Motherland of Music

By: Ga’Meisha Griffin

“The curious beauty of African music is that it uplifts even as it tells a sad tale. You may be poor, you may have only a ramshackle house, you may have lost your job, but that song gives you hope. African music is often about the aspirations of the A” (Nelson Mandela, 1994)

African music is often stereotyped to all being the same, but why?  African music has more to it than just beats and rhythms.  Its diverse in all aspects. Although some traditional African music appears to lack uniqueness, the music of Africa differs due to the diverse ethnic groups, a variety of languages spoken, and differences in societal values.     Africa is politically and racially split into North Africa and Sub Saharan Africa.  Amongst the two are different ethnic groups.  Within those ethnic groups are different cultures, traditions, and uses for music.  Music in the Sub Saharan part of Africa is expected to be extremely rhythmic and focused mainly on the drums.  However that statement is not completely factual.  Most Sub Saharan African Music is polyrhythmic, usually consisting of multiple rhythms in one work of art.  It involves a lot of music with strings, horns, and very few polyrhythms’.  Sub Saharan music has been influenced by music from the new world.  Jazz, Salsa, Blues, etc. have all contributed to the music of the Sub Saharan region. Not only does Sub Saharan music use polyrhythms and string instruments, so does Ghana music. Ghana is located on the Western African Coast between Ivory Coast and Togo.  A popular style of Ghanaian music is Highlife.  Born in 20th century, Highlife music is a fusion of indigenous dance rhythms and melodies with western sounds.  These sounds include brass bands, hymns, European foxtrots sprinkled with Caribbean “kaiso’ and Liberian rhythms.   Ghanaian music uses instruments such as African drums, harmonicas, guitars, and accordions.  There are three styles of highlife music; a ballroom dance style for the coastal “elite” class; a village brass band style; and a rural guitar band playing a “less Westernized style.”  Today, highlife music has many new styles other than the three originals.   Just as Ghanaian music has a westernized style, so does the music from Angola. Angola is located in southern Africa.  It’s a trendy genre of dance music.  It combines Angolan Samba and French Caribbean Zouk music.  It has slower rhythms and a more romantic and sensual quality.  The lyrics are generally sung in the Portuguese language.  It uses African drums, modern electronic instruments and percussion instruments.  It’s an upbeat dance music often used to get youth together.  It’s often the music used at traditional youth ceremonies. Africa is a continent where a rich and diverse cultural heritage exists; hundreds of different languages are spoken in Africa. During the 7th century, Arabs reached North Africa and influenced the existing culture. This is why African and Arab music share a certain degree of similarity and this extends to some musical instruments as well.  Chaabi (also spelt “shaabi”) is Arabic for “popular” or “of the people”. It is basically pop music with Arab, African and western influences.   Arab pop began to develop in Egypt during the mid-1960s with songs that were sometimes humorous or risqué and often had nationalist themes. Favorite singers of the time included Aida al-Shah and Layla Nasmy. This early pop had a mainly middle-class appeal until the early 1970s when Ahmed Adaweyah broke through into the mainstream with a more edgy kind of music that emerged from the poor districts of Cairo and rebelled against respectable society.  In Morocco, the 1970s saw the emergence of several groups recognized as pop innovators including JilJilala, Nass El-Ghiwane and Lem Chaheb.  For many years Noujoum Ouazza was the singer and guitarist for the cult-band Lem Chaheb, who decisively influenced the sound of the new North-African pop music in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, Ouazza belongs to the Dissidenten live-line-up.

Africa is a large continent with very diverse cultures and ethnic groups.  Within these groups a different and special type of dialect and language is spoken.  Music is often written and performed in the language and dialect according to the ethnic groups, geographical setting, and how it was passed down through oral traditions.  Inside ethnic groups there are smaller groups with even diverse backgrounds.  Those diversities contribute to the music that comes from those minorities.  The official language of most groups is Portuguese.   But not all groups spoke Portuguese.  Another  language is Bantu.  They also speak French, Spanish, and English. Bantu

Bantu is a language belonging to a huge language family in Africa.  It’s hard to know how many people actually speak the Bantu language, but its estimated that 220 million people do.  The dialect of the language is more of a southern European one.  The Bantu ethno-linguistic group is most commonly said to have its origins in western Cameroon, although how it’s possible to be so certain over migrations that date back over four millennia, I really don’t know. What is certain is that the Bantu certainly came from the region of central Africa, from where they and/or their culture began expanding to other parts of sub-Saharan Africa around 2000 BC. The cause of these migrations are believed to have been the result of an increasingly settled agricultural lifestyle: although needing little land (far less than herding cattle would), land had to be fertile and well-watered for cultivation to be a viable alternative. Population pressure in central Africa may therefore have prompted the first Bantu migrations.  Several successive waves of migrations over the following millennia followed on the tracks of the first. They were neither planned nor instantaneous, put took place gradually over hundreds and thousands of years, allowing plenty of time for Bantu culture to spread and be influenced by other cultures it came across, either through assimilation or – more rarely, it seems – conquest. Bantu culture most likely reached Kenya from the west, and possibly the south, sometime between 200-1000 AD, having passed through what is now Congo (formerly Zaïre). By 600 AD they had dispersed over enormous areas, covering what is now Tanzania and Mozambique on the east coast of Africa, south as far as the southern African coast and west into parts of Angola. The result of all this migration and integration was over five hundred Bantu-related languages sprinkled around this area of Africa.  Portuguese

