by J. H. Kwabena Nketia
1 / The Musical Traditions of Africa
It is now common knowledge that the continent of Africa is not as culturally homogeneous as has been generally assumed. North Africa is inhabited by societies whose languages and cultures are very closely related to those of the Arab world of the Middle East, while the southern portion is dominated by settler populations from Europe.
By extension, the music practiced by these societies belongs to stylistic families outside Africa. Arabic music is cultivated by societies in north Africa, as well as by Arabs or Arabized communities in northern Sudan, parts of the Maghreb, and the east African littoral. Although the music of these cultures appears to have developed some characteristics of its own on the African continent, it belongs to the Oriental family of modal music. Its classical, folk, and popular idioms are so distinct from those of the rest of Africa that it cannot, on stylistic grounds, be included in the family of indigenous African music. Likewise, those varieties of Western music cultivated in the southern portion of the continent by European settler populations and by Africans of Western orientation must also be excluded from this family of musical styles.
When we turn to the rest of Africa, we find African societies whose musical cultures not only have their historical roots in the soil of Africa, but which also form a network of distinct yet related traditions which overlap in certain aspects of style, practice, or usage, and share common features of internal pattern, basic procedure, and contextual similarities. These related musical traditions constitute a family distinct from those of the West or the Orient in their areas of emphasis.
The most important characteristic of this family of musical traditions is the diversity of expressions it accommodates, a diversity arising from different applications of common procedures and usages. In part, this may be the outcome of the complex historical grouping of African peoples into societies ranging from as few as two thousand people to as many as fifteen million. Over seven hundred distinct languages are spoken by these societies; and although these languages can be grouped into large families, in some cases many hundreds of years separate the members of such families from their parent languages. The counterpart of this linguistic situation exists in music, for the music of Africa, like its language, is, so to speak, "ethnic-bound." Each society practices its own variant. Hence one can speak of the Yoruba variety of African music, the Akan, the Ewe, the Senufo, or the Nyamwezi variety, and so on.
The Historical Perspective
Several factors account for this diversity of musical traditions. The environmental conditions under which African societies evolved have by no means been uniform, nor have their histories followed the same course. The cultures of those who occupy the savannah and grassland areas have tended to differ from those whose countryside is predominantly of the tropical forest type. There are likewise riverine people as opposed to highland dwellers, as in the past there were predominantly agricultural peoples, pastoralists, and others who combined both of these occupations. Small pockets of hunters and gatherersnotably the Pygmies of central Africa and the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desertalso appear to have sustained this mode of life.
Most of these societies also engaged in other pursuitsin trade, light industries such as weaving and pottery, and the making of wooden, gold, iron, or bronze artifacts, with the choice of medium generally related to environmental factors. Variations in the cultural patterns of societies placed in such circumstances were inevitable, and these were reflected not only in their social and religious institutions and material cultures, but also in their arts, which now constitute the heritage of modern Africa.
The cultural differences tended to be perpetuated by the kinds of political units into which African peoples traditionally grouped themselves. Until recently, most African societies lived as distinct political unitssome as societies without centralized political institutions, and others as societies with state systems. Many of the latter had flourished in ancient times, and some emerged as kingdoms and empires of considerable magnitude in different historical epochs. In west Africa, for example, the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, Songhai, and Kanem-Bornu flourished one after the other in the Sudanic belt, to be followed by the growth of forest states such as those of the Yoruba, Benin, Dahomey, and Ashanti.
Over forty such indigenous states existed up to the end of the colonial era. Some of them underwent drastic changes under colonial regimes, but many of them have continued to nourish generally in a modified formwithin the framework of modern African states. In colonial times there were, as there are now, societies like those of the Nuer of southern Sudan or the Akan of Ghana, who shared common cultures but who traditionally grouped themselves into different political units. On the other hand, there were also single states that embraced peoples of different ethnic groups.
Population movement that followed territorial expansion, wars, famine, and other crises drove wedges into homogeneous groups and gave rise to mixed populations. Sometimes branches of one group migrated to another location, thus splintering the group: for example, the Sandawe, an offshoot of the so-called click-speaking peoples of southern Africa, now live in Tanzania.
The establishment of territorial boundaries during the nineteenth century ignored the composition of the indigenous population, introducing similar complications. For example, in eastern Africa, the Luo are found in both Kenya and Tanzania, while members of the so-called cattle-culture complex are scattered throughout Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Somalia.
Although all these groups retained their identity, they did not live in isolation. In the pursuit of trade, members of some societies, such as the Mande and Hausa, traveled far and wide; other states maintained diplomatic relations with one another. Likewise, there was cultural interaction that resulted in the borrowing and adaptation of cultural items, including music.
As a result of this interchange, there sometimes occur musical types bearing the same names in different areas, as well as other types with different names but similar patterns. For example, asafo music of warrior organizations or one of its subtypes, assnks, kyirem, or apagya, will be found in the Akan, Ga, Adangme, and Ewe areas of Ghana; in Dagomba country in Ghana, a music and dance type called kanbonwaa is modeled on the same kind of music, but combines both Akan and Dagomba musical styles. Similarly, a musical style called jongo is found among many societies in northern Ghanain Frafra, Kusasi, Kassena-Nankani, Builsa, and Si-salawhile damba is performed in Dagomba, Gonja, and Wala at festivals of Islamic origin. The use of similar musical patterns or terms extends beyond regional boundaries: for example, the Daho-mean musical genres kete, ketehoun, katanto, and akofin are reminiscent of some types also prevalent in the Akan region of Ghana.
The areas of intensive interaction tend to follow fairly well-defined geographical boundaries which incorporate centers of economic or religious activities. One such area extends from the western Sudan to Lake Chad and its environs, where varieties of instruments of the lute and harp-lute family and certain features of monodic (single-voice) singing style predominate. Another such area is eastern Africa, including the East Horn (Somalia and Ethiopia), which is set apart from west Africa by a similarity of instrumental types. Varieties of long trumpets, zithers, lyres, harps, and kettle drums link a number of ethnic groups in this area.
