Category Archives: Africa

Manu Dibango and “Soul makossa”

The Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango began his career by performing in the local church choir in his hometown of Douala. As a child, Dibango faced significant challenges growing up in a household where his father and mother belonged to rival ethnic groups in the region. His parents, however, did own a vast record collection, which deepened his interest in Cuban, U.S., and French music at a young age. After moving to France in 1949, Dibango learned to play the piano and later the saxophone. He developed a love for jazz while in France with the help of Francis Bebey and other musicians who inspired and taught him.

After moving to Brussels in 1956, Dibango joined Joseph Kabasele’s Congolese orchestra Le Grand Kallé et l’African Jazz, which was famous for its hit Indépendance chacha in 1960. Dibango traveled with Kabasele’s orchestra to perform in the city of Kinshasa in1961, where he decided to stay and open the famous Tam-Tam nightclub. In 1963, Dibango’s hit song Twist à Léo helped popularize the twist dance throughout the Congo, and his encounter with Congolese music inspired him to delve deeper into African music, especially makossa, the popular genre of his hometown Douala.

Dibango recorded the song Soul makossa in 1971 and positioned it as the b-side to the single Hymne de la Coupe d’Afrique des Nations, which was a tribute to the Cameroon football team. Local listeners were not initially impressed by Soul makossa, and even Dibango’s father scoffed at the stuttering vocal line in the song. A few copies of the single, however, found their way across the Atlantic Ocean and into the hands of radio DJs in New York City by 1972. The song became a hit on New York radio stations and in disco clubs. The few copies circulating in the city were immediately sold out, and the lack of distribution resulted in Soul makossa being recorded and released by several local New York City bands to meet the demand. Once distribution of the original single by Dibango resumed, Soul makossa immediately shot to the top of the charts.

Read the full entry on Manu Dibango in MGG Online. Below is a video of a performance of Soul makossa in 1983.

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Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music, World music

eSwatini musicians address gender-based violence against women

Swazi Indigenous and popular music has been featured on the eSwatini Broadcasting Service since the radio station was founded in 1966. Many of the songs today addresses the political, economic, and social conditions (including gender relations) of eSwatini, a country located in southern Africa, formerly known as Swaziland. Swazi women historically have faced high rates of gender-based violence including femicides, rape, and physical and emotional abuse. The eSwatini government’s passing of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act of 2018 has done little to curb gender-based violence against women in the country. In response, various stakeholders, including musicians, have taken the initiative to comment on the empowerment (or disempowerment) of Swazi women. Musicians have composed songs that openly discuss and debate issues of female oppression, and many of the songs lyrically draw from the rich repertoire of Indigenous Swazi songs. In this sense, the empowerment of women remains a popular subject among many of the country’s contemporary younger artists, many of whom have incorporated elements of Indigenous music to articulate women’s perspectives.

Read more in “Content and reception of eSwatini’s Indigenous and popular music on women empowerment” by Telamisile P. Mkhatshwa and Maxwell Vusumuzi Mthembu, an essay included in the volume Indigenous African popular music. II: Social crusades and the future (Palgrave MacMillan, 2022). Find it in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-3233.

Below is a video for “Tinyembeti” by the singer Zamo. The song follows the contemporary trend of eSwatini artists addressing gender-based violence against women.

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Filed under Africa, Politics, Popular music, Women's studies, World music

E-Journal of Music Research (EJOMUR)

The E-Journal of Music Research (EJOMUR) is an open-access journal from Ghana that publishes academic articles, conference papers, dissertation and thesis chapters, and book reviews in music. EJOMUR was first published in August 2020 and since then, their readership has grown to include academics, musicologists, composers, historians, musicians, and those interested in music research. All research articles submitted to the journal undergo a double-blind peer-review process, and issues are subsequently published online monthly.

EJOMUR publishes original articles on a wide range of topics in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, systematic musicology, music education, and music literature.

Find this journal in RILM Abstracts. Listen to Kwesi Gyan, a 21st-century chamber orchestra piece that combines Apatampa rhythms and folk music with contemporary compositional techniques. The piece is featured in an article in the July 2023 issue of the journal.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Africa, New periodicals

Zilipendwa and nostalgia

Tanzanian zilipendwa is a look-over-the-shoulder metagenre whose musical subject is a moving target dependent on the current time reference.

The term was initially reserved for east and central African dance music chestnuts popular during the 1960s and early 1970s post-Independence period, but it recently encompasses the music of the mid-1970s through late 1980s, a time generally associated with the Socialist policies of Julius Nyerere.

