Close-up: The Music of Africa


When it comes to mind to listen to music that is inspired by deep feelings, no matter how rhythmic it sounds, it is the music of Africa that is strongly perceived. African music can be taken as that which has survived many more years than most other music in the rest of the world. This goes to say that the music of Africa has been a major contribution to western music such as dance music, pop, jazz and rock music. Nevertheless, modern music of Africa has also shared some common characteristics with music of the western world. These similarities are pronounced in the musical instruments and recording studios which the music of Africa has borrowed over time. This relationship between the music of Africa and western music has resulted to a close-up in music around the globe.

 Music in Northern Africa

The Northern part of the African continent forms a major gateway between Africa and the countries in the Mediterranean region. Their music is mainly vocal; employing the human voice and other melodic instruments. A dominant musical type in North Africa is the Berber music. Berber music features a means of expressing freedom and rights of the Berber peoples’ indigenous languages, who predominantly reside in the northern parts of Africa . Hence, their songs are mainly sung in their native dialects. To support the vocal style of this music with melodic and rhythmic patterns, the Berber people have a variety of musical instruments that include: the qasabah (a flute) used in singing, the Mizwid (bag pipes) used for its high pitch, the Nafir (like a trumpet), the qanoon (a zither), the oud (functions like the oboe used in western music), percussion instruments like the bender (also known as frame drum) and the t’bel (known as the tambourine) which is used to form heavy rhythmic notes.

West Africa

It is difficult to summarize the rudiments and qualities of music in West Africa . This is due to the vastness and variedness of the people. Their cultural identities are not the same (some were colonized by different countries). For example, in Nigeria , the juju music (of the Yoruba tribe) and the palm wine music were developed and sang for entertainment and recreation. The juju music was accompanied with local instruments such as the Yoruba talking drums to further produce its characteristic strong beats. It sounded much like rock music. In West Africa , the djembe drum is phenomenal. Though it originated from Mali , it has also become useful in Guinea , Senegal , Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso on both local and national functions. Other musical instruments of West African origin are: Dunduns (from Mali ), M’bira (from Zimbabwe ), bufalon ( Guinea ) and West African harps such as the donso ngoni which produces a pentatonic sound that resembles African American blues music.

Central Africa

A very popular country in West Africa that is full of life, especially in music, is Cameroon . Popular songs of the country’s origin are makossa (dance music) and bi-kutsi. Bi-kutsi music first started between the 1940s and the 1960s as folk music. It sounds like war music with various instrumentation techniques from drums and xylophones. Makossa became lively in the 1960s and by the 1980s; it had gained popularity in France . Also in central Africa is the musical bow of the Ngbaka people who live in the forest areas. The musical bow is a single stringed instrument, which is made of curved wood. The Ngbaka people use their musical bow (also called mbela) for traditional ceremonies.

Eastern Africa

Music in East Africa is fascinating as well. Taking Ethiopia for example, music there has various styles and kinds as a result of their diverse cultures and ethnic groups. On a common ground, the Ethiopians enjoy the Amharic azmari music. Instruments used in this popular music type include the lyre and the masenqo (a fiddle with one string). Ethiopian lyres are of two basic types: the beganna and the krar. While the beganna is considerably large with 8-10 strings, the krar is smaller with just about 6 strings. Furthermore, the beganna and krar have different shapes. They are shaped like a box and a bowl respectively.

South Africa

Music in the southern part of Africa is symbolic. In Lesotho for instance, their traditional music tells a lot about their cultural heritages. The traditional instruments used are lekolulo (a kind of flute), setolo-tolo (which looks like an extended Jews Harp and the themo (the most commonly used stringed instrument by the women)

Apart from Lesotho , Botswana adds to the richness of music in southern Africa . They are famous for their jazz and Hip Hop.

Also in the list of music makers in this region is Swaziland . Swaziland ’s music is beautiful arrangement of folk songs from the Bantu and Swazi groups. The music is inclined to western rock and pop music.

South-Eastern Africa

In south-eastern Africa, the chopi music of Mozambique is very famous. The music, when accompanied with timbila instruments, is mostly played when performing rituals and traditional religious activities. The music starts with dramatic movements, then dance and finally, the song. Timbila music is frequently played with the mbira instrument, which is a wooden instrument with sealed gourds.

South-western Africa

The music of Angola is traditionally called capoeira. Though its creation is owed to Brazil , it has been proved that its creation would not have been possible without the Angolans who had been bought over as slaves. The music consists of dramatic movements in form of fake fights, singing and dancing. In capoeira, the movements are made to be in consonance with the rhythm of the music. The music is always played with the musical bow which is also known as berimbau.

African Islands

An area of musical interest on the islands of Africa is Madagascar. Madagascar features music played with traditional musical equipments such as the valiha (like a zither), the sodina (looks like a flute) and the kabosy (played like a guitar) to produce tones with several harmonies for spiritual and entertainment purposes.


The music of Africa is really diverse. Owing to the multiple ethnicity, cultures and customs in the continent, one may not really be able to give a definite decision on what it is in Africa . However, apart from being entertained by the music, Africans have a way of incorporating historical events and current events in their music. This truly makes them unique.


Music in South-Western Africa: Music in South0western part of the African continent can be examined under music in Angola . Angola is known for originating the Capoeira music.

West-African music: West African music has various traditional musical instruments that are peculiar to different countries.

African Music: Music in Africa has several differences and similarities.   

Music in Central Africa: Cameroon is a place to enjoy music in Africa . They have the makossa and bikut-si music to their credit.

Music of Lesotho: Lesotho in South Africa shows a distinguished style of presenting music.