The distribution of types of instruments and even of musical features in more extensive areas also suggests that the musical cultures of African societies were not isolated, but overlapped and interacted. The use of xylophones, for example, extends right across the continent, from east to west through the Niger-Congo linguistic zone. A map of the distribution of this instrument prepared by Olga Boone has been revised by A. M. Jones, who has superimposed on it the distribution of thirds (see map), since it seems to be concentrated in the same zone. Another illustration is J. Vansina's survey of the incidence of welded double-flange bells in the area of the Niger-Congo divide, which suggests not only that the societies in this area interacted, but also that there was probably a common model, followed by societies in this zone, of state organization in which such bells functioned as part of the regalia of kings.Distribution of Xylophones
Contact with External Cultures: the Legacy of Islam
The political and cultural evolution of interacting indigenous states did not follow an even course. In addition to internal factors that affected their progress, there were also external factors that influenced the direction of their development. Africa had trade connections with countries of the Mediterranean and the Near East, as well as with Southeast Asia. References to Africa in Indian and Chinese manuscripts show that in the precolonial era there were trade connections with these countries as well.
The societies of Africa that interacted with peoples of other lands included those of
a. the East Horn (Somalia and Ethiopia), whose proximity to the civilizations of Egypt and the Mediterranean as well as Arabia is reflected in its cultures and ethnic composition;
b. eastern Africa, where Arab traders were active and penetrated the interior as far as the Congo, and where Afro-Arabic interaction was so strong that it stimulated the growth and spread of Swahili as a lingua franca;
c. the island of Malagassy, the scene of Malayan, Indonesian, and African interaction; and
d. the Sudanic belt of west Africa, which interacted with Islamic north Africa.
The impact of Islamic and Arabic cultures had a far-reaching influence on many of the cultures of all these areas, and particularly on those of the savannah belt of west Africa, the coastal belt of eastern Africa, and Sudan. Pockets of non-Islamized groups remained within these areas, while those that embraced Islam varied in the extent to whichtheir cultures were transformed.
The rise of an Islamic ruling caste and the formation of Islamic states were features of this period of African history. Such states were formed in some cases (such as the East Horn) by Arab settlers, and in other cases (such as northern Nigeria) by leaders of African societies who had embraced Islam and who felt committed to wage holy wars in order to subjugate the indigenous populations under the political rule of Islam. The potentates of such states adopted the regalia of sultans, and some Arabic musical instruments, particularly aerophones and drums, became a regular feature of their court music.
The effect of the transplantation of Islamic and Arabic cultures on the musical traditions of African societies was, however, uneven. While some regions (such as northern Sudan and the Mediterranean littoral, occupied by bedouin Arabs who interacted with Berbers) adopted Arabic musical traits, other areas underwent varying degrees of adjustment to the impact of Arabic music. The adjustments, however, were not as radical in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa as it is generally supposed. In some parts of west Africa for example, it appears that African converts to Islam did not have to abandon their traditional music completely, even where they learned Islamic cantillation or became familiar with Arabic music. On the contrary, they continued to practice it, making such modifications in resources or refinements in style as contact with the new musical culture suggested.
The resources drawn upon by societies in contact with Islamic and Arabic cultures lay primarily in the field of musical instruments. A few varieties of closed and open drums were borrowed as additions to local forms, or for use in special contexts. Some lutes, reed pipes, and long trumpets were similarly adopted and integrated into local musical cultures.
Generally, the Arabic types simply provided the models for the manufacture of local equivalents. Hence some instruments, like the one-string fiddle, show variations in size and shapes, as well as timbre. Similarly adopted plucked lutes come in different sizes and have different kinds of resonators: some have round resonators, while others have rectangular forms. Only because such instruments could be made with local materials, unlike Western instruments, could they be adapted for local use.
Sometimes not only the instruments were adopted, but also the terms for instruments (e.g., tabale, bendair, ghaita) and customs associated with particular musical instruments. The diffusion of these elements did not always take place through the adoption of Islam. The normal processes of cultural interaction permitted those not in direct contact with Islam to borrow from their Islam-ized neighbors, or from contact agents (those who carry cultural elements from one group to another) such as Mande and Hausa Muslims, who habitually traded in their areas.
It must be emphasized that the interchange between African and Arabic cultures did not benefit only Africa. As Henry G. Farmer points out, there is "some evidence of Moorish indebtedness to the western Sudan." In the field of music, the adoption of the African drumganga in north Africa is a noteworthy example of reciprocal borrowing. Secondly, it was not only Africa that benefited musically from Islamic civilization. Curt Sachs tells us that,
Nearly all the musical instruments of medieval Europe came from Asia, either from the southeast through Byzantium, or from the Islamic empire through North Africa, or from the northeast along the Baltic Coast. The direct heritage from Greece and Rome seems to have been rather insignificant, and the lyre is the only instrument that might possibly be considered European in origin. [Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments (New York, 1940), 260.]
Making a similar comment on the musical instruments of the Orient, Sachs writes, "Islamic influence has left a quantity of traces on Southeast Asia, but most Islamic instruments have been absorbed by primitive tribes and have no place in art music, with the exception of the Persian spike fiddle."
Apart from instrumental resources, it was generally only the more superficial aspects of Arabic musical style that seemed to have attracted those societies in contact with Islam who did not give up their traditional music. These traits include features of vocal technique identified with Islamic cantillationsuch as voice projection and its accompanying mannerism of cupping the ear with the palm of the hand, or a slight degree of ornamentation and facilitated by the traditional emphasis in Islamized areas of Africa on monodic singing. The more important aspect of Arabic style, the system of melodic and rhythmic modes, does not seem to have been generally adopted, for this would have entirely changed the character of the music of those societies.
