African Music

Role of Music:

African music is a vital part of everyday life in Africa. It is a part of religious ceremonies, festivals, and social rituals. Songs are used for the important events in a person's life (birth, coming of age, marriage, and death). They are used for curing the sick, bringing rain, and religious dances. Many Africans believe that music serves as a link with the spirit world. Everyone plays an active part in the musical life of the community. Music is ultimately tied to the things that are most important to the welfare of the people.

African Music Across the Continent:

Music varies across the African Continent. Ethnic groups of Southern African deserts have very simple songs. People in the Congo River Basin have more complicated singing and instrumental music. East Africans specialize in music played on xylophones. West Coast tribes have made the art of drum playing a highly developed skill.

Characteristics of African Music:

Melodies are usually short and simple. African music uses short bits of melody that are repeated over and over. Singers or instrumentalists may change them at will, so that the performance becomes a theme with many variations. When performing, one person may begin to improvise, or make up a special version of the melody while the other singers continue the original melody. Often, several voices will sing different melodies at the same time. Africans also sing in rounds. The accompaniment may consist of chords or short melodic patterns that are repeated continually.

African Instruments:

  • Drums of all kinds, shapes, sizes and varieties
  • Mbira or Sansa (also known as "thumb-piano")
    It consists of a wooden board or box over which
    several tongues of metal or bamboo are tied.
    Each of these tongues is plucked gently, making
    a buzzing or tinkling sound.
  • Stringed Instruments --Harp, Bow
  • Wind Instruments -- Flute and Horn
  • Rattles, Bells, Clappers
  • Xylophone (all sizes)
  • Lyres , Zithers

Instruments are also used to signal information over long distances.


"Africa-African Music." The New Book of Knowledge. 1990 Edition. Volume 1

"Africa-Music." World Book Encyclopedia. 1989 Edition. Volume 1

"Music-African Music." World Book Encyclopedia. 1989 Edition. Volume 13


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