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Unit Three: Studying Africa through the Humanities

Module Thirteen: African Music

Student's Edition

Introduction to Module Thirteen: African Music

This module is comprised of four learning activities. The completion of all four activities may take two to three 50-minute class periods. Teachers may choose to teach the entire module or to select among the learning activities



  1. What do we know about African music?
  2. What more do we need to know and understand about the role of music in African societies?
  3. Why do we need to know and understand about musical traditions of Africa?
  4. How can we best learn about African mxusic and its people?


This module will explore the role of music in African Society in a way that will arouse interest and highlight the utilitarian and the aesthetic value of music among African cultures. This unit will adopt social and historical lenses through which African society and its music can be better understood.

1. Utilitarian value of music in Africa:

African people have integrated music in their everyday activities. Music and other art forms are an inseparable part of their lives. Music is one of the art forms embedded in the diverse cultures of African peoples and their traditions, beliefs, values, religions and artistic expression.

2. Aesthetic value of music in Africa:

Most Africans love and appreciate music as an art form. They listen to music, dance to it, and participate in its making. Throughout these processes, people are involved in showing their love and appreciation of the music. In most African cultures, these processes draw mainly from the affective (feelings) domain of the listener, but the cognitive and the psychomotor skills are also utilized in the appreciation of music. In comparison to Western orchestral traditions where aesthetic judgments are made in how the piece affects the listenerís mind and emotions, music in various African traditions demand a physical response (i.e., dancing, clapping, singing along) to show appreciation of the musical quality. Musical quality itself, therefore, is based on community participation.

3. Rich Diverse Musical Traditions:

Africa is a continent that is characterized by a rich heterogeneity of cultures, traditions, beliefs, values, religions, and artistic expressions, including music. The rich variety of social, economic, political structures and activities in the continent differentially influence the musical practices of African peoples.

4. The Dynamic nature of Artistic traditions:

The music traditions in Africa are dynamic. Change within musical traditions can come from within the tradition as musical forms change through creative artistry and the traditions are articulated inter-generationally. Change also occurs as a result of contact with musical traditions from neighboring and foreign cultures. Africa is a continent that has experienced and made contacts with the outside world through trade, migration, slavery, colonialism and religious expansion. These processes have impacted musical expression in African cultures.

5. Diffusion processes:

African people and societies have for millennia been in contact with other societies in Africa, Asia, Europe, and for the past 500 years the Americas. In addition to trade in material goods, these contacts have resulted in the exchange of ideas, knowledge and cultural expression. These contacts led to the sharing of artistic traditions over extended periods that has led to the cross-fertilization of music traditions within the continent, the Americas, western Asia, and Europe.



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