. Because of the exponential increase in street children over the past decade, the topic of street children has gained uncharted momentum in the world of academia. Until recently, academics have perpetuated the myth of street children as passive helpless beings. However, after fourteen months of observation and research with street children in Abidjan, C?te d’Ivoire, I have found them to be far from passive. They are resilient and active participants in their culture, using their environment to forge an autonomous society of their own. Street children, usually ranging from six to eighteen years of age, traverse urban spaces creating a culture of their own constructed of social hierarchies, a unique language, music and dance, games, and occupations.

In this dissertation, I use music to construct an ethnography that acknowledges and focuses on the streetism (street culture) of children in Abidjan, C?te d’Ivoire. This work focuses on the role of music in the lives of street children in Abidjan, C?te d’Ivoire, which will hopefully alter the presumption of helplessness often assumed for children.

This perspective offers a vantage that articulates the resilience of street children communities and their agency as individuals. Although the situation is undesirable, I believe street children have forged a lifestyle more suitable than what exists in their homes. However, it is only after immersion in their communities, observing them, and asking questions, that we can determine the culturally specific needs of street children. Therefore, through the aforementioned methods, I attempt to answer the following questions using the motifs of resilience, identity, memory, and community: What is the function and role of music in the lives of street children? Without a home and family, as conceived in the Euro-American context, how do street children identify themselves? What might music and performance tell us about the lives of street children? Do street children need to be saved? And, what do street children communities tell us about Ivorian identity and nationalism?