The Full Wiki

Music of Africa: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Geo-political map of Africa divided for ethnomusicological purposes, after Alan P. Merriam, 1959.

Africa is a vast continent and its regions and nations have distinct musical traditions. Most importantly, the music of north Africa (red region on map) has a different history from that of Sub-Saharan African music.[1]


North African music

The music of northern Africa has a considerable range, from the music of ancient Egypt to the Berber and the Tuareg music of the desert nomads. The region's art music has for centuries followed the outline of Arab and Andalusian classical music: its popular contemporary genres include the Algerian Raï. For further details see: Music of Egypt, Music of Libya, Music of Tunisia, Music of Algeria, Music of Morocco and Music of Mauritania.

With these may be grouped the music of Sudan and of the Horn of Africa, including the music of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia.

Sub-Saharan music

African traditional music is frequently functional in nature. Performances may be long and often involve the participation of the audience.[2] There are, for example, many different kinds of work songs, songs accompanying childbirth, marriage, hunting and political activities, music to ward off evil spirits and to pay respects to good spirits, the dead and the ancestors. None of this is performed outside its intended social context and much of it is associated with a particular dance. Some of it, performed by professional musicians, is sacral music or ceremonial and courtly music performed at royal courts.

The emphasis upon communal singing in Sub-Saharan African music has, as in Europe and Oceania, led to the development of harmony and the homophonic texture. Formally, a lot of music uses a call and response structure with elaborate improvisation, variation and development based on rhythmic cycles of varying lengths, of backbeat and syncopation.[2] Musically it may be divided into four regions:


Musical instruments

Hand drumming is significant throughout Africa

Besides using the voice, which has been developed to use various techniques such as complex melisma and yodel, a wide array of musical instruments are used. African musical instruments include a wide range of drums, slit gongs, rattles, double bells as well as melodic instruments like string instruments, (musical bows, different types of harps and harp-like instruments such as the Kora as well as fiddles), many types of xylophone and lamellophone like the mbira, and different types of wind instrument like flutes and trumpets.

Drums used in African traditional music include tama talking drums, bougarabou and djembe in West Africa, water drums in Central and West Africa, and the different types of ngoma drums (or engoma) in Central and Southern Africa. Other percussion instruments include many rattles and shakers, such as the kosika, rainstick, bells and woodsticks. Also has lots of other types of drums, and lots of flutes, and lots of stringed instruments, and blowing instruments.

Relationship to language

Many African languages are tonal languages, leading to a close connection between music and language in many African cultures. In singing, the tonal pattern or the text puts some constraints on the melodic patterns. On the other hand, in instrumental music a native speaker of a language can often perceive a text or texts in the music. This effect also forms the basis of drum languages (talking drums).[3]

Influences on African Music

Historically, several factors have influenced the tribal music of Africa: the environment, various cultures, politics, and population movement. All of these factors essentially go hand in hand. Each African tribe evolved in a different area of the continent, which means that they ate different foods, faced different weather conditions, and came in contact with different tribes than the other societies did. Each tribe moved at different rates and to different places than the others, and thus they were influenced by different people and circumstances. Furthermore, each society did not necessarily operate under the same government, which also significantly influenced their music styles.[4]

Popular music

African popular music, like African traditional music, is vast and varied. Most contemporary genres of African popular music build on cross-pollination with western popular music. Many genres of popular music like blues, jazz and rumba derive to varying degrees from musical traditions from Africa, taken to the Americas by African slaves. These rhythms and sounds have subsequently been adapted by newer genres like rock, rhythm and blues. Likewise, African popular music has adopted elements, particularly the musical instruments and recording studio techniques of western music. African music is often determined by the region that it is practiced in.[5]

Influence on American music

African music has been a major factor in the shaping of what we know today as blues and jazz. These styles have all borrowed from African rhythms and sounds, brought over the Atlantic ocean by slaves. Paul Simon, on his album "Graceland" has used African bands and music, especially Ladysmith Black Mambazo along with his own lyrics.

As the rise of rock'n'roll music is often credited as having begun with 1940s American blues, and with so many genres having branched off from rock - the myriad subgenres of heavy metal, punk rock, pop music and many more - it can be argued that African music has been at the root of a very significant portion of all recent popular or vernacular music.

African music has also had a significant impact on such well-known pieces of work as Disney's The Lion King and The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, which blend traditional tribal music with modern culture. Songs such as Circle of Life and He Lives in You blend a combination of Swahili and English lyrics, as well as traditional African styles of music with more modern western styles. Additionally, the Disney classic incorporates numerous words in the native language of Swahili. The ever-popular "hakuna matata," for example, is an actual Swahili phrase that does in fact mean "no worries." Characters such as Simba, Kovu, and Zira are also Swahili words which mean "lion," "scar," and "hate," respectively. [6][1]

See also


  1. ^ GCSE Music - Edexcel Areas of Study, Coordination Group Publications, UK, 2006, page 34, quoting examination board syllabus.
  2. ^ a b GCSE Music - Edexcel Areas of Study, Coordination Group Publications, UK, 2006, page 36.
  3. ^ GCSE Music - Edexcel Areas of Study, Coordination Group Publications, UK, 2006, page 35, quoting examination board syllabus.
  4. ^ Nketia, J.H. Kwabena. The Music of Africa. New York: Norton and Company, 1974. Print.
  5. ^ Scaruffi, Piero (2007). A History of Popular Music before Rock Music. ISBN 978-0-9765531-2-0
  6. ^ "The Characters." Lion King Pride. 2008. Disney, 1997-2008. Web. 01 February, 2010.

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address