Moreover, there was much in Arabic musical culture to reinforce traditional African musical practice, for
Music accompanied the Arajt from the cradle to the grave, from lullaby to elegy. Every moment of his life seems to have had its particular musicjoy and sorrow, work and play, battle-throng and religious exercise. . . . Vocal music has always been more keenly appreciated by the Arabs than the purely instrumental music. Their ardent taste for poetry determined this to some extent, although the pressure of legal opinion which frowned on instrumental music per se also contributes to the preference. . . . There were also instrumental pieces, but far oftener they were used as preludes or interludes to vocal items. [Henry G. Farmer, "Music," in The Legacy of Islam, ed. Sir Thomas Arnold and Alfred Guillaume (London, 1931), 358-59.]
It must be noted also that some of the basic elements of African cultures survived the Islamic impact and thus reinforced the practice of music associated with social customs. As J. S. Trimingham points out,
When Islam is adopted the -community does not suddenly change its social pattern but remains a unity distinguished by its own pattern of custom. In time Islam becomes closely intertwined with communal life, yet without disintegrating its basic structure. Only when a Muslim family is compared with a pagan family belonging to the same social group can the effect of Islam be seen. New features are superimposed, but basic customs, the composition of the extended family, the authority of its head, the rules of succession are little affected. [J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in West Africa (Oxford, 1959), 125.]
It is not surprising, therefore, to find extensions of traditional customs or the use of indigenous resources in the musical practice of Islamic-African communities. As Trimingham further observes, "the musical aptitude of the African, characterised by the chant, highly developed rhythm and antiphony, has found expression in the recitals of religious poems in Arabic and vernaculars at dhikr gatherings." Nor is it strange to find residual elements of African vocal style coloring African renditions of Islamic cantillations.
Some Islamic communities set the context of Islamic worship and other religious and social occasions apart musically. According to Akin Euba, the Yoruba Islamic community uses "orthodox Arabic Music" during worship, but performs traditional Yoruba music for social activities as well as Muslim festivals. It is noteworthy that in some societies, Muslim musicians perform not only for their own religious community, but also for other social groups and non-Muslim festivals and ceremonies as well. It is no doubt this practice of integrating Muslim and non-Muslim activities within the single community that has facilitated the integration of Arabic and indigenous musical resources in the traditional music of Islamized African communities.
The Legacy of Europe
No less far-reaching was the contact with Europe established through trade, Christianity, and colonial rule, for this set in motion new forces in acculturation that have helped to reshape Africa. The grouping of indigenous African societies and states within new territorial framework which began in this era continues to be the basis of modern African states. Thus Nigeria, the largest African country, with a population of over fifty million, is inhabited by the Yoruba, the Hausa, the Nupe, the Tiv, the Ibo, the Efik, the Ijaw, and several other African societies, each of them in a different region of the country. Likewise, Ghana, a small country with a population of some eight million people, is made up of several ethnic groups who formerly lived as independent entities. All of them have continued to maintain their cultural identity within the framework of the state. A similar picture exists in east Africa: Uganda has twenty-five ethnic divisions made up of Bantus, Nilotes, and Nilo-Hamitic peoples, while Tanzania has over one hundred thirteen distinct groups.
One of the problems facing modern African states, therefore, is how to integrate the societies politically and culturally within their state framework. The question of African unity has also loomed large in the politics of modern Africa. Efforts have been made by the Organization of African Unity to set up machinery for the promotion of inter-territorial cooperation in the arts and for the organization of pan-African festivals through which greater cultural integration can be fostered on a continent-wide basis.
It was not only political change that contact with Europe generated, but economic change as well. Indigenous trade was promoted by the new demands of foreign traders. The slave trade, for example, nourished and paved the way for the transplantation and growth of African and African-derived music in the New World. The traditional emphasis in agriculture was transformed from mere subsistence to the cultivation of cash crops, while markets were created for the sale of European goods. As the economy grew, Western instruments originally introduced through the church and the military became available in shops for the few adventurous musicians who were willing to play them. The adoption of the Western guitar by traditional musicians in some parts of Africa followed this general trend.
All these developments were encouraged and strengthened by the activities of the church, which preached against African cultural practices while promoting Western cultural values and usages. It adopted a hostile attitude to African music, especially to drumming, because this was associated with what seemed to Christian evangelists "pagan" practices. Moreover, this music did not appear to be suitable for the form of Christian worship that Westerners were accustomed to. The fact that drums and other percussion instruments were used in the Ethiopian church, which had been established in the fourth century a.d.much earlier than any other church in Africadid not affect the evangelistic prejudices. In some areas the converts were not only prohibited from performing traditional African music, but even from watching it. Hence, active participation in community eventsin festivals and ceremonieswas discouraged.
Because indigenous African music could not be used, the substitution of Western music was vigorously pursued. Some churches translated Western hymns into African languages and thus made them a little more meaningful to their converts. The music curriculum of Western-style education introduced by those churches emphasized Western hymns, school music, and art music. This pattern of education reached its peak when the tradition of preparing African students for British examinations in music was established. In 1933, the Education Department of the Gold Coast (Ghana), for example, was able to make the following announcement in the local Teachers' Journal:
The Associated Board has just opened its examination to West Africa. The local secretary is Mr. W. E. F. Ward, Achi-mota, who will provide on application free copies of the syllabus and full details of the examination etc. At a small charge, he will also supply specimen papers, copies of prescribed music and other matter. For the present only written examinations will be held, the papers being set and marked in England. Practical examinations will be held in future if there are enough candidates to justify the Board in sending an examiner from Englandbut not for a year or two. Nevertheless these examinations are easily the best in the Gold Coast, and there are no better examinations available anywhere. They provide a regular, carefully graded course to the highest level: and they should be a means ofimproving the musicianship of the teachers and pupils of West Africa.
It is noteworthy that almost one hundred years before this advertisement, Ghanaians were being taught to play Western music so that they could entertain those who lived in the European forts and castles. In his work on Ashante and the Gold Coast (1841), Beecham observes that "the musical taste of the people is evidenced by the native band at Cape Coast Castle which plays admirably by ear, several of the most popular English tunes." The need for providing Western musical entertainment for colonial officials and traders was met subsequently by the army and police bands, to which Africans were recruited and trained by Western band conductors. Before the attainment of independence, it was these bands that entertained people at the European clubs and played for the garden parties held by governors of the colonies.