Fans of zilipendwa are most eloquent about its value in their lives when making humorous generational distinctions with Bongo Flava, the region’s hip hop and R&B. Zilipendwa fans are also quick to demonstrate their affinity through physical expression, dancing a style known as serebuka, translated as “blissful expressive dance”.

Recently popularized on the television show Bongo Star Search, serebuka dancers take to the floor and bounce off the walls with a coterie of enthusiastic free moves and styles (mitindo) covering fifty years of popular music history.

Nostalgia for zilipendwa is far from being a melancholic rumination over days long past; it is enacted instead for the sake of health and community well-being. Zilipendwa is a conscious act towards musicking the values of a fading era, creating temporary autonomous zones where the perceived chaos and noise of neoliberal globalization are now waiting to rush in.

This according to “‘Rhumba kiserebuka!’: Evoking embodied temporalities through Tanzanian zilipendwa” by Frank Gunderson (The world of music (new series) III/1 [2014] pp. 11–23; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2014-17463).

Above, Msondo Ngoma, a group discussed in the article; below, the U.S.-based zilipendwa artist Samba Mapangangala. (Don’t worry—the music and dancing start soon, and they’re worth the wait!)

BONUS: Schoolboys getting down to zilipendwa in the great outdoors.

More posts about Tanzania are here.

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Filed under Africa, Dance, Popular music

Ligeti and Africa

György Ligeti freely acknowledged the influence of African music on his work—an influence that is seldom readily obvious, though it can be teased out by analysis.

After he listened to recordings of African drumming, Ligeti began exploring the use of various rhythms through multiplication of the basic pulse, a concept that resonated with the additive rhythms of the traditional music that he grew up with in Hungary.

In one of his few passages involving the use of an African-sounding instrument, the third movement of his piano concerto includes an Africanesque pattern played on bongos. He marked the part to be played very quietly, so rather than being foregrounded it serves almost subliminally to reinforce patterns being played simultaneously on other instruments. Unlike most African drumming, this bongo pattern evolves over time, so that its end is quite different from its beginning.

Ligeti’s works from the 1960s onward were distinguished by a palette of musical motives and ideas that he half-ironically referred to as Ligeti signals. Starting in the 1980s, he expanded this palette to include African devices along with others that share an extraordinary openness to external ideas and influences. He avoided copying these influences wholesale, instead working on a higher conceptual level. This abstraction implied an objective respect for the powerful ideas he was working with, as well as indicating a strong personality able to hold its own with them.

This according to “Ligeti, Africa, and polyrhythm” by Stephen Andrew Taylor (The world of music XLV/2 [2003] pp. 83–94; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2003-4435).

Today is Ligeti’s 100th birthday! Below, Mihkel Poll performs the concerto movement discussed above.

BONUS: RILM is a sponsor of the Ligeti Festival Transylvania celebrating György Ligeti’s 100th birthday! More information is here.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Africa, Curiosities

Benin Journal of Music and the Arts

In 2022 the Music Programme of the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Benin (Benin City, Nigeria) launched Benin Journal of Music and the Arts (BENJMA), an open-access online publication that is also available in complimentary print versions.

BENJMA is designed to publish at least one annual issue, and to undertake the publication of special issues when the need arises. The journal publishes well-researched scholarly articles in music and the arts to promote scholarship and support the dissemination of research findings at local and global levels, providing a forum for discourses on historical, contemporary, and evolving subjects. It aims to serve as a basis for the formation of future perspectives, the making of impactful predictions, and the galvanization of developmental ideas. 

BENJMA’s editors and reviewers have a wealth of experience in various areas of music and the arts, and the journal is open to any thematic area.

Below, excerpts from the Yorùbá ìbejì festival, the subject of an article in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under Africa, New periodicals

Malipenga mashup

Performed by Tonga men and boys in Malawi, malipenga involves competitive teams organized in a quasi-military hierarchy—titles include sergeant, captain, and kingi as well as doctor and nurse—dancing in rows and columns and wearing modified European costumes.

Rather than simply viewing it as a product of colonialism, malipenga should be understood in terms of the dynamic nature of ngoma traditions, an ongoing cultural feature that has survived the disruptions of the colonial period.

This according to “Putting colonialism into perspective: Cultural history and the case of malipenga ngoma in Malawi” by Lisa Gilman, an essay included in Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000, pp. 321–345; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2000-8791). Below, an example from 2018.

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Dance

Wagogo music and ethics

Among the Gogo people of Tanzania music is an essential factor in societal cohesion, comprising the central link between earthly and spiritual life. Gogo music is concerned with ethics, not aesthetics, and it is governed by direct connections between performance circumstances and musical parameters.

