Benga, a Kenyan dance music, first emerged within the Luo community during the late 1960s. The genre has provided many Kenyans with a malleable platform that connects with the traditional ethnic poetic and musical sensibilities that have been resilient in both rural and urban Luo life.
Despite criticism that it was unpolished and parochial, benga’s development shows a clear movement towards sophistication and compositional experimentation. Ultimately benga musicians succeeded in creating a style distinct from its regional counterparts using traditional Luo melodic rhythmic structures and accompaniment cycles.
This according to “Continuities and innovation in Luo song style: Creating the benga beat in Kenya 1960 to 1995” by Ian Eagleson (African music IX/4  pp. 91–122).
Above and below, Okatch Biggy, a pioneer of 1990s benga.
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  pp. 11–23).
Above, Juwata Jazz Band, a popular zilipendwa group; below, the U.S.-based zilipendwa artist Samba Mapangangala. (Don’t worry—the music and dancing start pretty soon, and they’re worth the wait!)
BONUS! Some schoolboys getting down to zilipendwa in the great outdoors.
Taarab’s performers and audiences consider the genre to be a link to Egypt as another powerful place of coastal imagination, but it demonstrably owes more to centuries of exchange across the Indian ocean.
Despite the political agendas that engulfed Zanzibar in the mid-20th century, Swahili musical and urban sensibilities prevailed, and taarab continues to flourish. However, the older style of song text, which thrived on social commentary and improvisation, gave way in the 1950s to songs about the human condition, particularly romantic love songs.
This according to “Between mainland and sea: The taarab music of Zanzibar” by Werner Graebner, an essay included in Island musics (Oxford: Berg, 2004).
Below, Culture Musical Club performs old-style taarab with the legendary Bi Kidude (also above, ca. 1910–2013).
During their Revolution (1974–91) the Ethiopian penchant for not throwing anything away was, out of necessity, given full rein; ammunition boxes were converted to book satchels, artillery shells were made into pots and pans, and so on.
In one instance, a traditional three-piece gong ensemble associated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church was made from components of an abandoned Soviet-made tank; some 600 of these tanks were used in Ethiopia during the 1970s and 1980s. Struck by an acolyte using a small stone, the gongs mark the beginnings of services and other notable events.
This according to “Make army tanks for war into church bells for peace: Observations on musical change and other adaptations in Ethiopia during the 1990s” by Cynthia Tse Kimberlin, an essay included in Turn up the volume! A celebration of African music (Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1999, pp. 124–131).
Above, the bells in question; below, a comparable set of Ethiopian stone chimes (please turn your screen or head sideways).
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 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). Below, an example from Champhira.
Filed under Africa, Dance
The Gnawa ma’llem (spirit master) Abdellah El-Gourd and the African American jazz pianist Randy Weston met in El-Gourd’s native Tangier in the early 1970s; over the next 30 years their interactions transformed their lives.
They recognized a common thread in slavery, as the Gnawa were originally sub-Saharan peoples who were mainly brought to Morocco as slaves. The two men collaborated musically, and Weston’s music was deeply influenced by the experience.
For El-Gourd, the great figures in jazz—both historical and contemporary—became symbolic ancestors; their portraits hang in his home next to those of Gnawa elders. Also due to his Western encounters, El-Gourd realized the importance of documenting his local laylaẗ tradition, a project that possesses him in a way that may be compared to the spirit possession of the laylaẗ ceremony itself, and which resonates with the way that Gnawa music has possessed and is possessed by the West.
This according to “Possessing Gnawa culture: Displaying sound, creating history in an unofficial museum” by Deborah Kapchan (Music & anthropology: Journal of musical anthropology of the Mediterranean 7 ). Below, a brief interview with El-Gourd.
Of the many Hollywood films made about Africa, the Tarzan films are among the most influential in creating stereotyped notions of African peoples, geography, and social organization.
An examination of the portrayal of Africa and Africans in Cedric Gibbons’s Tarzan and his mate (1934) provides a window into how music has been used to generate these stereotypes and calls into question the degree to which these (mis)conceptions, under the same or different guises, have survived into the 21st century.
This according to “When hearts beat like native drums: Music and the sexual dimensions of the notions of savage and civilized in Tarzan and his mate, 1934” by Clara Henderson (Africa today XLVIII/4 [winter 2001] pp. 90–124).
Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and the apes, the first Tarzan story, is 100 years old this year! Above, an early dust jacket for this classic; below, the original 1934 trailer for Tarzan and his mate.
BONUS: The film’s notorious river scene, for which the Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim temporarily replaced Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane.
Part of the British Library’s Sounds project, World & traditional music features tens of thousands of recordings by ethnomusicologists and collectors, including those of the pioneering Africanists Peter Cooke (b.1930), Kenneth Gourlay (1919–95), Hans-Joachim Heinz (1917–2000), Arthur Morris Jones (1889–1980), David Rycroft (1924–97), and Klaus Wachsmann (1907–84). This online resource is available free of charge for noncommercial research, study, and private enjoyment.
The Ewe of Ghana have a long history of incorporating musical elements from other cultures into their traditions.
Recent developments among the Tagborlo family in the master drumming for agbadza funeral dancing (above), influenced to some extent by contacts with Western popular music, involve humor (including graphic sexual jokes), taunts, and quotations from popular songs in a manner resembling sampling procedures in rap music. These innovations are entirely within the tradition—the basic rhythmic structure, cultural context, and instrumentation remain the same.
This according to “’My mother has a television, does yours?’ Transformation and secularization in an Ewe funeral drum tradition” by James Burns (Oral tradition XX/2 [October 2005] pp. 300–319). Below, agbadza drumming and dancing at a funeral in Atsiekpui, Ghana; the master drummer on the far left conveys verbal messages through references to speech rhythms and tones.
Related post: Dagomba dance-drumming
Filed under Africa, Humor