Syncosradio Africa

From the blog

African Music and the African Diaspora

What is the African Diaspora? It is the forced and brutal dislocation of millions of Africans into foreign lands during the African Slave Trade; it is the global community of Africans and their descendants living outside the African continent that make up what is known today as the African Diaspora.

Before you begin this part, please take a picture tour from Zimbabwe in the South to Morocco in the North to get a sense of the African continent.

Additionally, see a slide movie in preparation for reading this information on African music. Music is from the CD Album, Chaminuka, Music of Zimbabwe by Dumisani Maraire, and photographs are from African Music, A People’s Art, by African Musicain and Scholar, Francis Bebey.

African Music is best understood by rejecting the notion that it is “primitive” music. This “ear opening” allows a person to discover African Music on its own terms without applying Western standards and values where, in many cases, those standards and values are inappropriate. For a page of Africa-Related Music, Dance, and Cultural Resources on the Web produced by Richard Hodges and C. K. Ladzekpo, click here.

Broadly speaking, there are both similarities and differences between Western music and African music and it is in this domain of diversity that African music is best discovered. The elements of African music (rhythm, melody, harmony, musical instruments, meter, and timbre, et al.) are, broadly speaking, those of Western music. However, the unique features of each element of African music contains the essence of what makes African music unique in the World.

Although it has been the writer’s experience that the West responds very positively to African music and art, it is equally true that Westerners are frequently bewildered by the subject since the objectives of the two cultures, in many cases, differ. If the definition of music is read from a dictionary in the West, the concept of music reflecting an “aesthetic of beauty” or a “sense of the beautiful” is apparent. For example, the 1969 edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines music as “1. The art of organizing tones to produce a coherent sequence of sounds intended to elicit an aesthetic response in a listener. . . 6. Any aesthetically pleasing or harmonious sound or combination of sounds. . .” Second, the objective of African music is not to make sounds which are pleasing to the ear but rather to “express life in all of its aspects through the medium of sound.” If an understanding of African music is to be developed, it is this point of departure that should be taken.

Comparing African and Western education, the French ethnomusicologist Herbert Pepper, having spent eleven years with the forest-dwellers of the Congo and Gabon, wrote: “I had the impression that I learnt more about my art in the African school than in the Western school. The latter certainly taught me to appreciate the quality of the finished article, but it sometimes seemed so far removed from the everyday world that I began to wonder if it bore any relationship to it. The African school, on the other hand, has taught me that what matters is not the quality of the music itself, but its ability to render emotions and desires as naturally as possible.”

The following lullaby, which might have been rendered in Pepper’s “African School” demonstrates the African attitude toward music – it renders natural sounds as a part of the music and provides the listener with an African attitude toward the real world by first, providing comfort to a crying child and second, teaching a lesson as to why the child should not cry:

Ye ye ya ye – Do not cry Think of our friends who are childless Hush, do not cry Think of those who have no children Think of my married brother Who has no children yet And then look at me I have a mother too But I don’t cry Think of our friends who are childless Think of my brother Who married a Bacanda girl What an idea, to marry a Bacanda And they are still without children Don’t cry, my darling Think of your unhappy father