They don’t call Africa the Motherland for nothing. The continent has a musical history that stretches back further than any other, a history as vast and varied as its range of rhythms, melodies and overlapping sources and influences. Here, music – traditional and contemporary – is as vital to communication and storytelling as the written word. It is the lifebloodof communities, the solace of the nomad, the entertainment of choice. It can be a political tool – perceived as a threat (France and South Africa) are full of exiled African artists) or a campaign winner (African leaders are forever trying to hitch their wagon to popular musicians, many of whom have their own record labels and charitable foundations). Its biggest acts are treated as celebrities, followed wherever they go. Oh, and despite the world music boom, some are relatively unknown in the West. If in doubt ask a local.
Without African music there would be no blues, reggae or – some say – rock, let alone Brazilian samba, Puerto Rican salsa, Trinidadian soca or any of a wide array of genres with roots in Africa’s timeless sounds. It works both ways: colonialism saw European intruments such as saxaphone, trumpet and guitarsintegrated into traditional patterns. Independance ushered in a golden era; a swathe of dance bands in 1070s Mali and Guinea spawned West African superstars such as Salif Keita and Mory Kante. Electric guitars fuelled Congolese rumba and soukous and innumerable other African genres (including Swahili rumba). Ghana’s guitar-based highlife (urban dance music) blended American hip-hop to become hip-life; current faves include Da Multy Crew and female star Abrewa Nana. Jazz, soul and even classical music helped form the Afrobeat of late Nigerian legend Fela Kuti (which carries on through his sons, Femi and Seun, and a host of others today).
Hip-hop hybrids are creating musical revivals in countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Angola and Guinea; down in South Africa, where the ever-popular kwaito rules supreme (think slowed down, rapped-over House music), a new generation is mixing and matching with new-school, funk, jazz and, often, politics.
So come along on an African Safari and get to experience to soul of African Music.