“The Importance of Music in the African Culture:More Than Just a song”

Music has traditionally played an important role in African culture. It is essential in representing the strong African heritage and its importance can be seen in many aspects of the culture. Unlike many cultures today, ancient African cultures encompassed music into their everyday lives. Dance, story-telling and religious practices are all grounded on the music of the culture.(History of African Music)

Music is especially vital in African dance, so much so that in many African cultures, there are no two words in the language used to distinguish between the two. Essentially, when one uses the term music in reference to African culture, it should include the idea of dance. And unlike many western civilizations, in the African culture, music and dance means so much more than something done just to have a good time. It has a much greater purpose. For many cultures, a dance is commonly between two people. In the African culture, a dance is usually done by a community or group and for a specific purpose.The idea of Utilitarianism suggests that the value of a thing depends on its use, and not its beauty. In many ways, African music is a utilitarian function used in vital aspects of life such as, a child’s naming ceremony, initiation rights, agricultural activities, national ceremonies, war times, religious ceremonies and ceremonies for the dead. (Exploring Africa)

The 1500s saw the beginning of slave labor as Africans were brought to North and South America and the Caribbean. Hundreds of different African dance styles, from various ethnic groups, were merged together, along with styles of European dancing. Because of the importance of dance in the daily life of Africans in their homeland, many Africans that were enslaved continued to use dance as a way to keep their cultural traditions and connect with their home country.Enslaved Africans that were taken to colonies in South America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal were given much more freedom to carry on their dance traditions than those who were brought to North America. Sadly, many of the North American slave owners prohibited Africans from performing most of their traditional dances.The importance and spirit of dance were not stopped by these restrictions, however. African slaves found ways to adapt their dancing and continue their traditions in secret. Out of necessity this caused some changes in the dances. For example, since slaves were prohibited from lifting their feet, they created moves that included shuffling the feet and moving the hips and body. (History of African Dance)

Besides using the voice, which has been developed to use various techniques such as complex hard melisma and yodel, a wide array of musical instruments are used. African musical instruments include a wide range of drums, slit gongs, rattles, double bells as well as melodic instruments like string instruments, such as: musical bows, different types of harps and harp-like instruments such as the Kora as well as fiddles, many kinds of xylophones and lamellophones; like the mbira, and different types of wind instrument like flutes and trumpets.
Drums used in African traditional music include talking drums, bougarabou and djembe in West Africa, water drums in Central and West Africa, and the different types of ngoma drums (or engoma) in Central and Southern Africa. Other percussion instruments include many rattles and shakers, such as the kosika, rain stick, bells and wood sticks. Also, Africa has lots of other types of drums, and lots of flutes, and lots of stringed and wind instruments. (African Music)

The example below is a video of young dancers entertaining the crowd with apiece of traditional Setswana dance during a wedding in Tlokweng. This piece reminds me of Ewe Agbekor that was played in class from chapter three. Like Ewe Agbekor, I would say this piece has antiphonic vocal texture to it. It is very upbeat and has an upbeat tempo. I would say that that this piece is polyrhythmic as well.

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The next example is of the Zanla Forces War Songs. ZANU is the Zimbabwe African National Union, the political wing of the Maoist faction of the majority-rule movement in Zimbabwe in the 1970s; the militant wing being ZANLA, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army. They and ZAPU—the Zimbabwe African People’s Union, the Soviet backed faction (with its Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army, ZIPRA)—used song to stir up the masses. These are songs of the struggle. This LP, recorded in the soldier camps sometime in the 1970s, most likely in Mozambique, contains folk songs, church songs and European choral music with the words changed to spread the revolutionary message. The idea was to use songs familiar to the people, allowing for easy teaching. Most songs are purely vocal, since instruments were not widely available in the soldier’s camps. (Zanla Forces War Songs) This particular song of the Zanla Forces War Songs, has an antiphony vocal texture as well. The hand clapping in the background creates a faster beat.

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This next video is a Zulu and Ndebele Traditional dance. In Africa, toplessness of women is a traditional norm and more importantly a display of culture. The harmony of the music below is exceptional and I could not stray from sharing it. This is the best call and response I have ever heard. The music is very peaceful.

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As you can see, music in Africa is a way of life and not just a form of entertainment. African music is a used in vital aspects of life. Africa’s culture is deeply rooted in its music and well as struggles that were overcome. Music is an integral part of the African culture, with various ceremonies being preceded by some sort of music. Music is used to communicate, pass literature, welcoming heroes among other ritual functions. There are diverse genres of music in Africa like hymns, dirge, that create mood and feel for the occasion.

Works Cited

African Music. http://www.musicatschool.co.uk/year_9/african_worksheets/handout.pdf

Exploring Africa. http://exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu/teachers/curriculum/m13/notes.php

History of African Dance. http://dance.lovetoknow.com/History_of_African_Dance

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One Response to “The Importance of Music in the African Culture:More Than Just a song”

  1. Ashleigh Stam says:

    I was very interested in this blog because I never actually thought that people think of music and dancing in the same context. I know people dance and people sing/play music but I did not think that some people see them together like in African cultures.

    When I read your blog I thought about one culture that is similar to that of the African cultures in the fact that they use their songs in some of the same ways. Like when you stated that people in the African culture use this music/dancing for ceremonies, war times, religious and death ceremonies, and even agricultural activities; these all reminded me of some of the Native American traits that we discussed in class. Like this Native American rain dance.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2e1515l7Tc

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