The effect of transplanting Western music into Africa in the aforesaid manner was threefold. First, the continuity of traditional music in its unadulterated form outside the adopted Western institutions was unintentionally assured by the exclusion of traditional musicians and their music from the church and educational institutions, the most direct sources of Western musical influence. Most of the traditional political, social, and cultural institutions that supported traditional music flourished in spite of the presence of Christianity, Western cultural institutions, and colonialism.
Second, the exclusion of those who were systematically exposed to Western culture from participation in traditional music led to the emergence of new "communities of taste," identified with varieties of Western music. These communities still exist in independent Africa, for the legacy of Europe is inextricably bound in with the cultures of contemporary Africa.
Third, the creative urge of members of these new musical communities found outlet in new compositions. These have been developing in two streams. One is that of modern popular music, which appears in different forms on the African continent and takes its place alongside Western popular music in the cafe, the night club, the ballroom, and other places of entertainment. Well-known forms of this music are the highlife of west Africa, the kuella of South Africa, and the popular music of the Congo. Each of these functions as a musical type consisting of percussion, set rhythmic and melodic characteristics shared by individual items in its repertoire, and, of course, Western-derived harmonies. The other stream includes new forms of art music designed for the church, educational institutions, and the concert hall. It includes music for Western-type choirs (which often sing in four-part harmony), as well as instrumental music. However, choral music seems to have received much more emphasis, owing to its early development in the Christian Church.
These new forms of composition were originally based entirely on Western models with which composers were familiar hymns, anthems, marching songs, and so forth, set to local languages, and as instrumental pieces. However, with the gradual growth among the literate community of nationalism, which served to stimulate a new awareness of the African heritage of music, a few composers began to turn their attention to traditional African materials. Nevertheless, what emerged was not a complete break from Western tradition as they knew it, but its use for the creation of a new Western-derived African musicthat is, music based on African melodic and rhythmic structures, but exploiting Western harmony and developmental techniques as well as employing both African and Western musical instruments.
This approach seemed welcome to some critics of the colonial period who saw the future of African music in terms of a synthesis of the resources of Africa and Europe. Concluding his essay on "Music in the Gold Coast," which appeared in the Gold Coast Review, W. E. Ward suggests that "if it could learn from Europe modern developments in form and harmony, African music should grow into an art more magnificent than the world has yet seen." (William E. Ward, "Music in the Gold Coast," Gold Coast Review, III/2)
In a book review which appeared in Overseas Education, Reginald Foresythe further emphasized that
African children should be taught African music alongside with European music. Only in this way can we expect to create an African school of composition, which will necessarily have to be a fusion of African and European idioms. Of course all this rests with individual genius, but I look forward to the day when great works by African composers, works stamped with that originality and depth that is Africa's will be heard in the concert halls of the world. [Reginald Forsythe, review of William E. Ward's Music: A Handbook for African Teachers (London, 1939), in Overseas Education, XI/j (1940), 174-75.]
These observers merely took notice of what Africa itself was doing within the context of acculturation. Present-day commentators, however, are ambivalent. Some recognize and encourage those new forms, which have become identified with non-traditional subcultures and urban social life. But purists decry them as hybrids and vestiges of the colonial past that must be discouraged; for whatever their merit in terms of satisfying a social need of the moment, they lack the stylistic diversity and vigor of traditional music. It seems, however, that nothing short of a cultural revolution can set the clock back, for this problem is not peculiar to the recent history of music in Africa. It is characteristic of the entire way of life of modern Africa, its institutions, and its creative arts its literature in English, French, and African languages, its modern paintings, sculpture, and dramaall of which reflect the African heritage as well as various aspects of the legacy of Europe. That is why decolonization is regarded by those concerned with the African image as an important task facing independent Africa.
It is no wonder, therefore, that the search for African identity and the growing awareness of the cultural achievements of the past have awakened in independent Africa a new interest in traditional music. The Christian churches have begun to explore the resources of this music and to consider how Christian worship can be Africanized. The question of the adequate use of traditional music in African music education is likewise receiving attention, while traditional music is being featured in the programs of African radio and television stations. The preservation, promotion, and re-creation of this music now forms part of the cultural policy of many African governments. Anniversary celebrations of independence and other national occasions give it a special place, while national dance companies highlight the heritage of traditional music and dance in their respective countries.
It will be evident from the foregoing brief survey that the factors that shape and maintain musical practice in Africa operate in the direction of both change and continuity. Some elements give rise to the widening of regions in which indigenous musical traditions overlap, while others lead to greater heterogeneity in details of style.
The Islamic period increased the scope of overlap to the extent that it introduced new resources and features that were adopted over an extensive area. But it also created a new cleavage between the musical practice of Islamized and non-Islamized societies. Within Islamized societies, continuity of tradition was assured through the integration of old and new materials and through the extension of the use of music in new aspects of social life.
The European period was marked by divergent tendencies that led to the emergence of new musical subcultures. It introduced new levels of identification that went beyond those of the ethnic group, and heralded a new era of internationalism. New distinctions in musical practice aroseparticularly between traditional and contemporary practice, as well as in levels of musical activity relating to idiomatic categorieswhich established the division between traditional, popular, and art music in sub-Saharan Africa.
The complex nature of the musical scene was recognized during the post-independence period. Much of what was inherited from the colonial period was retained, including Western military band music, and even national anthems in Western musical idiom were accepted. Now it appears that increased attention is being given to expanding the scope of traditional music in national programs, in addition to emphasizing its relevance to modern cultural institutions. The creative response to all this is beginning to show itself in adaptations of traditional music for use in new contexts, as well as in new popular and art music based almost entirely on traditional materials.
