Music of Africa

The lamellophone thumb piano or mbira, a popular instrument in the African Great Lakes

The traditional music of Africa, given the vastness of the continent, is historically ancient, rich and diverse, with different regions and nations of Africa having many distinct musical traditions. Music in Africa is very important when it comes to religion. Songs and music are used in rituals and religious ceremonies, to pass down stories from generation to generation, as well as to sing and dance to.

Traditional music in most of the continent is passed down orally (or aurally) and is not written. In Sub-Saharan African music traditions, it frequently relies on percussion instruments of every variety, including xylophones, djembes, drums, and tone-producing instruments such as the mbira or "thumb piano."[1][2]

The music and dance of the African diaspora, formed to varying degrees on African musical traditions, include American music and many Caribbean genres, such as soca, calypso (see kaiso) and zouk. Latin American music genres such as the rumba, conga, bomba, cumbia, salsa and samba were founded on the music of enslaved Africans, and have in turn influenced African popular music.[1]

Like the music of Asia, India and the Middle East, it is a highly rhythmic music. African music consists of complex rhythmic patterns, often involving one rhythm played against another to create a polyrhythm. The most common polyrhythm plays three beats on top of two, like a triplet played against straight notes.Beyond the rhythmic nature of the music, African music differs from Western music in that the various parts of the music do not necessarily combine in a harmonious fashion. African musicians unlike Western musicians, do not seek to combine different sounds in a way that is pleasing to the ear. Instead their aim is to express life, in all its aspects, through the medium of sound. Each instrument or part may represent a particular aspect of life, or a different character; the through-line of each instrument/part matters more than how the different instruments and parts fit together. Understanding African music gets even more difficult when you consider that it does not have a written tradition; there is little or no written music to study or analyze. This makes it almost impossible to notate the music – especially the melodies and harmonies – using the Western staff. There are subtle differences in pitch and intonation that do not easily translate to Western notation. That said, African music most closely adheres to Western tetratonic (three-notes), pentatonic (five-note), hexatonic (six-note), and heptatonic (seven-note) scales. Harmonization of the melody is accomplished by singing in parallel thirds, fourths, or fifths. Another distinguishing form of African music is its call-and-response nature: one voice or instrument plays a short melodic phrase, and that phrase is echoed by another voice or instrument. The call-and-response nature extends to the rhythm, where one drum will play a rhythmic pattern, echoed by another drum playing the same pattern. African music is also highly improvised. (This speaks to the lack of a written tradition.) A core rhythmic pattern is typically played, with drummers then improvising new patterns over the static original patterns.

Music by regions

North Africa and the Horn of Africa

North Africa is the seat of ancient Egypt and Carthage, civilizations with strong ties to the ancient Near East and which influenced the ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Eventually, Egypt fell under Persian rule followed by Greek and Roman rule, while Carthage was later ruled by Romans and Vandals. North Africa was later conquered by the Arabs, who established the region as the Maghreb of the Arab world.

Aar Maanta performing with his band at Pier Scheveningen Strandweg in The Hague, Netherlands

Like the musical genres of the Nile Valley and the Horn of Africa (sky-blue and dark green region on map),[3] its music has close ties with Middle Eastern music and utilizes similar melodic modes (maqamat).[4] North African music 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 Arabic and Andalusian classical music: its popular contemporary genres include the Algerian Raï.

With these may be grouped the music of Sudan and of the Horn of Africa, including the music of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. Somali music is typically pentatonic, using five pitches per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale.[3] The music of the Ethiopian highlands uses a fundamental modal system called qenet, of which there are four main modes: tezeta, bati, ambassel, and anchihoy.[5] Three additional modes are variations on the above: tezeta minor, bati major, and bati minor.[6] Some songs take the name of their qenet, such as tizita, a song of reminiscence.[5]

West, Central, Southeast and South Africa

The ethnomusicological pioneer Arthur Morris Jones (1889–1980) observed that the shared rhythmic principles of Sub-Saharan African music traditions constitute one main system.[7] Similarly, master drummer and scholar C. K. Ladzekpo affirms the "profound homogeneity" of sub-Saharan African rhythmic principles.[8]

African traditional music is frequently functional in nature. Performances may be long and often involve the participation of the audience.[9] 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 socialess 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:[7]

Southern, Central and West Africa are similarly in the broad Sub-Saharan musical tradition. They also have several ancillary influences, from the Muslim regions of Africa, and in modern times, the Americas and Western Europe.

Azande song from the Congo performed with xylophone.

West African music has regional variations, with Muslim regions incorporating elements of Islamic music and non-Muslim regions more influenced by indigenous traditions, according to the historian Sylviane Diouf and ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik.[10] According to Diouf, traditional Muslim West African Music incorporates elements of the Islamic call to prayer (originating from Bilal ibn Rabah, an Abyssinian African Muslim in the early 7th century), including lyrics praising God, melody, note changes, "words that seem to quiver and shake" in the vocal chords, dramatic changes in musical scales, and nasal intonation. According to Kubik, the vocal style of Muslim West African singers "using melisma, wavy intonation, and so forth is a heritage of that large region of West Africa that had been in contact with the Arabic-Islamic world of the Maghreb since the seventh and eighth centuries." In terms of instrumentation, Kubik notes that stringed instruments (including ancestors of the banjo) were traditionally favored by Muslim West Africans, while drumming was traditionally favored by non-Muslim West Africans.[10]

Other Languages
asturianu: Música africana
azərbaycanca: Afrika musiqisi
čeština: Africká hudba
Esperanto: Afrika muziko
Bahasa Indonesia: Musik Afrika
italiano: Musica africana
македонски: Африканска музика
Nederlands: Afrikaanse muziek
português: Música da África
Simple English: Music of Africa
српски / srpski: Афричка музика
中文: 非洲音乐