Music of Africa

The rhythm of music resembles the national heartbeat. Sometimes it is steady, and sometimes it is irregular. It is a pattern of changes that never stops. This metaphor may reflect the music of Africa. It accumulates the melody of the previous centuries. African music is a form of representation of the world that is both beautiful and ugly. It symbolizes existential experiences of life that people lead within the challenging and isolated environment. In terms of the social, economic and political situation of the twentieth century, music has been reflecting the changes that occurred. The paper focuses on the leading features of African popular music, its new forms, and the ways it appeals to people.

The combination of the music from the past and the modern tendencies has produced a unified African sound that differs from the rest of the world. The notion “music of Africa” defines any sound produced by Africans. Indeed, “music is the special form of flexible abstract thinking” that helps to formulate and use “all kinds of configurations in the creative and integrative purposes”. In some cases, the sound may be made with the mouth only and be recognized as the “African voices.” However, African music is famous for its melody created by numerous instruments; some of them may be found exclusively on this continent. The leading instrument is the drums, the first musical instruments on the planet.

Undoubtedly, the drums are very popular. Their variety is impressive. For example, talking drums fascinate people by imitating intonations and rhythms of speech. It is interesting that each part of the continent has a particular type of drums: in West Africa, bougarabou and djembe are widespread; water drums are used in Central Africa; ngoma drums are mostly played in Southern Africa. Apart from the drums, there are gongs, bells, rattles, and different harp-like instruments, such as the kora. In fact, the kora is a unique instrument. It organizes notes in a way that allows playing cross rhythms. This special feature had an impact on the music of other nations in the twentieth century. Thus, the gravi-kora that may be common in the United States replicates the principles of the African kora. Other instruments are mbira, lamellophone, xylophone, trumpets, kosika, sticks, rattles, shakers, and flutes.

Technology and globalization have a remarkable impact on African music. Similarly to the penetration of kora into the music of the United States, popular DJ’s tendencies influenced the music of Africa in the twentieth century. Such musicians as Guines’s Moty Kante, Senegal’s Baaba Maal, Mali’s Salif Keita, and others “have brought ancient melodies into arrangements for electric instruments…thereby getting themselves and their albums in festivals and dance DJ’s charts in Europe and America”. Those melodies were dance-oriented. They became popular after World War II. In Ghana, for instance, “tribal elements were added to the highlife mix, which retained its imitation of indigenous instruments” and the guitar. As a matter of fact, the increased level of media circulation and migration resulted in the development of transnational music communities. Under such circumstances, African musicians started to assimilate into the United States and the major cities of Europe, sharing their music with the world.

The assimilation and intercontinental connections formed three main categories of the African popular music. The first category consists of traditional music. For example, there is sakara, apala, and dadakuada in Nigeria. The second category includes music created by the interaction of Arabic and Western cultures – ajasco, fuji, juju, and others. The third category represents the music made under the influence of American and African cultures – raga rap, Afro-rock, Ozzidi, soul, and variations of jazz. According to the research, the process of assimilation also brought many disadvantages. Mbaegbu argues that under outside influenceAfrican musicians “have turned their brand of music as medium for propagating and disseminating doctrines of licentiousness, sexual liberalism and moral indifference”. In fact, Fela’s Afro band can serve as a vivid example of rebellious attitude. Nevertheless, the twentieth century was the time when the music of Africa started to spread its influence and to develop in numerous genres. That fact may correspond to the Luo people of Kenya and Tanzania who experienced a musical evolution after World War II. More musical genres appeared, such as ondoro, dodo, orutu, onanda, bodi, and others. They reflected the cultural and social stages that the community was experiencing in an effort to accommodate to the changing world. 

The multiplicity of genres reflects how the society resolved both local and global problems in Africa. In the twentieth century, with the advent of new political ideologies in Africa, including democracy, music started to be considered as a political instrument. Music that related to the politics was a new class of melody that is the primary determinant of the choice in lyrics and melody. It had been existing in the mixture of forms: “one track music in an album, a complete album, electioneering campaign song, jingles, state or town or party songs/anthems, rally songs, and spontaneous compositions”. Additionally, there was religious music that “inspires the worshippers to express their loyalty to the deity”. Moreover, religious hymns may be used for thanksgiving, petition, and reparation. Hymns also denounce evil acts and promote virtuous deeds by teaching morals. African composers used religious music to “redirect the straying society”. Thus, one of the most important features of any form of African music is an intention to share emotion and concerns as well as to express the ideas.

Without doubt, African music can influence politics and bring changes. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a new form of cabaret music, namely rai, appeared in Morocco. Rai may be translated as “opinion” or “advice” due to the fact that “the lyrics often took a blatant approach to social and personal issues or because “Ta rai!” was a frequent audience response”. Rai singers were “agitating for freedom from France in the 1950s”. That type of popular music led to a rebelling and brought independence. People of Africa “see music as a weapon for correcting moral deviants and as a medium through which a lost society can be shocked back to life”. Furthermore, they are not afraid to use this weapon and to experiment with its possibilities.

Undoubtedly, African music is unique. Its remarkable character belongs to the set of musical instruments, such as kora, drums, mbira, and others. In the twentieth century, political and social ideas had changed. Technology and globalization lead to assimilation of music into politics and economy. As a result, music became the form of reaction to the transformations in the world. Thus, political and religious genres of music appeared to influence people. In Africa, music penetrates into various spheres of life determining the further development of the society. It remains highly connected to the traditions and values. Thus, the history of the continent is expressed by the means of the popular music that is currently famous around the world. African music traditions are diverse, but they have the profound homogeneity that unites people around the world.

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