A knowledge of traditional African music in its social context is, therefore, a prerequisite both for understanding the contemporary musical scene in Africa and for gaining some insight into the musical experience as it relates to the African in his personal and social life. In the chapters that follow, we shall examine the characteristics of this music with respect to its contextual relations (using the community as a frame of reference), the range of instrumental and vocal resources evident in the specializations of societies that practice this music, the varieties of structures and procedures that are utilized in traditional musical expressions, and various aspects of performance.
In traditional African societies, music making is generally organized as a social event. Public performances, therefore, take place on social occasionsthat is, on occasions when members of a group or a community come together for the enjoyment of leisure, for recreational activities, or for the performance of a rite, ceremony, festival, or any kind of collective activity, such as building bridges, clearing paths, going on a search party, or putting out firesactivities that, in industrialized societies, might be assigned to specialized agencies.
Those who get together in such communal activities generally belong to the same ethnic or linguistic group. The basis of association for music making, however, is usually the community, those members of the ethnic group who share a common habitat (such as a group of homesteads, a village, a town, or a section of a town) and who live some kind of corporate life based on common institutions, common local traditions, and common beliefs and values.
The degree of social cohesion in such communities is usually very strong. Not only may the members know one another, but they may also be bound by a network of social relations: they may be kinsmen or members of social groups that cut across kinship.Expression of group sentiment:
Spontaneous response to group needs and involvement in collective activity are generally expected of the members of a community. Organized games and sports (such as wrestling), beer parties and feasts, festivals, and social and religious ceremonies or rites that bring the members of a community together provide an important means of encouraging involvement in collective behavior, a means of strengthening the social bonds that bind them and the values that inspire their corporate life. The performance of music in such contexts, therefore, assumes a multiple role in relation to the community: it provides at once an opportunity for sharing in creative experience, for participating in music as a form of community experience, and for using music as an avenue for the expression of group sentiments.
The emphasis on community experience does not, of course, preclude individual music making by both young and old, especially when it is related to personal life and individual economic activities. Music can be performed by children, for example. Among the Fon of Dahomey, a child who loses his first tooth has to sing a special traditional song to commemorate the event. When children assist in the economic activities of their parents or are given special responsibilities, such as looking after flocks, they may be encouraged to play flutes for their own enjoyment, for giving signals to their companions, or for guiding their flocks.
Among the Brifor of Ghana, for example, shepherd boys make pipes out of the stalks of millet and play these to give signals to other shepherd boys, especially when they are taking cattle out in the morning to graze in the field. Builsa herders similarly play flutes to give signals to one another, particularly when returning home with their cattle.
Music is also performed by individual adults, either for their own enjoyment or for the young. Cradle songs are typical examples of this: their texts may reflect not only themes interesting to a child or musical elements amusing to him, but also references of interest primarily to mothers and adult listeners. In addition to cradle songs, some societies make provision for a variety of domestic songs, or encourage the use of songs as an accompaniment to domestic activities. Grinding songs, pounding songs, and songs sung when the floor of a newly built house is being made have been noted; some of these, however, also take place as group activities.
Individual musical expressions have a place in traditionally masculine activities as well, and may be found in recreation, in work situations, or even in the context of worship. An instrumentalist may play for his own enjoymenthe may perform in the open without addressing himself to a specific audience, or he may perform in seclusion. The Konkomba lute player performs for himself only when he wants to keep in close communion with his god, as does the Gabon ritual expert who plays the wombi chordophone. The sight of the lonely wayfarer playing the sansa (hand piano) as he travels is not uncommon in some parts of east Africa, while shepherds are known to spend their time playing the flute. Such individual expressions become a part of the community experience only when they take place in social contexts. Accordingly, they may be encouraged or requested where they have something to communicate to an audience. Thus, the individual singing of dirges, praise songs, or boasting songs, and the performance of solo instrumental music that carries significant messages feature in the activities of some social occasions.
In general, however, community life lays much more emphasis on group musical activities than on solo performances. Many social occasions are dominated by the performance of a chorus of boys, girls, men, or women, by the singing of mixed choruses, or by performances of drum, xylophone, flute and trumpet, or chordophone ensembles, as well as mixed instrumental and vocal groups.
The Selection of Music
The actual music that may be performed on any occasion depends on the social event and those involved in it, for it is customary to organize the music in relation to the different phases of community life or in terms of the needs of special situations. These categories of music fall into two groups.
The first consists of musical pieces that are not conceived of in sets, but that may be unified by a common contextual reference. This would include the music performed on ritual or ceremonial occasions at prescribed stages of the proceedingspreceding, accompanying, or following prayers, speeches, ritual actions, or processsions. This music may not necessarily form a coherent formal unit or musical type.
The second class includes musical items that share common characteristics and are grouped in sets. Each such set of pieces generally constitutes a category of music or a distinctive musical type, and may be identified by a name, the choice of which may be guided by different considerations. For example, among the Akan of Ghana, a musical type may be named after those who perform it; thus, the music performed by hunters (absfos) and warrior organizations (flsafo) bear similar titles. But this is by no means the rule. A musical type may also be named after the function it performs; thus, a category of songs performed by women in time of war, when the men are away, is called asrayere ("visiting the wives"), for it is special music that brings the women together to wish their men well. These songs are also called mmobomme, songs of prayer for wishing a person well.
The social occasion on which a musical genre is usually performed or the activity, custom, rite, or festival with which it is associated may lend its name to the related music. Accordingly, the songs of puberty rite (bragors) are called bradvoom (dwom meaning song), while the music ofkundum festival is similarly called kundum.
Sometimes a name, a proverbial saying that catches the fancy of a performing group, or the name of a person who originates a musical type may be used as a label for the music; this is particularly true of music performed for entertainment or recreation. Examples have been noted of labels such as ntan ("bluff"), sika rebevou a, epere ("money struggles before it vanishes"), onni bi amane ("the suffering of the person who has no relations or friends").