For example, the polyphonic section linked to the performance of cipande functions as a way to relieve pain during ritual male circumcision. After the song has begun, the men surround the boy who is about to be circumcised and, on a signal, break into  vocal polyphony as they project their voices toward him; the women continue to sing just outside the ritual circle. The information saturation generated by the dense polyphonic texture acts as a natural anesthetic, as the distracted boy is unable to process the aural complexity.

This according to “Logic and music in Black Africa. II: Social function and musical technique in the Gogo heritage, Tanzania” by Polo Vallejo (TRANS: Revista transcultural de música/Transcultural music review XI [July 2007]; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2007-7124).

Above, a Gogo women’s drum group (courtesy of Martin Neil, Voices from the Nations); below, a demonstration of cipande singing.

More posts about Tanzania are here.

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Filed under Africa, Black studies

Valódia: A transatlantic decolonization anthem

Written and recorded in 1975 by the Angolan popular singer António Sebastião Vicente (Santocas), Valódia is derived from African praise songs, with their characteristic heroic laudatory epithets. The song demonstrates the timeless quality of such praise songs, as it turns a young soldier into a socialist hero.

Traditional African poets served as both praise singers and court historians, and their successors are in the vanguard of political song movements. Santocas’s lyrics capture the essence of the fallen subject, who fought against neocolonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.

When Valódia was recorded by the Cuban singer Beatriz Márquez it became a transatlantic anthem advocating sociopolitical and economic change framed by communist doctrine, advancing an agenda of decolonization that still lingers over the destinies of both Angola and Cuba.

This according to “Valódia: A transatlantic praise song” by Jorge Luis Morejón-Benitez, an essay included in Indigenous African popular music. I: Prophets and philosophers (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 303–20; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-2996).

Below, the original recordings.

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Filed under Africa, Central America, Curiosities, Politics, Popular music

Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale and Institut du Monde Arabe announce their collaboration

New York. — January 17, 2023 — Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM) has entered a three-year collaboration with the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (IMA, Arab World Institute) that aims to increase public engagement, advance global cultural understanding, and connect diverse communities by highlighting and sharing the Institute library’s holdings on music from the Arab world. RILM, which documents and disseminates music research worldwide, supports this initiative by drawing on its comprehensive digital resources to create blog posts about a selection of Arabic music literature. Each post is enhanced with an expertly curated bibliography. 

The bibliographic references stem from one of the richest and most exhaustive resources of global music research, RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, which contains 1.5 million bibliographic records from relevant writings on music published from the early 19th century to the present in over 170 countries and in more than 140 languages.

Blog posts are published on both institutions’ websites: RILM’s Bibliolore at https://bibliolore.org/ and the Institut du Monde Arabe’s Bibliographies page at https://www.imarabe.org/fr/ressources/bibliographies and the IMA News page at https://www.imarabe.org/fr/actualites.

Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM), New York: RILM is committed to the comprehensive and accurate representation of music scholarship in all countries and languages, and across all disciplinary and cultural boundaries. It publishes a suite of digital resources aimed at facilitating and disseminating music research. Its flagship publication is RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, the international bibliography of writings on music covering publications from the early 19th century to the present, now available in an enhanced version that includes the full text content of over 260 music journals. RILM Abstracts is available on the EBSCOhost platform along with RILM Music Encyclopedias, a full-text repository of a wide-ranging and growing list of music reference works, and the Index to Printed Music, a finding aid for searching specific musical works contained in printed collections, sets, and series. Distributed worldwide on RILM’s own platform are the continually updated music encyclopedia MGG Online, RILM Music Encyclopedias, and the  Dizionario Enciclopedico Universale della Musica e dei Musicisti (coming in mid-2023). RILM is a joint project of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres (IAML); International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM); the International Musicological Society (IMS); and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). www.rilm.org

Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris: The Institut du Monde Arabe was founded to create strong and durable cultural ties while cultivating constructive dialogue between the Arab world, France, and Europe. This cross-discipline space is the central place for the development of cultural projects, in collaboration with institutions, creators and thinkers from the Arab world. The Institut du Monde Arabe is fully anchored in the present. It aims to reflect the Arab world’s current dynamics. It intends to make a distinctive contribution to the institutional cultural landscape. No other organization in the world offers such a wide range of events in connection with the Arab world. Debates, colloquia, seminars, conferences, dance shows, concerts, films, books, meetings, language and culture courses, and large exhibitions all contribute to raising awareness of this unique and vibrant world. https://www.imarabe.org

For more information, please contact:

Michael Lupo
Marketing & Media
Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3108  •  New York, NY 10016-4309
mlupo@rilm.org  •  Phone 1 212 817 1992  •  www.rilm.org

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Europe, Literature, Musicology, RILM news, Source studies, Theory, Uncategorized, World music