Styles & Forms | Africa | World
African music dominates the world in the exported forms of blues, jazz, funk and their children, but the music within the continent is often overlooked. Africa still exports but it is also an importer, adapting salsa, rap and country to its own circumstances.
Africa is a metaphorical and geographical crossroads, making the continent the home of world music. People moved from north to south, from east to west within Africa; Europeans came, Islam and Christianity came, each reshaping what they found; people left for the New World across the ocean, some forced, others by choice; expatriate communities reached out to those who remained. There is no musical form on Earth that could have remained impervious to those cultural exchanges. Try to think what music might sound like if there had never been slavery.
A Vast Catalogue Of Styles
African geography, demographics and communications have created a vast catalogue of styles. Some became conspicuous influences on pop and rock, for example, turning hymns into gospel, then soul, then funk, then rap; some – rai, soukous, mbalax – achieved worldwide popularity; others would exasperate anyone raised on white musical traditions. What follows is a guide to the styles that took the most from the outside and went on to have the greatest appeal and influence within and outside Africa. True world music.
What Liverpool was to British pop, Oran is to rai: a port where musicians knew all about sex, drugs and rock’n’rebellion. It was not until the mid-1970s that the recording industry exploded, with young (‘cheb’) punks making pop-rai mainstream. Led by Cheb Khalèd, these flouted the rules of classical Arabic music. In the 1980s, fearing persecution from religious extremists, the scene moved to France, where record companies provided budgets to turn Khalèd and Cheb Mami into global pop stars, and to support such maverick rockers as Rachid Taha and The Maghreb magpies, Orchestra National De Barbes.
In the mid-twentieth century, Africa went crazy for Cuban music – African in origin, but twisted by influences from elsewhere. In Kinshasa, guitarists hijacked the piano and horn lines, creating Congolese rumba (soukous). The kingpins were dance bands such as African Jazz and OK Jazz, who produced generations of virtuoso musicians and singers, among them Joseph Kabasele, Franco Luambo Makiadi, Manu Dibango, Sam Mangwana and Mose Fan Fan. When the economy collapsed, the soukous scene quit for Paris, where Kanda Bongo Man and Papa Wemba were already established, having emigrated to achieve recognition away from the competition.
The funkiest rhythms and horn sections to come out of Africa could be found in Addis Ababa from the late-1960s until the mid-1970s, when dictatorship brought an end to the city’s nightlife. More importantly, it also brought war, famine and the flight of most of the country’s greatest artists. Not the exodus that Bob Marley was dreaming of. Fortunately, the Éthiopiques series of albums (released on the French Buda Musique label) captures the flavour of...
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