Africa today –
n Ancestors, Communality, Function and
n Characteristics – tonality, scales,
n Regional aspects – urban v.rural, old v.
n Vocal characteristics
n Instrumental traditions
Week 11 - Africa (Sub Saharan)
n Birthplace of mankind
n Separation of North and South due to
divide of Sahara
n Until 100 years ago Sub Saharan had no
n Oral-aural culture
n Music tied to social context and religious
n Central to mores of Sub-saharan society is
belief that the moral life of community is
watched over by the ancestors.
n Ancestors communicate through music –
in particular the drum.
n Music strengthens moral values that
inform community life.
Functions of Music
n Deters individual or community
n Intrinsic to age-set ceremonies
n Important for obtaining happiness
n Without music to organise community
events society is dead. Example of
Greeting in Uganda
n Example of Work Song.
n Africans judge musical performance not so
much for entertainment as social
n Songs for all activities. How well does the
music aid and affect the activity?
n Music both practical and aesthetic.
n Praise-singing and aural history is bound
up in music.
n ‘Jahli’ or ‘griots’ in Mali, Gambia,
n In many traditions professionals are born
into a caste or class and learn from their
n In some areas professionals are also witch
doctors or healers in some way. Chosen
by the spirit world.
n Now there are conservatories in some
cities – and some teach traditional musics.
n Big differences between city and rural
areas. Cities have evolved hybrid musics
based on blend of traditional and western.
Traditional areas have retained more of
n Religious divides in most areas. Islam and
Christianity vie with traditional gods and
Islam South of Sahara
n Islam is strong in both in East and West Africa
and especially in desert and coastal areas.
n Big effect of slavery across Africa – Islamic
culture used and accepted slaves long before
the Europeans. Example of Zanzibar.
n Mixed cultures that are both Islamic and African
are particularly rich culturally – the islamisation
was often only a matter of convenience to avoid
n Example of Sudan and southern Egypt and
n Originally Portuguese, then Dutch, then British,
French and Germans in a big carve up in the
n Colonisation set Africans against Africans.
European armies included lots of Africans.
Example of Boers.
n Partitioning of Africa by European powers in the
19th century is still in place despite
independence in post war era.
Vocal Styles in Sub saharan
n 3,000 different societies and over 1,000 distinct
languages. All have considerable variation in style and
n Also correspondences and similarities.
n Vocal music is predominant – central to religious
practice – song words express belief.
n Language and music is particularly intimate in Africa.
n Musical lines follows contour of speech, instrumental
melodies act as surrogates for vocal melodies.
n Antiphonal singing – call and response structure.
Reflects social function of music.
n Initiation Song
n Particular societies have note-sets. 5,6 or 7 –
diatonic, anhemitonic (no semi-tones or
n As with speech shape of melody tends to fall –
downdrift. A high tone at the end is lower that
tone at beginning.
n Call and response may be structured by
n Variation of patterns in words and melodies by
professionals is highly prized.
n Organising force of all African expressions
n Derived from Speech and drummers often
represent a specific speech-text.
n Drums speak. Melody of drums is
important. This works with layers of
drums within ensembles.
n Interplay of cross-rhythms. Polyrhythmic
cycles – or rather polymetric. The ability
to hear two metres concurrently and their
Combinations of simple patterns are combined
to create complexity.
n Master drummer can then invent in the context
of the ongoing patterns and lead into new
n Example of East African polyrhythms.
Xylophones, drums, rattles, shakers, voices.
Call and response.
n Drums – made in many shapes and forms. Some
societies however do not use drums but stamping sticks,
or body percussion, and foot-stamping.
n Idiophones ubiquitous – rattles and shakers.
n Flutes made from natural local materials – cane, grass,
gourd, horn, millet.
n Single and double reed instruments and natural
n Plucked strings – lutes, harps, arched harps and lyres.
Example of Ugandan lyre.
n Bowed lutes in Eastern Africa and spiked fiddles in West
Africa. Example of Tanzanian one-string fiddle.
n Some instruments typically solo – others
are ensemble – xylophones and
n Llamellaphone also use interlocking
patterns – Example of Zimbabwean
n Ensemble panpipes.
n African musicians have been enthusiastic in
taking up Western instruments and adapting
techniques to them – also amplification.
n Lots is local forms based on blends – Kwela,
n Great Success of World Music as a sector of
popular music – has made some African
Youssou Ndour (1955-)
n Senegalese singer.
n From Dakar
n Singing in French. Huge following in
France and French speaking countries.
n Mix of native styles, Western pop
technology and festival culture.
n Wolof language and traditions given new