African Popular Music
Introduction to African Popular Music
African popular music has emerged at around 1960s in the African continent. The genre mixed the influences of both indigenous and Western music. It is approximated that African popular music audience stretched to Western countries at around 1980s. Together with other continents, Africa got affected by repertoire, instrumentation, and rhythms from the American music of the 1920s (Dan, 2014, p. 11). The new ideas got passed through the radios and records, and they got caught through the Atlantic Ocean. In the early 1960s as most African states getting ready for political independence from the colonists, African music bands modified their repertoire to accommodate bridging of local tunes. In Africa, most of the groups did not have electric guitars, drum kits, and saxophones and were working for the club and hotel owners who employed the musicians to perform in the clubs and hotels for eight hours just as other employees (Ballantine, 2015, p. 9).
According to Floyd, (2016, p. 13), rock and roll music brought a muted effect in Africa compared to other parts of the world. Dan, states that at around 1960s, the beat-to-the-bar of the twist was spreading very fast. The reason as to why it spread so quickly was because it was catchy easy to play, thus gaining the popularity and inspiring many musicians across the continent (2014, p. 19). Most of the African guitarists, the likes of Fiesta’s Dr. Nico, incorporated the tremolo effect that was widely used by the western guitar players. On the other hand, musicians from South Africa emulated sounds from jazz music. According to Floyd, (2016, p. 17), besides musicians getting attracted to the Caribbean music, most of the music bands used the name ‘Jazz’ in their brands.
A study by Ballantine, (2015), shows that most French-speaking African states adopted the Cuban rhythms. The countries that took the Cuban swing included the West African leading group like the Rail Band from Mali, Bembeya National Jazz from Guinea and Band de Dakar from Senegal (p. 14). Within Central Africa, there were l’African Jazz, Tabu Ley’s African Fiesta-based in Democratic Republic Congo, and Grand Kalle. The bands had different styles and sounds but later got influenced by orchestras like that of Orchestra Aragon and Johnny Pacheco.
According to Dan, (2014, p. 23), English-speaking countries such as Nigeria and Ghana had the likes of E.T. Mensah who evolved their music from Trinidad’s calypso rhythms at around 1970s. In Nigeria, band leaders replaced the African tunes with a percussive style known as juju that dominated for more than 15 years. Juju was a heavy combination of percussion instruments and electric guitars where the lead vocalists engaged the backing singers in a call-and-response exchange on issues pertaining newlyweds, advice, praise songs of the local leaders and business persons.
During the period when western music started to incorporate programmed sounds and the beats of drum machines, the flow of natural sounds and rhythms of the juju could take one back on how music sounded when played via real instruments. Despite O. Ebenezer being a consistent juju bandleader, King Sunny Ade emerged to be the one who captured the Western’s imagination in the early 1980s on the other side; Fela Kuti got noticed internationally due to his provocative lifestyle that attracted Afro-beat style. In his music, Fela Kuti chanted defiance messages and also passed advice in local Yoruba language and Pidgin English. Fela Kuti did collaborations with American pioneer James Brown who made soul and funk music (Floyd, 2016, p. 22).
A study by Floyd, 2016, shows that between the 1950s to 1970s, it was not easy for music to go beyond any continent (p. 26). The study goes further by revealing that most recording studios in Africa were not well equipped and lacked so many important music related tools. The companies had no systems to export records to the adjacent countries (Ballantine, 2015, p. 21). However, in 1956, a South African singer by the name Miriam Makeba being a managed to collaborate with Manhattan Brothers as a guest performer and produced the hit song “Lovely Lies.” After 11 years while in exile in the U.S, Miriam Makeba managed to appear in the top 20 hits with the song “Pata Pata,” then the following year, Hugh Masekela, ex-husband to Mariam Makeba topped the chart with the hit song “Grazing in the Grass.” This was later followed by a Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango who made it to the top 40 list with the debut “Soul Makossa,” Manu Dibango managed to sell more than 100,000 copies within the U.S. despite the negligible airplay. In Britain, Tom Hark of the pennywhistle band from South Africa was at the top five with the song Kivela performed by the Kwela group (Ballantine, 2015, p. 30).
Floyd, (2016, p. 29), reports that during the mid 1980’s when world music began bringing African music to the world and Western audience, most regions in Africa had distinct styles. The new techniques included the use of updated types of equipment that supplant and challenged traditional music. Some of the challenges faced by the African musicians are the cultural and religious beliefs where some of the artists had to dress in a specific manner as per the Islamic laws (Floyd, 2016, p. 32).
In the 1980s most of the African musicians launched international careers after moving out of the orchestra bands. It is important to note that Salif Keita and Mory Kante who both worked at the Rail Band Youssou N’Dour who also performed with the Star Band de Dakar (Dan, 2014, p. 31). Guitarist Mnafila with Keita left Rail Band and joined Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux, where he made several albums with some being recorded in the United States. All these happened before Keita making the collections under his name with the producer Sylla Ibrahim. In 1987, Soro got used as a benchmark for the modern African music by exhibiting the singers’ powerful voice in combination with the complex arrangement of acoustic instruments alongside with drums and female voice. To some of the African musicians, it led to contracts with Island Records label.
