Although from now on I will use "Africa", the music discussed here and in Chapter 8 of the
textbook is that of Africa south of the Sahara desert - or sub-Saharan Africa. Northern
Africa shares most of its musical traits with the music of the Middle East, a link echoed in
the dance, rituals, even food of that region. Sub-Saharan Africa developed its own
characteristics and traits, a few of which I will highlight in this lecture. Realize, though,
that there is no "African" music just as there is no "American" music; rather, there are
many different musics and musical lineages, too many to cover in depth here. Perhaps a
better term would be "Pan-African" music.
Oakland actually has an (pan-) African drum ensemble that is open to all (MUE 345
African Ensemble 0 or 1 credits: Study and performance of drumming and xylophone
traditions as related to African oral culture using authentic Ghanaian and Ugandan
instruments). OU also offers family drum circles (which have a basis in African drumming)
through the Music Preparatory division.
The bulk of instruments used in traditional African music are either membranophones or
idiophones. Rhythm (complex, layered, and cyclic) is the primary focus in much of the
musics, although melody, as provided by pitched idiophones, other instruments, or voices,
does play its part. Chordophones are also used by many African cultures, but aerophones
tend to be limited to a few flutes [example 4 in the textbook], reed instruments, and the
occasional horn trumpet. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but remember, we
are looking for shared characteristics here.
Polyrhythms abound - last week's 2 against 3 exercise is but one of the many polyrhythms
used in African drumming. Here is an example:
. You should be able to feel 2 "big beats" which can either be heard as divided into 2 or 3
beats, depending on the pattern and instrument.
Along with polyrhythms are interlocking melodic patterns. These next examples both have 2
patterns which interlock; the 2 patterns meet at key points to form a 3rd melodic pattern.
In the 2nd example, a third player actually plays the resulting third melodic pattern,
making it easier to hear.