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Music of Africa

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Africa is a continent with a wide range of ethnic, cultural and lingustic diversity. A general description of African Music is not possible as there is no distinctly pan-African music, only shared forms of musical expression. Nevertheless, there are regional similarities between dissimilar groups, as well as popular trends known across the continent.

Sub-Saharan music has as its distinguishing feature a rhythmic and complexity that has spread to other regions, especially to the Americas. Many Caribbean and Latin American music genres like rumba and salsa, as well as African American music were founded to varying degrees on musical traditions from Africa, taken there by African slaves

The remarkable aspect of African polyrhythm is the discernible coherence of the resultant rhythmic pattern. Pitch polyphony exists in the form of parallel intervals (generally thirds, fourths, and fifths), overlapping choral antiphony and solo-choral response, and occasional simultaneous independent melodies. In addition to voice, many wind and string instruments perform melodic functions. Common are bamboo flutes, ivory trumpets, and the one-string ground bow, which uses a hole in the ground as a resonator.

During colonial times, European instruments such as saxophones, trumpets, and guitars were adopted by many African musicians; their sounds were integrated into the traditional patterns. Scale systems vary between regions but are generally diatonic.

Music is highly functional in African ethnic life, accompanying birth, marriage, hunting, and even political activities. Much music exists solely for entertainment, ranging from narrative songs to highly stylized musical theater. Similarities with other cultures, particularly Indian and Middle Eastern, can be ascribed primarily to the Islamic invasion.

Folk music

African folk music is mostly functional in nature. There are many different kinds of work songs, and ceremonial or religious music, but none of these are performed outside of their intended social context. Traditional African music is rhythmically complex, and are polyrhythmic. African musical instruments include a wide array of drums and other percussion instruments, including talking drums, slit gongs, rattles and water drums, as well as melodic instruments like fiddles, harps and the balafon, and lamellophones such as the mbira.

Popular music

Genres of popular African Music include:



  • Tracey, Hugh. (1961). The evolution of African music and its function in the present day. Johannesburg: Institute for the Study of Man in Africa.
  • Koetting, James T (1992). “Africa/Ghana”, Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World’s Peoples, Second edition, 67-104, New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0028726022.

Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses materials from the Wikipedia.

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