How American Black Music Influenced African Popular Music
Currently, it is common to hear a fusion of different styles of music from different parts of the world. However, African music has been more integrated than before hence showing various elements of styles from around the world. American popular music had different styles of performance which is the case now with the African musicians after getting influenced by the Black Americans (Ballantine, 2015, p. 35). The type of music that changed that of Africans, is the African American music that was burgeoned with different styles, all these styles had different melodies, rhythms, performance styles, and textures.
The growth and development of African popular music got influenced during the slave trade. Another way is when the Black and the European interacted musically that led to the growth of African popular music when it got blended with the Western music by use of instruments and other modernized music types of equipment (Dan, 2014, p. 36-39). Another method that influenced African popular music was through the use of modernized kinds of musical equipments. The American black music did influence not only the music but also the musical structure. Most of the Africans had to adopt the American features by re-inventing or improvising the old types of equipment to something new (Floyd, 2016, p. 36).
Through the combination of African and American musical materials, African musicians managed to come up with their own style of jazz music. Some of jazz music fans, were quoted saying that jazz music played in Africa got influenced from the west and it entails many different sounds that are brought together to form a piece of music. Some of the listeners categorically state that jazz music or swing became popular in Africa as it got incorporated with the African elements thus making the rhythms, syncopations, and riffs to influence the music virtually (Dan, 2014, p. 42). The metric and structure of jazz band also contributed to the influence of African music as the African as well adopted the “call and response” style that was only found in the western countries. Several types of African music have also borrowed this method.
Another type of music played by the African artists that originated from the west is the country music that prominently featured singers performing simple stanza forms, chords, and melodies. The most significant influence is the use of banjo which originated from Africa then later adopted by the black American who improvised it and later on the Africans passed the improvised version from the west (Floyd, 2016, p. 41). The Africans also managed to use the banjo to produce country music after listening and borrowing some of the music ideas from country music legends like Jimmie Rodgers who is also well known for his vocals style. Another music idea was acquired from the carter Family that used vocal styles to produce gospel songs.
Research by Ballantine, (2015, p. 41), shows that by 1960’s and 1970’s music advanced across the globe particularly in Africa as various technological, social and political organizations helped in the advancement of the music. The research further shows that rock music originated from Africa only to be developed in America then back to Africa at high tech. For one to trace the development of rock music; one need to take an example from the Elvis Presley is well known to feel the black music during his performances. However, despite the efforts put forward by the blacks to develop their music, they faced criticism and got little or no mainstream acceptance (Floyd, 2016, p. 44).
Anytime musicians from the west go to Africa, they end up leaving some ideas from the direction which is later practiced by the Africans in their performances leading to the blending of both the African and American music styles (Floyd, 2016, p. 47). It is reported that before American music influenced the African one, artists from Africa mostly composed songs on issues affecting the community, praised their leaders, and other factors within the city but after the interactions with the Westernized musicians, and borrowed ideas and their music also got influenced, they no longer sing to educate the community, sing songs highlighting issues affecting the city but are just singing for making money.
According to Dan, (2014, p. 52), it has been the blacks in America that have pioneered the renewal of interest in Africa. And in the African countries, South Africa has been the country of an eruption of the black jazz progressiveness for the past 15 years after which some of the musicians have moved to other countries like the Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia. Another way in which American music influenced the African popular music was through the slave trade whereby the blacks were taken to the west, and some ended up recreating with the whites, mingled and socialized with them and some came back to Africa to introduce what they learned from the other side of the continent (Ballantine, 2015, p. 47). To those who joined the music industry, blending the African music with that of the west thus producing some nice music. Some artists also moved from Europe to Africa to come and perform, and this made the Africans to learn some new things from their counterparts.
The Africans who have visited western countries to make music came back with more ideas and means of improving their sound. Some even came back with new and modern music pieces of equipment that helped them to improve the production quality of their music (Ballantine, 2015, p. 58). The most significant influence of American music is the incorporation of instruments used by the western musicians, but above all, the content quality of the music got worse as the Africans focused on other things rather than handling issues within the communities. African musicians only started to entertain and not educate the community. It can be considered to be a negative impact of the American music to the African popular music (Floyd, 2016, p. 52).
In conclusion, there are various factors that led to the influence of the African popular music by the American Black music. One of the factors is the slave trade that led to interaction between the blacks and the western people. Another factor that led to the influence is the movement and interaction of the musicians from one continent to another one where they perform on the same stages and end up sharing musical ideas and instruments.
Ballantine, C. (2015). A brief history of African popular music. Popular Music, 8(03), 305.
Dan, T. N. (2014). NTAMA. Journal of African Music and Popular Culture. African Studies Companion Online, 7(3), 140.
Floyd, S. A. (2016). African-American Modernism, Signifyin(g), and Black Music. The Power of Black Music, 5(2), 7-99.