Music happens to be very important in the lives of African people. It’s a irreplaceable part of their everyday life and nearly everyone in Africa knows how to play one or two musical instruments. Many of us have at some point listened or at least seen any kind of musical instrument play at events and musical concerts. They have their own charm and melodious, lilting appeal. Like the vast continent of Africa, its musical instruments are equally diverse in number, type, shape, sound and appearance. Each region of Africa has its own distinct musical instrument which carries the typical imprint of that region. The music of Africa has been influenced by various cultures – African-American, Caribbean, Latin American and others. Apart from cultural influence, language, the environment, politics, the tribes and population have also influenced African musical tradition noticeably. The music of North Africa is greatly influenced by sub-Saharan African music traditions. Polyrhythms or simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythms are quite typical of sub-Saharan music. The range of North African music is quite large and has close ties with Middle Eastern music. African slaves have also significantly contributed to African popular music due to their exposure to other cultures.
Some typical and unique musical instruments include D’Jembe drums from Senegal, Mali and Ghana, tic toc drums, djun djun drums, talking drums, rattles, gankeke bells, balafons, double bells, wooden flutes, malian kora, marimba, cajons, clapsticks, cowry shell shekere, slit gongs, trumpets, rainsticks, woodsticks, Mbira, struck gourds, claypots, panpipes etc. There are also several string, xylophone, wind and harp-like instruments which are very typical of Africa. Among drums, D’Jembe drums, bougarabou, talking drums, water drums, ngoma drums, tic toc drums are very popular in African musical tradition. These drums are played to mark various ceremonies – weddings, childbirth, hunting, funerals and several other public events and are often accompanied with ritual dance. Many drums are even played to inspire people in war. These drums are perhaps the most basic of all African musical instruments dating back to 500 A.D. having deeper symbolic meaning. Many of them are used to ward off evil spirits and pay respect to good spirits, the dead and the ancestors. The sound of many drums can be heard as far as seven miles away. They actually represent the natural rhythm and beauty of the people of Africa.
Music in Africa is very rhythmic. We have often seen African drums, flutes or some stringed instrument playing in many films and documentaries. Haven’t we? Their charm is irresistible! Africa music is ceremonial, sacrificial, celebrating any special occasion, religious and even courtly, being played at royal courts. Many times, special musical instruments are played to announce presence of socially high-ranking people like kings, chiefs and politicians. African music may be broadly divided into four distinct regions: eastern, southern, central and West African with southern, central and West African music being heavily influenced by Western Europe and North America. The materials for the musical instruments are procured from nature like wood, gourds, turtle shells, animal horns and skin as well as various recycled materials. All musical instruments not only produce spectacular sounds but look striking as well. They are really unique works of art.