Music, rituals and identity: ethnographic research in Malawi

At One Education, we understand the role Music plays in bringing people together and broadening horizons. Find out how we have supported one of our Music Instructors, Leman Mirazi, to carry out exciting research in Malawi, gaining new ideas and expertise to enrich the knowledge of our team and open up new possibilities for pupils.
Boys' initiation ceremony gatekeepers dressed in traditional dance costumes in Malawi, surrounded by a group of young boys.
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Often, when we talk about the importance of music and its role within the learning experience, we consider the many skills that children stand to gain by learning to sing or playing a musical instrument, boosting their memory, fine motor skills and cognitive development, ultimately supporting pupils’ academic attainment.

However, it is also important to consider the social function of music, as a means of bringing people together, bridging divides and broadening horizons.

At One Education, we are committed to supporting the holistic development of children, ensuring they can access a broad and balanced curriculum that gives them the foundations to grow. Our Music Team plays an essential part in helping us to achieve this vision, encouraging children to embrace their unique identities whilst finding commonality with others.

We are so proud of the drive and determination that our team members show in striving to deliver the best possible education for pupils, so we are always eager to celebrate their successes and learn from their expertise.

This week, we are delighted to spotlight Leman Mirazi, one of our talented Music Instructors, and celebrate the wonderful work he has been doing, both at home and further afield.

Music, rituals and identity: ethnographic research in Malawi

As part of his PhD research, Leman has been exploring the historic identities of the Yao people through the lens of music. One Education has been proud to invest in this important work, supporting Leman to take his research journey all the way to Malawi. There, he was able to gain an in-depth understanding of the knowledge, experiences and perspectives of the community, whilst finding lots of inspiration to inform his own teaching practices and strategies.

Leman Mirazi en route to Malawi
Leman Mirazi en route to Malawi

Like most communities, music plays a crucial role in shaping the Yao people’s sense of self and belonging. Their identities are both African and Muslim; whilst these two traditions often go hand in hand, there can also be some tensions between them. Leman’s research investigates the way songs are used to reflect both elements of the Yao identity and bridge any gaps between them.

As part of his fieldwork in Malawi, Leman got the chance to study key rituals, including the initiation of boys and girls into adulthood. By observing ceremonial songs and dances, Leman discovered how music is used to strengthen the sense of belonging within the group, giving people the opportunity to participate in something familiar and collectively shared. In capturing the common values, lifestyles and artistic expressions shared by the community, music facilitates the continuous confirmation of identity and the renewal of social solidarity.

Crucially, Leman’s research revealed the importance of hybridity in music. Rather than clinging firmly to the notion of authenticity, it is by blending together the traditional and the modern that the past can be revived and brought into the future. With this insight, Leman looks forward to supporting young musicians back in the UK as they explore creative and exciting ways to forge their own identities.

People singing and dancing at the coronation of a village chief
People singing and dancing at the coronation of a village chief

We can’t wait to hear all the songs, stories and ideas that Leman collected from Malawi. The Music Team are eager to learn from his experiences and expand their own expertise, incorporating his new knowledge into their Djembe teaching.

With the opening of the North Steel and African Music Centre, children will have lots of opportunities to embrace music from other cultures, celebrate their own heritage and even create a new unique sound. We are sure children will love hearing all about Leman’s travels, getting the chance to build on their cultural capital and play a new style of music they have never heard before.

Click here to sign up to one of our Music Centres or find out more.

Leman really enjoyed his travels to Malawi and hopes to return soon to learn even more. As a teacher of African music, it was a great opportunity to enrich his own knowledge of the different styles and genres that are out there, gathering more material for his music lessons back home.

He is particularly interested in looking more closely at children’s songs, considering how they have evolved over the years and how they are used in schools, contrasting with the way music is taught in the UK. In this way, he can reflect on his own practice and continue to grow, working together with the wider team to create exciting opportunities for pupils.

Boys playing bamboo percussion
Boys playing bamboo percussion

As a team, we are incredibly proud of Leman and inspired by his determination to go the extra mile (or a few thousand!) for his students.

At One Education, we are all united by our vision to achieve excellence in education, always putting children first in everything we do. To find out more about the wonderful musical opportunities we have in store for your pupils, explore our Music Services here.

Keep an eye on our latest news and blogs to hear more of our success stories!

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