African Music is a wild mix of sounds, colour and tradition. Passed down from age to age, the core of African music could be described as cultural, having significance through rituals and passages of rite. Largely influenced by drums and traditional rattles of shakers, much historical African music is acapella or unaccompanied.
There is a clear divide between Northern and Southern African music. Northern African music is significantly influenced Arabic sources. As the seat of the start of civilization as we know it, much of the music from African countries lying north of the Sahara stretching round into the Horn of Africa carries an Eastern Arabic theme, genre’s such as Berber and Tuareg music of the nomads mixing with Arabic and Andalusian Classical Music.
African traditional music is frequently functional in nature. Performances may be long and often involve the participation of the audience. There are, for example, little 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.
Musicologically, Sub-Saharan Africa may be divided into four regions;
The eastern region includes the music of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe as well as the islands of Madagascar, the Seychelles, Mauritius and The Comoros. Many of these have been influenced by Arabic music and also by the music of India, Indonesia and Polynesia, though the region’s indigenous musical traditions are primarily in the mainstream of the sub-Saharan Niger–Congo-speaking people.
The southern region includes the music of South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and Angola.
The central region includes the music of Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia, including Pygmy music.
West African music includes the music of Senegal and the Gambia, of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Liberia, of the inland plains of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, the coastal nations of Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo as well as islands such as Sao Tome and Principe.
Southern, Central and West Africa are similarly in the broad Sub-Saharan musical tradition, but draw their ancillary influences primarily from Western Europe and North America.
Besides using the voice, which has been developed to use various techniques such as complex hard 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 like musical bows, different types of harps and harp-like instruments such as the Kora as well as fiddles, many kinds of xylophone and lamellophone like the mbira, and different types of wind instrument like horns, flutes and trumpets.
Drums used in African traditional music include talking drums or tama 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, rain stick, bells and wood sticks. Also, Africa has lots of other types of drums, and lots of flutes, and lots of stringed and wind instruments.
Influences on African Music
Historically, many factors have influenced the tribal music of Africa. The music has been influenced by language, the environment, a variety of cultures, politics, and population migration, all of which are intermingled.
African tribes were wide spread and the individual characteristics of their cultural music evolved at different rates of time dependent largely who specifically came into contact with the various African cultures, and when.
While there have been influences on African music, especially Popular African genre’s from abroad, it is also true to say that African culture and music made an impact on global musical genre’s we recognise easily today.
Influence on North 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.
On his album Graceland, the American folk musician Paul Simon employs African bands, rhythms and melodies, especially Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as a musical backdrop for his own lyrics.
In the early 1970s, Remi Kabaka, an Afro-rock avant-garde drummer, laid the initial drum patterns that created the Afro-rock sounds in bands such as Ginger Baker’s Airforce, the Rolling Stones, and Steve Winwood’s Traffic. He continued to work with Winwood, Paul McCartney, and Mick Jagger throughout the decade.
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.
Certain Sub-Saharan African musical traditions also had a significant influence on such well-known works 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 Zulu and English lyrics, as well as traditional African styles of music with more modern western styles. Additionally, the Disney classic incorporates numerous words from the Bantu Swahili language. The phrase “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.
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 and rhythm and blues.
Likewise, African popular music has adopted elements, particularly the musical instruments and recording studio techniques of western music.
During the 1980s, the West rediscovered the folk music of Africa. Afro-rock started with commercial groups based in the west, such as Osibisa.
During the 1980s, the styles and genres of the various African countries, such as South Africa’s “mbaqanga”, Zimbabwe’s “jit”, Zaire’s “soukous”, Nigeria’s “juju” and Ghana’s “highlife”, had a chance to develop and proliferate around the world.