History of Ancient African Music

Music has conventionally assumed a critical part of African culture. It is paramount in characterizing the great African tradition and its significance is apparent in many facets of the entire civilization. Dissimilar to other lifestyles today, ancient African heritage incorporated music into their everyday lives.

As a matter of fact, African music is often described as a total form which is intimately connected to dramatization, dance and gesture. It spreads through African life and has a function in religious ceremonies and rituals. Notably, African is utilized to not only tell stories and provide political guidance but also mark the phases of life and death as well as state dissatisfaction.

Man playing an African harp

In addition, it also serves as a medium of entertainment for masquerades and ceremonial festivals. More often than not, performances by ancient African musicians are long and include the participation of the spectators.

Customarily, African musicians made use a wide range of sounds which are sometimes confronting and emotionally-driven but not appealing to the ears. It is also important to note that their singing style is loud and resonant but can be accompanied by other sounds. Likewise, their singing style can also be extremely harmonious when musicians decide to use an acapella.

Other than using the singing voice, African music also involves the use of a wide variety of musical instruments. Musical instruments include but are not only limited to slit gongs, drums, harps, xylophones and bows.

Nonetheless, it is essential to remember that African music has undergone continual and decisive changes throughout the centuries. What is known traditional music today is possibly very distinctive from African music in old times.

African mens drumming and dancing.

At present, many organizations in Africa are currently working towards preserving traditional music by going out on the field and recording the last practicing music artists of various traditional genres.

Interesting Facts about Ancient African Music

  • Singing is as fundamental a role as speaking for most African people. In fact, ancient African mothers used to sing their babies on their backs as they work, dance and walk, therefore, creating a natural sense of rhythm.
  • African music also made use of percussion instruments such as rain sticks, shakers, rattles, wood sticks and bells to accompany songs.
  • African music is comprised of intricate rhythmic arrangement which often involves one rhythm played against another to come up with a polyrhythm. The most popular type of polyrhythm plays three beats on top of two notes.
  • Another unique characteristic of African music is its call-and-response complexion wherein one voice or instrument plays a short yet melodious phrase and the phrase is consequently is resonated by a separate instrument or voice.
  • African music also concentrates more on improvisation. Musicians can use drums to devise new patterns over the static original systems.
  • Some of the earliest African musical instruments are made of vegetable materials.
  • African music can also be used to pass literature, communicate with spirits and welcome heroes of the war.
  • The earliest sources of ancient African music were primarily gathered from archaeological sites.

What happened to traditional African music?

According to most historians, traditional African music has encountered many barriers to keep its significance in a globalized and technology-driven world. Often times, the blame falls on the lack of transcribed and archived musical documents in some of the most culturally-rich locations in the continent.

What are the most popular drums of African music?

Drums which are widely used in African music are water drums, djembe, talking drums, bougarabou and Ngoma.

How different is traditional African music?

African music is completely different from Western music as numerous parts of their songs do not necessarily have harmonious sounds. Instead, African musicians use the medium of sound to express the different aspects of life.

How large is the ancient African music culture?

During old times, it is believed that the musical heritage of sub-Saharan Africa expanded into North Africa.