History of African Music

A real African music, the traditional music of black peoples in Africa, is just little known abroad. A non-African person may find this music strange, difficult and „unattractive“. Traditional African musicians rather don´t combine sounds in a way which is pleasant to our ear. They just want to express life in all possible views through the sound. African musicians like to seek nature in their music – to the non-Africans the result may sound a little chaotic. In fact, each sound has a particular meaning. If we want to understand African music, we have to study it in the context of African life.

Music is very important in African society. It has a deep meaning in lives of all the Africans from birth. Musicial games played by African children are meant to prepare them to be adult – to be able to fish, hunt, farm, to attend weddings, funerals and dances.

African music is nearly always coupled with some other art (poetry or dance) and reveals the very heart of African soul. Music, as we think about it in traditional society, doesn´t take its´ interprets to the modern life. As a profession, music offers very little opportunity. In some societies, music is not conceived as a profession at all. Today, traditional music may gradually disappear and then extinct – if a musician´s future is assured. This is especially true for the traditional African music which is of course not written down, but handed down from generation to generation.

Similar musical instruments are found throughout black Africa. However, nature and culture influence the dominance of a certain instrument in particular regions. For example drums are more popular in the forest regions of West Africa than in areas of southern Africa (savannas). Actually, the drum is so important in African society, that it is sometimes equated with a man. In some African countries women are not even allowed to touch a drum! (Later European and Islam colonial influence softened some of these traditions.) In spite of slavery and colonialism the influence of African music has spread to every corner of the world.

Millions of people were transported from Africa to the Caribbean and America to work as slaves for the European colonists there. Little original African music survived in the traditional form in the new world. In the Latin America countries some African music survived thanks to slaves, who were allowed to maintain their culture. In these countries, many new styles of music arose - in Latin America merengue, in the Caribbean tango, in South America salsa, bolero, rumba and samba. African songs slowly evolved into blues. Did you know that jazz was originally dance music? African-American dance music was kept alive in form of rhythm and blues. After jazz and rock´n roll, R&B was the most influential fusion, but as it spread all over the world, it soon became ´white´ music.

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