Portuguese is a very rich language in terms of dialects.  Each of the dialects is different due to particularity.  Angolans retained features of Old Portuguese and have become influenced by African languages.  Luanda has the most variety known of Portuguese.   Most of the differentiation between the dialect throughout the Portuguese language around Africa is the pronunciation of vowels.  There are also several similarities in the pronunciation, syntax and simplification in grammar use between vernacular Brazilian Portuguese and Angolan Portuguese. Several Creole languages were influenced by Portuguese all throughout Africa.  The two main dialects are brazil and from the old world. Portuguese-based creoles remain separate. French

African French is the generic name of the varieties of French spoken by an estimated 115 million (2007) African people spread across 31 francophone African countries. This includes those who speak French as a first or second language in these 31 francophone African countries (colored dark blue on the map), but it does not include French speakers living in non-francophone African countries. Africa is thus the continent with the most French speakers in the world. French arrived in Africa with colonization from France and Belgium. These African French speakers are now an important part of the Francophonie. French is mostly a second language in Africa, but in some areas it has become a first language, such as in the region of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Libreville, Gabon and in the Island of Réunion. In some countries it is a first language among some classes of the population, such as in Tunisia and Morocco where French is a first language among the upper classes(many people in the upper classes are simultaneous bilinguals, but only a second language among the general population. In each of the francophone African countries French is spoken with local specificities in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary. Spanish

In Africa, Spanish is official in Equatorial Guinea, as well as an official language of the African Union. In Equatorial Guinea, Spanish is the predominant language when native and non-native speakers are counted, while Fang is the most spoken language by number of native speakers. Today, in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, an unknown number of Sahrawis are able to read and write in Spanish, and several thousands have received university education in foreign countries as part of aid packages. Sahrawi Press Service, the official news service of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic of Western Sahara, has been available in Spanish since 2001, the official site of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is in Spanish and RASD TV, the official television channel of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, broadcasts in Spanish. The Sahara Film Festival, Western Sahara’s only film festival, mainly shows Spanish-language films. Spanish is used to document Sahrawi poetry and oral traditions and has also been used in Sahrawi literature. Despite Spanish having been used by the Sahrawi people for over a century due to Western Sahara’s history as a former Spanish colony, the Cervantes Institute has denied support and Spanish-language education to Sahrawi’s in Western Sahara and the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria. A group of Sahrawi poets known as Generación de la Amistad saharaui produces Sahrawi literature in Spanish. Spanish is also spoken in the Spanish autonomous cities of Ceuta (75,241) and Melilla (73,460) in continental North Africa, and in the autonomous community of the Canary Islands (2,117,519), a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa. Within Northern Morocco, a former Franco-Spanish protectorate that is also geographically close to Spain, approximately 20,000 people speak Spanish as a second language. It is spoken by some communities of Angola, because of the Cuban influence from the Cold War, and in South Sudan among South Sudanese natives that relocated to Cuba during the Sudanese wars and returned in time for their country’s independence.  Music in African societies, as it functions in many different societies worldwide has a serviceable value.  Music is often linked to the life experiences we face ranging from special occasions such as births, weddings, and funerals; to the accompaniment of everyday experiences such as playing games, learning about the environment, driving in a car, walking down the street, and discussing politics and economics.

The making of musical instruments shows some practically in different African approaches to life.  The languages sounds have affected the creation of different instruments, such as the drums.  The drums have been used to mimic tonality (the arrangement of all the tones and chords of a composition in relation to a tonic) and rhythms of languages to send messages.  An example would be playing a loud rhythm to warn nearby of an attack in a neighboring group.  Music in Africa also serves as functions that are linked to everyday life.  Music is used for worship, rituals, and entertainment. So although all African music seems to be the same, in a way it’s all different.  The different ethnic groups and geographical locations really impact the difference in African music.  In a way, they all link up to make a similar sound.  But the under growth of the music is different.  The language the music is written in is different.  Amongst different ethnic groups the languages vary and cause music to be in different languages.  The ethnic groups also use the music in varieties of societal situations.  Music can be used for things such as ceremonies, the birth of children, and every day things.  So as you see, African music is not all the same.  There are more differences then people notice such as culture, languages, and societal value.