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Traditional and Contemporary African Music

Traditional and Contemporary African Music

Definition of Style

Traditional African music is as historically ancient, rich, and diverse as the continent itself. Traditional African music is passed down orally (or aurally) and is not written, and it also relies heavily on percussion instruments of every variety, including xylophones, drums, and tone-producing instruments such as the mbira or "thumb piano." Traditional African music is generally performed with functional intent in celebrations, festivals, and story-telling.

Contemporary African music is also highly diverse, but it shares many characteristics of Western popular music in the mid-twentieth-century. Beginning with the advent of recording technology and the development of the recording industry, contemporary African music has been heavily influenced by R&B, American soul music, Jamaican reggae, and other musical forms from the Americas. Today, the African music scene is as rich and active as that of any other continent on the globe, and numerous popular styles exist, including, for example, high life, Nigerian juju, and West African makossa. Moreover, a thriving hip hop scene exists in every sub-Saharan African country from Sierra Leone to Madagascar.

The CBMR's concerns in the area of African music focus on the sub-Saharan areas of the African continent, while the music of North Africa falls under the influence of Arabic cultures and is considered a distinct field of inquiry.

Musical Example


Chaminuka (D. Maraire), Dumisani Maraire. Chaminuka: Music of Zimbabwe (Music of the World, CDC-208)

Introductory Bibliography

The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Volume 1: Africa. Edited by Ruth Stone. New York: Garland Publishing, 1998.

Graham, Ronnie. Stern's Guide to Contemporary African Music. London: Zwan, 1988. Reprint, The Da Capo Guide to Contemporary African Music. New York: Da Capo Press, 1988. Arranged by region and country. Intended as a discography, but includes biographical and musical information as well. Covers both traditional and popular recordings.

Graham, Ronnie. The World of African Music. Stern's Guide to Contemporary African Music, vol. 2. Chicago: Research Associates, 1992. Not a revision: supplements and updates volume 1.


Selected Discography

African Moves, Vols. 1-3 (Stern's Africa 1015, 1029 and 1050) 3 CDs

Ali Farka Touré. Ali Farka Touré (Mango 539826)

Franco & Rochereau. Omona Wapi (Shanachie 43024)

The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (Shanachie 43033)

Kuti, Fela. The Best Best of Fela Kuti (Universal/MCA 5431972)

Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Shanachie 43098)

Mapfumo, Thomas. The Chimurenga Singles, 1976-80 (Shanachie 43006)

N'Dour, Youssou. Immigrés (Earthworks 91020)

Olatunji, Babatunde. Drums of Passion (Columbia 8210)