The principal instruments used in a given musical type may also provide the name for the music. Thus the music of trumpets is given the same name as the trumpets themselves, ntahera, music in which the gourd stamping tube adenkum is the principal instrument is also known as adenkum, and music in which a box, adaka, is used as a substitute for a master drum takes a similar name, adakam.
When there is a specific name for the dance for which a musical genre is performed, this may also be used as a label for the music. Similarly, where dance items are intended for specific people, such as women of royal blood or porters of the royal court, the dances, and in turn the music, may be named after these categories of people.
It is not usual to provide names for individual items of a musical type, except where they constitute distinctive stylistic variants, or where it is necessary to refer to separate components specifically. This is particularly true of instrumental music, where each work may have a title that refers to its verbal basis, its style, the context of use, or mode of performance. Where instrumental items separated in this manner are combined with a chorus, each piece may belong to a set of songs and sometimes to a dance style.
Occasionally, one comes across musical types whose songs are grouped into subcategories on the basis of their themes, modes of performance, or contextual reference. The Adangme klama, for example, has a number of subcategories: klama for each of the principal cults, klama for the tegble heroic association, klama for puberty festivals, and proverbial and historical klama that may be sung in appropriate contexts. Similarly, the Akan dirge has subcategories for the different clans, particular lineages, members of ntoro groups, and specified individuals.
These various ways of naming and classifying musical genres demonstrate that the corpus of music practiced in an African community or in the wider society of which it is a part may have some kind of internal organization that groups items into sets, or relates items or groups of items to specific contexts.
Implied in the internal organization of musical items and musical types is the exercise of some measure of social control. The music for a rite, a ceremony, or festival may not normally be performed in another context unless there is some special reason for doing so. On the same basis, the choice of musical resourcesfor example, the use of musical instrumentsmay be regulated: special drums not used elsewhere may be set aside for the worship of the divinities, while musical instruments dedicated to kings may not be played for ordinary individuals. Where the same instruments are used, the repertoire may be different.
Furthermore, the type of performance allowed for different occasions or situations may be controlled. The full ensemble may be used on one occasion and a smaller one for another. The periods for musical performances may likewise be regulated. The incidence of particular forms of music making may be related to leisure time, the ritual calendar, crises in the life of the individual or the community, and the exigencies of the seasons, in terms of which communities order their lives. There are communities that vary their emphasis on recreational music making relative to their agricultural activities, making it somewhat sporadic during the sowing season, but frequent and intense during the harvest season or during the dry season. There are others that respond to changesof the moon, and take advantage, of moonlit nights for the enjoyment of music and dance as well as other recreational activities, such as story telling and games.
Sometimes the schedule of musical activities is related to the beliefs of a communityto the wishes of the gods they worship or to the reactions evoked from the spirits and forces that are believed to play a vital role in the drama of human existence. Among the Leie of Kasai, for example, rules about drums are enforced by religious sanctions. Drumming is a legitimate nighttime activity, and may occur in full daylight only on days of rest; during periods of mourning that may last up to three months, dance drums may not be beaten in this particular village. Similarly, in Ga society, drumming is banned for three weeks before the annual harvest festival begins.
The implications of all this is that we should not expect to hear music in an African community every hour of the day or every day of the week, nor should we expect to hear music on every social occasion or during every kind of collective activity. African societies are selective: some of the rites performed in a given society may be musical events, while others are performed quietly with little or no music. Likewise, the singing of work songs may be a feature of only some types of manual labor. In this regard, African societies differ in the kinds of activities for which they provide music. Some societies, for example, celebrate marriage with a great deal of music, while others do not; similarly, some use music in the rites performed for twins, while others do not make these a focus for music making.
Scope of Musical Activities
The nature and scope of music making is generally related to the aims and purposes of a specific social event or to the needs of the performers. As in many cultures of the world, music making may be organized as a concurrent activity, that is, as incidental or background music for other events such as games, wrestling matches, walking parties, processions, beer parties, and feasts. On the same basis, music may be related to the needs of performers in a variety of ways. It may be performed by street or market vendors to attract customers; by teams of fishermen as they row their boats or haul their nets; by agricultural, cooperative work groups; or, in certain societies, by selected musicians for the butchers and smiths, who apparently require music while they work, both for their own enjoyment and as a source of attraction and entertainment for their customers.
A vivid example of this use of music is given by Camara Laye in his story of The African Child. A woman comes into his father's workshop with a go-between, someone with a more-than-average command of the Malinke language. He is also versed in the artistic expression of the people, and can shower praises on the goldsmith and provide a musical background to the whole process of gold meltinga mysterious procedure, which commands an attitude of reverence on the part of the goldsmith as well as all others present. Laye writes:
The praise singer would install himself in the workshop, tune up his cora, which is our harp, and would begin to sing my father's praises. This was always a great event for me. I would hear recalled the lofty deeds of my father's ancestors, and the names of these ancestors from earliest times. As the couplets were reeled off, it was like watching the growth of a great genealogical tree that spread its branches far and wide and nourished its boughs and twigs before my mind's eye. The harp played an accompaniment to this vast utterance of names, expanding it and punctuating it with notes that were soft, now shrill. [Camara Laye, The African Child, (Glasgow, 1959), 23.]
Another kind of setting for the performer is found among the Frafra of northern Ghana. In this society, a player of the one-string fiddle and a rattle player accompany teams of men who cut grass. As they play, the workers swing their cutlasses in a concerted manner to the rhythms of their music, causing the slashing sounds of the blades to fall regularly on the main beats. This has a remarkable effect on the speed as well as the efficiency of grass cutting, for rhythmic movements that are properly organized on some regular basis appear to be less fatiguing than movements in which exertion and release of effort do not form an ordered sequence. In some societies, the music is not as closely integrated with work as in this example, but is performed in the background. A. A. Njungu tells us that in Barotseland, "village men, on returning from the fields, usually gather under a big tree listening to one of them playing piece after piece of music on one of our several musical instruments, while the rest work at the various crafts." [A. A. Njungu, "The Music of My People," African Music, 11/3 (1960), 4850.]
