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  • Chris Anderson

Music Revision - World Music - African Music

African music is a diverse and vibrant musical tradition that spans the entire African continent, reflecting the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of the continent's people. It's important to note that Africa is incredibly diverse, and there is no single "African music" style but rather a multitude of musical traditions and genres.


1. Rhythmic Complexity:

  • African music is renowned for its complex and intricate rhythms. Percussion instruments, such as drums, talking drums, xylophones, and various types of hand-held percussion, play a central role in creating these rhythms.

  • Polyrhythms, where multiple layers of rhythms are played simultaneously, are a hallmark of many African musical styles.

2. Percussion Instruments:

  • Drums are a fundamental component of African music. Different regions and ethnic groups use various types of drums, each with its unique sound and role in the music.

  • The djembe from West Africa, the talking drum from West Africa, and the balafon from West and Central Africa are just a few examples of African percussion instruments.

3. Melodic Instruments:

  • While rhythm is central, melodic instruments also play an important role in African music. These include instruments like the kora (a harp-like instrument), the mbira (thumb piano), and various types of flutes and stringed instruments.

4. Vocal Traditions:

  • African music often features powerful and expressive vocal performances. Singing styles can range from solo vocals to group chants and harmonies.

  • In some African cultures, storytelling and oral traditions are passed down through song.

5. Regional Diversity:

  • Africa is a vast and culturally diverse continent, and its music reflects this diversity. Each region and ethnic group has its unique musical traditions, scales, and rhythms.

  • For example, West African music, including genres like highlife and Afrobeat, is characterised by its groove-oriented rhythms and percussion. East African music, on the other hand, often incorporates intricate melodic patterns.

6. Traditional and Modern Fusion:

  • Many contemporary African musicians blend traditional elements with modern genres like hip-hop, reggae, jazz, and electronic music. This fusion has given rise to innovative and globally popular styles.

7. Griots and Oral Tradition:

  • In many African societies, there is a tradition of griots or praise singers who are musicians and storytellers responsible for preserving history and cultural knowledge through song and oral tradition.

8. Influence on World Music:

  • African music has had a profound influence on world music. Elements of African rhythms, melodies, and instrumentation can be heard in various music styles worldwide.

9. Dance:

  • Music and dance are inseparable in African culture. Traditional dances often accompany the music, with movements reflecting the rhythms and cultural narratives.

10. Contemporary African Music:

  • Contemporary African music includes popular genres like Afrobeat, Afrobeats, reggae, hip-hop, and various forms of pop music. Artists like Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Youssou N'Dour, and Burna Boy have gained international recognition.

African music is not only a form of entertainment but also a means of storytelling, cultural expression, and community cohesion. It continues to evolve and adapt, reflecting both traditional values and contemporary influences while contributing significantly to the global music landscape.

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