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Tribal Africa

This includes the sub-Saharan countries of Africa such as Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Central
African Republic and Congo.

African music

Music is central to every aspect of traditional life, from rituals to entertainment. Virtually all drum music is to accompany dancing or singing. 1 Music is passed on through oral tradition rather than notation, and in West Africa particularly there are hereditary musicians called griot or jali who can trace their family heritage back to the 12th century. 2 The griot pass their musical skills on to their sons from a very young age and are highly respected (and paid) within their communities. Master drummers are soloists and conductors. They set the rhythm, pulse and decide upon solos and dynamics. They give visual and drum signals throughout. 3
YouTube - Djembe Drumming and Dancing

YouTube - Little Djembefola Isaiah Drums and Dances

YouTube - Isaiah 4 Years Old Plays "Ngri"

YouTube - Fadouba Oulare and his sons from Les Petits Sorciers - Kawa

Musical styles: African

In African music repetition is often used to organise the music. In the mbira music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe, the interaction of players hands establishes a repeating pattern (ostinato) which players use as a basis for improvisation. Polyphony and Polyrhythm are also important. Polyphony has many musical parts or rhythms interweaving with each other. Polyrhythm is the simultaneous sounding of two or more individual rhythms (3 against 4). In West Africa, drum ensembles have 3-5 players, each with a distinctive method of striking their drum and playing interlocking patterns. Sometimes other percussion instruments join in, creating a thick musical texture. Call-and-response is very popular. The chorus repeats a fixed refrain in alternation with a lead singer, who then has more freedom to improvise. This makes the music conversational. (cassette)



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Drums- Djembe

African drums come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The bodies are usually made from wood, gourds, and clay; drum heads are made from animal skins. The djembe drum has been called "the healing drum". It dates back to the 12th century Mali Empire of West Africa. It has a very wide tonal range setting it apart from other drums.

Drums- dunun

These set of drums are collectively known as dunun. Individually they are called: Dununba- bass drum Sangban- mid drum Kenkeni- high drum Drum ensembles may consist of dunun, djembes and percussion.


The three dunun players each perform a different cyclic rhythm pattern on their drum and bells. These cyclic patterns combine to create a polyrhythm which is unique to a particular piece of music. The polyrhythm created by the set of dunun drums and bells is essential in supporting the whole piece- the solo drummers and supporting djembes rely on the dunun drums to hold the piece together.
drumYouTube - Akaran Iko Iko rhythm sample - Soli (rapide) fast

Talking Drums

Talking drums belong to the family of hourglass shaped pressure drums. The gan gan is the smallest, the dun dun is the largest. They have a drum head at both ends. Pitch in African music is largely determined by the tuning of the drums. Drum rhythms can imitate well-known phrases. It's said that when Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo, the native people in West Africa knew about it before their English or French governors, because the news was drummed down the coast from North Africa. Talking drums are used to send messages, using a combination of pitch and rhythm to imitate speech. tbnw=127&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dassane%2Bthiam%26gbv%3D2%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26rls%3DRNWE,RNWE:2005-40,RNWE:en%26sa%3DG


The yenca rattle is a gourd containing seeds that make the sound. It has a sponge plug which can be removed to change the seeds for different sizes, to give a different sound. (hoshomaracas) The axatse or shekere also has seeds loosely covering a hollowed gourd. It is played by striking it on their hand, then on their leg, in various patterns. The top of the ball can be hit to create a deeper tone.

Percussion- bells

The gonkogui (gankogui) is a traditional double bell which is held in the hand whilst being struck with a stick. It has one high and one low tone. (agogo bells) The toke or banana bell is played by striking it with a metal rod whilst it lies across the palm of the hand. It can also be hung on the side of drums. A pair of these bells, tuned a fourth apart, usually play together

Tuned percussion

The balaphon is a predecessor to the xylophone and marimba. It uses hollow gourds as resonators.

