Africa is perhaps the most mysterious continent in the world. It’s ethnic, social, and religious diversity is impressive. Attempting to discuss a cultural aspect, such as music, without limiting the scope, would be impossible. “The area of coverage has been limited to Sub-Sahara, Black Africa”(Graham1).
When an individual hears the term African music, he probably thinks of the African-American forms, such as Hip-Hop or Reggae. Not many people today know what African music is all about. They do not know anything about it because they probably find the music somewhat primitive. A close investigation, however, will reveal the opposite. African music has a lot of heart and soul in it and went from a form of entertainment to a way of life. African music was not only used as music, as it is used here in the United States. When one thinks of a way of life, he probably thinks of his job, but in Africa not too many people choose music as their occupation. African musicians are people who play while other people dance or are in a group such as Senufo, an orchestra consisting of farmers, blacksmiths, and other tribesmen. (Bebey 3)
A lot of Westerners reject African music because it takes hours to understand. Westerners who want to understand it have to accept the idea that it is not as predictable as traditional Western music. Most Westerns like music that is pleasing to listen to but, “…The traditional African musician’s aim is to simply express life in all of its aspects through the medium of sound…” (Van Rensburg). Music has been a part of
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most African people’s lives since they were born. They start making instruments at the age of three or four, and musical games are also played. Some youngsters even try to imitate their elders in dancing and playing music. There are even “…increasing amounts of students for piano…”(University). African music is also used for cheering people up. “In some African societies music is a dynamic and driving force that animates the life of the entire community” (Van Rensburg). It is sometimes used for sales; some Africans attract their clients by singing.
African music is even used for medical purposes, such a practice is called witch doctoring. Griots are said to be witch doctors, but they are a lot more. Griots usually specialize in invoking supernatural beings. In addition many people in Africa use music to communicate to the spiritual world. “…Baule, harp players, are know to communicate with the spirit world. This characteristic is echoed throughout African tribes. Most harp-lute players are also soothsayers and/or healers” (Bebey 22).
The instruments, including the human voice, are varied as the types of music themselves. African musicians usually make their own instruments so that they will suit their own particular tastes. (Bebey 40). The drum is the most important instrument to African music. If it is not present, then it will be substituted by hand clapping or stomping. “Vocal music is truly the essence of African music. African Musicians use the voice more than anything else. The voice does not diminish the interest to musical instruments”(Bebey 115). “…Anthropologists were concerning…with the role of music in African society, producing invaluable data on instruments, dances, styles and the emotional and aesthetic content of music”(Graham 16).
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“…In numerous African societies, the right to play certain instruments or to participate in traditional ceremonies is not open to all, but is the privilege of the professional musician. In some societies music is not consider a profession at all, which is why there are only a few professional musicians in Africa. African music is nearly always linked with some other art such as poetry or dance (Van Rensburg). Many African societies make it a habit to play traditional African music at least once a day so that it will not vanish. This practice clearly indicates the cultural importance of music to the people.
African music has come a long way. What must be remembered is that music involves personal tastes. Not all people enjoy the same music. One’s taste in music may reflect his cultural heritage. Some Non-Africans like it, and some do not, but what is most important to Africa is that the tradition continues.