Archive for January 28th, 2016

A World Tour of Music 2 – Africa

While most African societies have spiritual and cultural associations with drum music, the sound of contemporary Africa is not a deluge of throbbing beats. As Graeme Ewens explains, you’ll more likely hear Spanish vocals in Congo dance music, Arabic lyrics and instrumentation in Zanzibar, West African calypsos and jazz piano in South Africa.

Africa contributes the bulk of what is marketed as ‘World Music’. But African music is far from homogeneous. The continent has huge differences in geography, culture, religion and foreign relations; more than 2,000 languages are spoken, and music often has specific functions. While traditional music is generally confined by ethnic or language boundaries, social dance music has been the only cross-cultural format, tapping a universal element of the African spirit. Neither depends on, nor lends itself to, transcription. Each is a type of system music, improvised with strictly defined parameters.

There is, however, a growing strand of classical or art music being created across the continent. Cultural interchange between Africa and fourteenth-century European church music, nineteenth-century Western composers and twentieth-century jazz men has provided historical connections for contemporary composers such as the Nigerian Akin Euba and collaborations like that between I Fagiolini and the SDASA Chorale. Western composers from Holst to Steve Reich have made withdrawals from the African cultural bank, while groups such as the Soweto String Quartet have reciprocated by transposing traditional music to Western instrumentation.

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