African Music and Culture, Essay Example

Published: 2022-08-30
African Music and Culture, Essay Example
Type of paper:  Course work
Categories:  Music Culture
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1187 words
10 min read

Definitions of Culture

Culture can have two competing definitions. On one side, culture describes a set of behaviors, knowledge, interactions, and values that characterize a certain group of people in society (Davies, 2008). On the other hand, it is described to be an institution that dictates the attitudes and behaviors of the members of a given society (Njoh, 2007). It can be seen that these two definitions have an implication that culture comprises a given group's language, dietary habits, social norms, arts, religion, beliefs, and customs. Culture has been preserved over time and is transferred from one generation to another. Culture act as an identity and people having the same culture are always like-minded because they share similar values and beliefs. It makes individuals unique from one another in the universe. Some of the cultural products include music and dance, language, foods, sports, and education system among others (Njoh, 2007). African music is a culture product of choice because of the much-hyped attribute that it is the universal language spanning across different generations.

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Effects of Cultural Constructions on People and General Social Life

African music as a genre of culture plays a significant role in transforming the social lives of individuals by influencing the way individuals celebrate, interact and relay information. Music influences the culture and day to day lifestyles of people within a society in a number of ways. Overall, music acts as a communication mode in the African society hence it accompanies various community events like births, marriages, hunting, wars, working and rites of passage as highlighted by Agordoh (2005). In some African communities, the dance and music are used in paying respects to ancestors, good spirits and the dead. It also helps in chasing away evil spirits in the community. Despite differences in musical instruments and styles among various communities, there are common instruments among the Africans. The important instrument is the African drum which helps in mood expression and emotion evoking (Welsh-Asante, 2010). The African drum beat act as the "heartbeat of the community" whiles the rhythm brings togetherness among the dancers. Other instruments like rattles, xylophone, horns, sticks, bells and stamping tubes were also used. African dances act as essential communication form and dancers use Masks, symbolic gestures, body painting, and costumes (Mbaegbu, 2015)

According to Agordoh (2005), singing and dancing in African communities involve children, men, and women. Dances are grouped depending on gender and age for gender role reinforcement. Music and dancing are essential to children in their games and life. They imitate their elders while singing and dancing. Traditionally people sang while working to coordinate time, singing is sometimes done to call community members together for a common task. The work songs increase people's morale, help in withstanding anger and frustration to allow completion of the work (Mapaya, 2014). Hunters and livestock keeping involve small groups of young men or boys. Community members come together to sing and dance while requesting their ancestors to guide and protect the men (Aluede, 2006). At the forest, they also engage in dancing and singing to pass time and help hunters to find the location of the colleagues and that of the prey.

Role of Songs and Dance in Shaping Societal Attributes

Research shows that song and dance influences various attributes such as gender, age, race, marriage, class, and religion among others in a given community (Davies, 2008). Africans could dance and sing to communicate with their natural powers. The dancers believe they are communicating directly with their ancestral spirits and gods. They wear some masks as a temporary symbol of their spirits (Mapaya, 2014). People could sing and dance and offer animal sacrifices to the spirits as a sign of thanksgiving and honor for the protection and the blessings. In rural societies, group singing and dancing could be conducted to signify rites of passage like moving from childhood to adulthood (Njoh, 2007). Young women and men could compete dancing against each other as a sign of passage to adulthood. When a child is born singing and dancing is done to thank their gods for the gift and to name the child. Beer and traditional liquor will be prepared for people to drink and enjoy the celebration (Welsh-Asante, 2010).

During celebrations like weddings and funerals, dancing and singing occupied a significant part in the African communities. Even at present, dancing and singing in African weddings the favorite form of entertainment, and entails showering praises to the brides and the bridegrooms and teaching them lessons as they begin new families (Firenzi, 2012). Some rituals like performing a burnt sacrifice to ask the ancestors to bless the couples, give them children, and grant them love and peace all through their marriage life. Loss of a loved one in a community is a painful experience in real life. Whenever a person dies, the occasion is full of singing and dancing to comfort the family and to praise and bless the dead as they join the spirit world (Njoh, 2007). Depending on what the dead did while alive, the bad doings are believed to bring tragedy to the family hence it is necessary to send off evil spirits through offering sacrifices. This is a culture that manifests itself even in contemporary African societies.

Dancing and singing accompany activities like a celebration of heroes and warriors in African society. Leaders like elders and war warriors were entertained by singing and dancing as a symbol of giving thanks, honor and recognizing them in society (Green, 2018). Furthermore, dancing provided opportunities to young men and women to show themselves off hence resulting in courtship. Through the dancing, an admirer could find a wife or a husband. For instance, in Nigeria, there was a "NkwaUmuAgbogho" dance performed by teenage girls to honor wrestling heroes (Green, 2018). The dance resulted in Dr. Nnamdi Azilikiwe getting one of his wives who was among the performing dancers (Mapaya, 2014).

Njoh (2007) found that many Africans who served as slaves in South and North America sang and danced to help them conserve their cultural traditions and act as a connection with their communities in their home countries. Africans from Zimbabwe, for instance, played Zanla Forces War songs which energized and stirred up in their struggle for independence (Welsh-Asante, 2010).


Agordoh, A. A. (2005). African music: traditional and contemporary. New York: Nova Science Publ.

Aluede, C. O. (2006). Music Therapy in Traditional African Societies: Origin, Basis, and Application in Nigeria. Journal of Huan Ecology, 31-35.

Amegago, M. M. (2011). An African music and dance curriculum model: performing arts in education. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.

Davies, C. B. (2008). Encyclopedia of the African diaspora: origins, experiences, and culture. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Firenzi, T. (2012). The Changing Functions of Traditional Dance in Zulu Society: 1830-Present. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 403-425.

Green, D. (2018). The Creation of Traditional African Dance/Music Integrated Scores. Journal of Movement Arts Literacy, 3-10.

Mapaya, M. G. (2014). The Study of Indigenous African Music and Lessons from Ordinary Language Philosophy. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 34-42.

Mbaegbu, C. C. (2015). The Effective Power of Music in Africa. Open Journal of Philosophy, 176-183. Njoh, A. J. (2007). Tradition, culture, and development in Africa: historical lessons for modern development planning. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Welsh-Asante, K. (2010). African dance. New York: Chelsea House.

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