African Music

Africa is a continent where a rich and diverse cultural heritage exists; hundreds of different languages are spoken in Africa. During the 7th century, Arabs reached North Africa and influenced the existing culture. This is why African and Arab music shares a certain degree of similarity and this extends to some musical instruments as well. Much of traditional African music has not been recorded through the generations and has been passed on to families orally or aurally. Music is especially meaningful to African families in rituals and religious ceremonies.

Musical Instruments

The drum, played either by hand or by using sticks, is an important musical instrument in African culture. They use drums as a means of communication, in fact, much of their history and culture have been passed on for generations through music. Music is a part of their daily life; it is used to convey news, to teach, to tell a story, and for religious purposes.

The variety of musical instruments is as diverse as their culture. Africans make musical instruments out of any material that can produce sound. These include finger bells, flutes, horns, musical bow, thumb piano, trumpets, and xylophones.

Singing and Dancing

A singing technique called "call and response" is evident in African vocal music. In "call and response" a person leads by singing a phrase which is then answered by a group of singers. This technique is still very much used in today's music; for example, it is used in gospel music.

Dancing requires the movement of various body parts in time to the rhythm. A type of popular music that features social commentary is the "highlife." Dancing is known as a key mode of communication in African tradition. African dance often uses gestures, props, body paint and costumes to emphasize complex movements, body parts, and symbols.

Popular African Music Styles

There are many genres of African music that are popular, from jazz to afrobeat, and even heavy metal. Here are a few famous styles:

  • Highlife: This pop music and dance genre originated in Ghana in the 20th century. Today, highlife is incorporated in Ghanaian and Nigerian styles of music and involves sounds like jazzy horns, several guitars, and an uptempo beat.
  • Juju: This style of Nigerian music is popular and comes from traditional Yoruba percussion. The term translates to "something being thrown" and gained a big international following in the 1980s.
  • Kwaito: Emerging out of South Africa in the 1990s, Kwaito is a type of house music featuring African sounds and samples similar to hip hop music. Lyrics are considered an expression and is often party music that is sung, rapped and shouted at dance clubs.
  • Makossa: This funky bass rhythm accompanied by a horn section and vocals expresses a unified sound. This popular urban music style is typically danced to in Cameroonian clubs and means "dance" in the Duala language. While it is similar to the music style Soukous, Makossa uses the horn and bass more in its music.