Sound and music in African culture

By Charles Vallena, author and editor-in-chief of

Music is an integral part of African culture. In fact, it is the only thing that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.

Music in Africa can be divided into two categories: traditional music and popular music.

Traditional music includes songs and dances, stories and poems with rhythms and melodies that last for hours or days until they end with a big party. Popular music is what we usually think of when we hear the word “music” – African artists singing about their own lives, which include joys, sorrows, challenges, triumphs, life lessons learned through centuries-old traditions of wisdom such as proverbs or parables handed down orally from one generation to the next.

Why is music important in African culture?

Music is very important in African culture. It can be used to tell a story or convey meaning and messages. Take, for example, the well-known song “Kundi M’Bana” by Rochereau Tabu Ley: this song was written about Mobutu Sese Seko’s time as President of Zaire (now called Congo). During his reign, he prohibited all music except that which boasted. The lyrics are cleverly disguised references against him, but are also beautiful songs about the desire to be at home while living abroad.

Another example would be the song “Yenzu Ilanga” by the legendary Congolese group Zaiko Langa Langa. The lyrics are entirely in Lingala, a Bantu language of Central Africa that is not understood outside of the Congo region. Yet, that doesn’t stop people from enjoying it all over the world as they can still hear the music and feel its meaning through their hearts even if they don’t understand what is being said on stage during live performances or on recordings.

How does music play an essential role in African culture?

In Africa, music is more than just an art form: it is used for medicinal purposes. In fact, some people believe that the way a person reacts to certain types of songs affects their personality type. Songs are played in many African cultures at weddings, birthdays, funerals, national holidays, religious ceremonies, festivals and other events.

For example, in Nigeria, traditional masks called “igba-ntu” are accompanied by percussion instruments such as drums when performed during important rituals such as wedding ceremonies.

In Mali, traditional music is used to impart knowledge about the history of their people. It is also believed that chanting can cleanse a person of evil spirits.

How are music and dance related in African culture?

It is important to note that while music and dance are not the same thing, they often work together in African cultures. Music can be described as any sound produced with vocal cords or human instruments; some examples of types of music include classical, pop, rock, hip-hop, country, and folk. Dancing is a type of physical activity involving rhythmic movements like stepping or rocking that usually takes place with musical accompaniment.

Music has played a vital role in many African societies for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Different tribes had their own individual songs related to hunting rituals or courtship practices at different times in history until today, when these traditions continue in cultural celebrations such as weddings. Africans traditionally believed that people who could sing were very special and had a connection to the spiritual world.

What are the important characteristics of African music?

There is no one answer. It is difficult to generalize across the continent as each culture has different values, cultural norms and practices that influence their musical traditions.

However, certain common characteristics are found in most traditional African music: polyrhythms; call-and-response (a vocal or instrumental interaction between two musicians); ostinato (the repetition of a rhythmic pattern like an interesting drumbeat) and improvisation.

These elements can be heard in popular genres such as rap, hip hop and jazz which have their roots in African rhythms.


In many African cultures, music and dance go hand in hand. It’s a powerful way to express yourself without the need for words – it can bring people together during celebrations or even comfort them when they need it most.

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