Songs of Life, Songs of Freedom
Traditional Ritual Music
Music is an essential part of most African cultures. It is believed to have an effective power and function as a causal agent. For example, music associated with a particular deity invokes that deity to “possess” or “inhabit” the body of a devotee. The devotee then displays the characteristics of that deity and is empowered with greater spiritual force.
Such musically-induced communication with the deities, who represent forces of nature, is an important ritual in traditional African cultures. As the common West African aphorism proclaims, “The Gods will not descend without a song.”
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Traditional Social Music
Traditional African music is a communal and interactive activity in which everyone is expected to participate. There are no detached listeners, but a communion of participants engaged with the entire community. The value that African cultures place on inclusion makes music integral to most social activities, from simple children’s games to working, hunting, cooking, and every serious rite of passage.
Such strongly communal music tends to be highly rhythmic and syncopated. It often incorporates call-and- response patterns between a vocal or instrumental leader and a group of singers, drummers or other instrumentalists. It makes free use of improvisation and frequent repetitions.
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Gospel & Hymns (South African)
This uniquely South African choral music is sung a capella, or with the accompaniment of percussion instruments or hand clapping. It blends African rhythms and harmonies with church music introduced by missionaries in the early 19th century. The music is also strongly influenced by African American spirituals.
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Soukous arose during the early 20th century in the harsh work camps of the Congo basin, where many ethnic groups (some from the Americas) worked together and combined various styles of music, like Cuban rumba and West African highlife. It was originally performed with a guitar, likembe (thumb piano) and bottle.
Soukous remains one of the most influential styles of popular music in Africa. it evolved with the opening of recording studios and radio stations in the 1940s, the introduction of electric guitars in the 1950s, and the later advent of large bands with male vocalists, congas, guitars, double basses, brass, and woodwinds.
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Nigerian artist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti coined the term “Afro Beat” in the 1960s to describe a fusion of American funk rhythms with African percussion and vocal styles. He experimented first with highlife jazz, and then with other forms of contemporary music, combining them with African harmonies and rhythms.
Performed by large groups of musicians, Afro Beat is characterized by high-tempo polyrhythmic percussion, repetition, improvisation, and a hallmark mixing of various musical influences. It exemplifies the continuing musical exchange between the African Diaspora and the home continent of Africa.
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