The MBIRA is considered to create the essential link between the world of the living and the world of the spirits. It's believed to have the power of projecting its sound into the heavens and attracting the attention of the ancestors. It is played by the thumbs and forefingers in cyclic patterns. It is sometimes called the thumb piano, but this is seen as a colonial term in Africa. YouTube Mbira

Mbira patterns

Mbira players improvise over core ostinato patterns which creates complex polyphonic textures. The lead part is called the KUSHAURA. The intertwining part is called the KUTSINHIRA. Although cyclic, the performers do not consider any one point of the cycle the beginning or the end. Mbira are accompanied traditionally by hosho (an African forerunner of the maracas) YouTube - Hunters Mbira Crew 2

Stringed instruments

The kora is a 21- string harp-lute, which includes both plucked and sympathetic strings. It is used by professional musicians (jali) among the Mandika people of Gambia.
Gambia YouTube - Jali Sherrifo Konteh at Whitby Musicport 2005

YouTube - Jali Music Party in Brikama, The

Kora patterns

The kora sounds like a harp and can be played solo or to accompany songs The melody, counter- melodies and bass line are all played by one musician (Griot or jali). The melody (and improvisations around it are called BRIMINTINGO. The ostinato patterns below the melody are called KUMBENGO.

Ngoni/ Xalam

The xalam/ ngoni is the most common stringed instrument in Senegal in West Africa. A plucked lute which is a close relative of the African American banjo
. YouTube - Xhalam playing by Abdulai Saine,Gambia 2002

Southern Africa

Music in the southern countries of Africa, which include South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zaire, have been influenced by Western church music, introduced by missionaries in the 19th century. Choral singing is very important in this part of Africa. The traditional vocal music of the Zulus of South Africa is called ISICATHAMIYA. It has been popularized by a group called Ladysmith Black Mambazo. (Heinz beans ad!!) In this clip, notice the A CAPELLA men's voices using CALL AND RESPONSE.
YouTube - Mambazo

Africa- its influence (Fusions)

Elements of African music can be found in almost every other culture in the world. Africa has had a direct influence on the music of South America, the Caribbean, USA, Western Europe and many other nations. Africa is a huge and diverse continent with a wide variety of people, customs, music and instruments.


African musicians have always embraced new technology, applying the playing techniques of their own instruments to that of the western instruments brought in by the colonial powers. Often bands would play waltzes, marches and popular songs from the country that ruled. With independence came the freedom to explore traditional music, often moved on to the new instruments.

Guitar styles

Guitar styles copy the fast moving rippling rhythms of the kora and other string instrumentsMose Fan Fan- Sikulu Listen for the interlocking guitar lines, call and response vocals and shave haircut shampoo clave rhythm that is the basis of all cuban musicLoketo- Trouble.

Electric Africa

This all electric mix has many names in Africa depending where it originates fromWest Africa- Highlife Afrobeat Mbalax Makossa Central and East Africa- Soukous (Soca) South Africa- Mbquanqa

Youssou NDour

Youssou Ndour is from Senegal, West Africa and is from a family of traditional musicians. He has created his own style of electric music called mbalax, which comes from local Wolof drumming patterns. His band uses the cyclic patterns on electric guitars, bass, keyboards, brass, drum kit and traditional drums including tama (talking drum). Ndobine. He makes different recordings of the same material for his African and Western markets putting a steady bass drum beat in his European recordings. Del teew &tbnw=127&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dassane%2Bthiam%26gbv%3D2%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26rls%3DRNWE,RNWE:2005-40,RNWE:en%26sa%3DG

Traditional African instruments

Other instruments African wind instruments include flutes, whistles, oboes and trumpets. The flutes were made from bamboo, reed , wood, clay, bones and other materials found in the sub-Saharan region. Trumpets, often associated with royalty, were made from animal horns or wood. Clarinets, from the Savannah region of West Africa are made from guinea-corn or sorghum stems, with a reed cut from the surface of the stem at one end. Double-reed instruments, such as the hasua algaita, are derived from North Africa.