African Music

African music can often be described as wide and diverse. This article will concentrate on the music of West Africa. West Africa consists of these fifteen countries. Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and  Togo.

 

The use of music is not limited to just strictly entertainment in West Africa or the rest of Africa for that matter. In a large part of West Africa it serves a purpose to the local communities and helps in the conduct of day to day routines. Most, if not all traditional African music supplies appropriate sounds and dancing for work and for religious events including childbirth, naming, rites of passage, marriage and all funerals. The rhythms and sounds of the drum(s) are used in a form of communication as well as in most cultural expression.

 

African music is primarily percussive. Drums, rattles, bells and gongs predominate even important melodic instruments such as xylophones and plucked strings are played with percussive techniques. The most celebrated African music instruments are membrane drums.  Th e famous ‘talking drums’ of West Africa, such as the atumpan of Ghana  can imitate speech tones and are sometimes used to signal messages. Harp-lutes, such as the Gambian kora, are popular in West African music.  An instrument unique to African music and African-American music is the kalimba, mbira or sanza (called thumb piano in earlier writings); it consists of a set of thumb-plucked metal tongues mounted on a board, often with a gourd resonator.  African music melodies are based on short units, on which performers improvise. Though melodies are often simple, rhythms are complicated by European standards, with much syncopation (accents on beats other than the primary  one), hemiola (the juxtaposition of twos and threes) and polyrhythm (simultaneous counter- rhythms).  While Western rhythms are classified as ‘additive’ (time divided into equal sections, e.g. 12 beats divided 4+ 4 + 4), African music rhythms are usually ‘divisive’ (unequal sections, e.g. 12 beats divided 5 + 7 or 3 + 4 + 5).  An unusual aspect of African rhythm is what has been called the ‘metronome sense’, the ability of many musicians to perform for long periods without deviating from the exact tempo. Group performances are most typical, and the ‘call-and-response’ style with a solo leader and response group is used throughout the African continent.  Most African music is based on forms of diatonic scales that are closely related to European scales. The clave pattern originated in sub-Saharan African music traditions. The triple-pulse clave as the guide pattern for many musical genre from ethnic groups across Africa. The clave matrix is generated by cross-rhythm.  Key patterns represent the structural core of a musical piece, something like a condensed and extremely concentrated expression of the motional possibilities open to the players. Key type patterns are generated throughout  the cross-rhythms. They typically consist of 12 or 16 beats, and have a bipartite structure which evenly divides the pattern into two rhythmically opposed sections of 6 or 8 beats each.

 

Some African scholars argue that the shift to writing down African music compromises the performance. Others, who oppose the transcription of African music argue that songs tend to be forced to comply with western musical idiom or stylistic writing.

 

A partial list of named Africa music rhythms:

 

Abioueka

Abondon

Bada

Balakulanya

Balan Sonde

Bando Djei

Bao

Bari/didadi

Bolokonondo

Bolonba

Dalah

Damba

Demosoni

Kelen

Dennadon

Diagbe Diansa

Dibon II

Djaa Kouroussa

Djaa Siguiri

Djabara

Djambadon

Djole

Donaba

Dunumbe

Fanga

Kirin/Ngri, Kofili

Komo

Konden I

Konden II

Konkoba Dundun

 

Konkoba II

Konkoba III

Kono

Kononari

Konowoulen I

Fankani

Farabakan

Fe

Foro Binge

Foule

Fura. G Beredu Garankedon

Gbunkundo

Gidamba

Gomba

Kadan

Kakilambe

Kala

Kanin

Kassaassa Djibo Kassa Soro

Kebendo, Kele Mse

Kemoba, Kennefoli

Konowoulen II

Kontemuru

Koro Koteba

Kuku

Kurabadon

Kurubi

 

 

Lafe

Lekule

Lengjen

Liberte I

Liberte II

Maane

Macru

Mamaya

Marakadon

Mendiani

Menie

Mola

Molekani Djou Jee

Moribayassa

Nama

Namani

Nantalomba

NGoron

Noumou

Saa

Sanja

Senefoly

Sidiyasa

Sigi

Sinte

Sirankuruni

Siwe

Sobonincun

Sofa

 

Sogolon

Soko

Soli

Soli de Manian

Soliwulen

Sorofoly

Sorsornet

Sounou

Suku

Sungurubani

Taama

Tage

Takonani

Takosaba

Tani

Tansole

Tiantigi

Tiriba

Tisamba

Toro

Warba

Wassolon Soli

Wassolonka

Woima

Wolosedon

Wonde

Yankadi

Yogui

Zaouli

 

 

 

African music has been a major factor in the shaping of what we know today as Dixieland, the Blues and Jazz. These styles have all borrowed from African music rhythms and sounds, brought over the Atlantic ocean by slaves. African music in Sub-Saharan Africa is mostly upbeat polyrhythmic and joyful, whereas the Blues should be viewed as an aesthetic development resulting from the conditions of slavery in the new world.


In recent decades, traditional African music has tended to be overshadowed by new hybrid urban forms such as Highlife (Ghana), Juju (Nigeria), Congolese (Zaire) and Kwela (south Africa) which blend elements from Western Pop and Disco idioms with local features.

With Fela Kuti being the prime example of this musical shift in African music. Check out drummer, Tony Allen !

 

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