On ceremonial and ritual occasions, music making may similarly go hand in hand with set sequences of symbolic actions, performed with or without props by specified people playing given roles. These actions, which are dramatic in character, take place in the presence of some participants or spectators. Music may be integrated with the event, either to set the mood for the actions or to provide an outlet for expressing the feelings they generate. It may also be used to continue or heighten the dramatic action; hence, it may punctuate statements or prayers, or provide a continuous background of ordered sounds.
When a chief dies in Sukumaland, Tanzania, for example, some stages in the funeral are marked by music designed to perform various dramatic functions. The funeral announcement includes drumming, for the drums associated with the office of a chief (fitemi) can convey this message in a more forceful and dramatic manner to the community. According to Hans Cory, the big drums, lugaya or milango, are turned upside down soon after the death of the chief, when preparations for burial are made. While the corpse of the dead chief is being carried to the grave, the itemelo drum is beaten. All those who hear the sound of the drum understand; the word spreads: ngoma ya chibuka, the drum has burst that is, the chief is dead.
For the installation of the new chief who succeeds a dead ntemi, a different kind of music is performed, and different stages of the ceremony are again marked by music. As soon as the new chief comes out of the door of the new palace, a song is sung by an office bearer:
Kawahenja, you small and pretty bird, Come out that you may be seen by everybody.
A number of formal questions are put to him, and the end of each question is punctuated by drum beats. The chief and his retinue then mount a platform near a drum stand, and receive an ovation from the people. Silence is enjoined by drum beats as the chief is formally proclaimed. While war songs and dances are performed, the chief retires for a time, and then returns to the ceremonial ground. The ceremony reaches its musical climax when he returns. The names of the clans of his predecessors are recounted one by one, and each is punctuated by a drum beat. As each clan is called, the members dance forward to the chief, brandishing their spears as a sign of their loyalty, and then return to their places in the crowd.
The second approach is to organize music as a terminal activity or as an activity preceding a major event. Thus in some societies, the use of musical sounds made for flushing animals from cover during hunting is differentiated from the music performed after the hunt. The final phase of a cermony or rite may be marked by music and dancing, which may be given more time than the actual ceremony or rite itself.
There is a great deal of emphasis in community life on music making as a terminal activity, for it is through such participation that a large number of people identify themselves with the aims and purposes of a social event and interact with one another. Enjoyment of the music of the occasion is always a paramount consideration; hence, music making in such contexts may be protracted.
A third way of organizing music is to make it a. free activity, unrelated to a ritual, a ceremony, or any form ofnonmusical event, for music and dancing constitute an important means of recreation in community life. This form of music activity, however, depends very largely on the musical interests of a community, as well as on the initiative and leadership of individuals.
The Setting of Performances
Since the traditional approach to music making makes it a part of the institutional life of a community, the physical setting for performances can be any spot suitable for collective activity. It may be a public place, or a private area to which only those intimately concerned with the event are admitted; a regular place of worship, such as a shrine, a sacred spot, a grove, a mausoleum; the courtyard of the house where a ceremony is taking place, or the area behind it; the scene of communal labor, the corner of a street habitually used by social groups for music and dancing, a market place, or a dance plaza.
Among the Sonjo of Tanzania, plazas are specifically constructed for such activity, both for religious festivals and dances, and for secular singing and dancing. The religious plaza is situated somewhere near the center of every Sonjo village. It consists of a clearing large enough to hold several hundred dancers, with an enclosure at one end for meetings of the village council. Behind the enclosure is a thatched hut, which is used as a sanctuary. The floor of the sacred dance plaza, the largest and most central in the village, is always well kept. In addition, every section of the town has a small plaza, built on the same pattern and used for recreational singing, dancing, or special ritual.
Music and dance in a village square
It is unusual to find permanent structures designed specifically for musical performances. On special occasions, however, temporary structures may be erected to provide shade for a limited number of guests and spectators; seats may even be provided as well. The general practice, however, is for everything to take place in the open air, and for the audience to stand around the performers or close to them.
Those who gravitate toward the performing arena are drawn to it for different reasons. Some may come out of curiosity or merely because they are attracted by the sound of music; others attend because they like the musical genre performed by the group. (It is rare for a performing group to specialize in a wide range of musical types; indeed, most groups limit themselves to just one or two musical types in addition to their repertoire of songs and instrumental styles. Those who come to watch and hear them may be familiar with their music, and may enjoy hearing what they already know, while listening to the creative variations that may be made in the course of the performance.) There are always some who attend for ethical or social reasonsto grace the occasion or give support to the performers because they are relations, neighbors, or members of the community, or because they are guests or patrons of the performing group. Others may attend because they are leaders of the community or ritual experts who have a function to perform.
These differences in motivation are reflected in the behavior of members of the audience. The attitude generally expected of them is not one of restrained contemplative behavior, but of outward, dramatic expression of feeling. Individuals may shout in appreciation when something in the performance strikes them, or indicate at a particular point their satisfaction with what they have just heard or seen. In addition, their conduct may indicate that the performance satisfies or makes manifest a social value, or that it satisfies a moral need. On the other hand, the audience's expressions may be negative at any given moment, indicating disapproval or even displeasure. For example, there are certain expectations that dancers must fulfill, and certain things that they must not do. They must not throw glances at people while dancing, for good dancers must be so deeply engrossed in what they are doing, and doing it so well, that people will notice it without the dancers' having to "catch their eyes." In addition, the Akan say that good dancers must not hold themselves "as erect as the stalk of a plantain."
Limited participation in the performance itself may be extended to the spectators. In some contexts, they may join the chorus; they may also enter the dancing ring either to dance or to give moral support to the dancers by placing coins on their foreheads or in their mouths, by placing pieces of cloth or kerchiefs around their necks, or by spreading pieces of cloth on the ground for them to step on. That is why dancing in the ring "as though she had no relations," no one to give her support or encouragement, is an expression of sadness for a woman in some societies.
