African Music

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Africa is, of course, a big continent... An essential musical culture (or family of musical cultures) of Africa is the arabic one, for which there is a separate page. A brief overview of non-arabic African musical cultures:

The Wagogo people of central Tanzania use a pentatonic scale 1/1 - 9/8 - 5/4 - 3/2 - 7/4 (harmonics 5 through 10) in all their songs and all their instruments. Instruments: kalimba, harp, fiddle, marimba, hand drum. Vocals tend to have parallel harmonies, singing at a distance of a "penta-third". Hukwe Zawose is a well-known Wagogo musician.

Many cultures use a 5-edo (equipentatonic to ethnomusicologists) or near-5-edo tuning:

The Lobi, Dagarti and Senufo people of Burkina Faso, northern Ghana and southern Mali. Instruments: gyil (a type of marimba), hand drums and ideophones (bells and scrapers). Vocals tend to be in unison or octaves. Well-known musicians/groups are Neba Solo, Kakraba Lobi, and Farafina.

Uganda also has equipentatonic music. Their marimba is called the amadinda. They also play harps.

Some cultures use a 7-edo (equiheptatonic) or near-7-edo tuning:

The Mande peoples of West Africa (Guinea, Senegal, Gambia and Mali, also neighboring countries) play balafon, kora, djembe, dundun and other instruments. Vocals traditionally tend to be in unison or octaves. The balafon is traditionally tuned to 7-edo. The kora is not tuned to 7-edo, even though the balafon and the kora share the same repertoire and even play together sometimes. The kora is traditionally tuned to 5-limit JI. In modern times, the balafon and kora are often tuned to 12-edo, to be in tune with western instruments. Well-known pop musicians are Baba Maal, Salif Keita, and. Oumou Sangare. Well-known kora players are Jali Musa Jawara and Toumani Diabate.

The Shona people of Zimbabwe and neighboring countries play the mbira. Vocals tend to harmonize only in 4ths, 5ths and octaves. The mbira seems to have been traditionally tuned to near-7-edo. In modern times, it's often tuned to 12-edo. Paul Berliner's book "The Soul of the Mbira" is a good resource for tuning information. Well-known Shona musicians that use the mbira include Thomas Mapfumo and Stella Chiweshe.

The Chopi people of Mozambique play large marimba ensembles spanning 4 octaves. Their marimba, called the timbila, is tuned roughly equiheptatonic. The timbila tuning of the Mavila village creates a 2L5s scale, suggesting that 135/128 is tempered out. The Mavila temperament gets its name from this village.

Madagascar was colonized by Indonesians long ago, and the music is a mixture of African and Indonesian. Tarika Sammy is a well-known group.


A notable african instrument category is the kalimba (mbira) family.

External links

Baka Pygmies vocal polyphony