Of course, the presence and participation of an audience influence the animation of a performance, the spontaneous selection of music, the range of textual improvisation, and other details; and this stimulus to creative activity is welcomed, and even sought, by the performers. A physically present audience, however, is not always necessary. Furthermore, even where an audience is present, it may not necessarily be the primary focus of attention, since a performance may well be for the benefit of someone who may not actually be present, or simply for the enjoyment of the performers.
Where an audience is present, there is usually not a wide gulf or a clear-cut boundary between them and the performers, except where the nature of the performance requires this. When the performers group themselves at one end of the arena, they are flanked on their left and right by the spectators in a horseshoe formation, taking care to leave enough space for the dance. Where instrumentalists and chorus take their places at the opposite ends of the arena, the spectators may line up on their left and right, forming a square but leaving an open space between the two groups for dancing. When the performers arrange themselves in a circle, the spectators similarly form a circle around them. The actual details of the seating or standing arrangements for the performers themselves vary in different societies. Whatever the formation, the atmosphere in the performing arena is usually informal, and spectators are free to move about or leave any time they wish.
On the whole, intimate indoor settings for musical performances are not as prevalent as outdoor settings. An indoor setting would generally be reserved for restricted audiences such as kings, patrons, and friends, or for a limited group of people involved in a private ritual or ceremony. Whatever the setting, the focus is on music making as a social activity, one that emphasizes artistic as well as social, political, and religious values. Music may be performed for the sheer fun of it, for the message that it communicates, or for the outlet that it provides for social interaction or the sharing of community sentiments; it may be performed as a tribute to an individual, an offering to a deity, or a service to a potentate. The approach to music making that links it to institutional life ensures spontaneous participation and identification with the musical life of a community.
In African societies, participation in music may be a voluntary activity or an obligation imposed by one's membership in a social group. Such a social group may be a descent group (a group of people who trace their ancestry back to the same person), or it may be any group based on the broader societal classifications of age, sex, interest, or occupation. Where an African society is stratified, as, for example, the societies of the Hausa of Nigeria and the Wolof of Senegambia, musical activity may be related to class structure. In such societies, music making generally belongs to a social class of a low rank, and active participation usually takes place only on this level. The higher class is content to be entertained, or to leave the musical aspects of ritual and ceremonial occasions to professional musicians and others who assume musical roles in such contexts.
Two major types of performing groups need to be distinguished: those spontaneous or organized groups that are autonomous, and those that are attached to traditional establishments and are made up of musical specialists. The spontaneous music groups are formed when people who are not in associative relationship come together of their own accord to perform the music prescribed for a specific occasion. This music may be performed by only a section of the communityby children, men, or women. Hence a person's response to the performance needs of an occasion may be related to the musical roles associated with his primary biological group or to the nature of the occasion.
Thus children may perform in certain well-defined contexts; for example, the Ashanti song of insult for the habitual bed-wetter may be sung by other children at a special corrective ceremony. Similarly didactic songs form part of the circumcision rituals for boys in some parts of Tanzania, while boys undergoing circumcision rites among the Wolof of Senegambia are taught various songs in the evening while still at the camp waiting for their wounds to heal. Initiation songs for boys or girls are not uncommon in other societies. Other songs sung by children include those incorporated into stories or embodied in gamesparticularly counting or number games, language games, and games involving dancing or some other form of movement.
Similarly, there are songs performed by women during ceremonies and rituals that are the concern of women. In Akan society, for example, the puberty rite for girls is celebrated by women, and the songs and drum music for this occasion are accordingly performed by adult women. When one examines the texts of such songs, one understands why this is so, for they are not only songs of joy, but also songs in which references may be made to the duties and expectations of motherhood. Among the Adangme of Ghana, it is the women who supervise the elaborate dipo puberty institution and its ceremonies and music. The girls are kept for several weeks of instruction in mothercraft, in the special music and dancing of the transition rite, and in the customs and history of the society. They are put on a fattening diet so that they may look plump and beautiful on graduation day. Musical processions to ritual places, feasts in the home, singing and dancing parties, and a series of public activities mark the end of the training, at which time each girl is richly adorned with precious beads, gold ornaments, and ankle buzzers for the display of music and dancing in the market place. For several days afterward, the girls go round the town performing dipo puberty music and dance, and collecting gifts of money from those who watch them. Although the adolescent girls perform at the climax of the training period, most of the music of the public ceremony is executed by the adult women, sometimes with the support of a few male drummers when klama songs and dances are performed.
Women singing and accompanying themselves with rattles at a dipo puberty ceremony
Responsibility for similar ceremonies or for ceremonies centering around little children is also assumed by women in other societies. The songs of the Sukuma of Tanzania for ceremonies celebrating twins, for example, are sung by adult women who perform the necessary ritual. According to Hans Cory, the songs of ngomaya mabasa, as this musical category is called, are extremely indecent; and during the ceremonies, the language of the people in charge is purposely interspersed with obscenities. Only adult women are given this license.
Among some societies in eastern, central, and southern Africa, rites for healing the sick or for correcting certain disorders are also performed by women who sing special songs and accompany themselves with rattles and drums. Mention should also be made of the special musical role that women play at funerals. In some societies, it is their function to wail, with or without words, in choral laments as well as dirges sung individually. Some societies have dirges for particular lineages and clans, dirges for specified individuals, and dirges for royal lineages performed by the women members of the lineages, clans, or households of the deceased.
Women play a special musical role at the courts of chiefs by virtue of their position as kinswomen, wives, or concubines. Among the Ankole of Uganda, for example, a king's future wives were traditionally taken care of by the widows of his brother who "taught them to dance, sing and play the harp" so that they might entertain the king when he visited them in the evenings.
All the foregoing examples are sung by women by virtue of their sex and roles in society, and not necessarily because of their musical interests. This does not, of course, mean that they do not enjoy what they perform or even take pride in what they do; but there is a difference between the bonds that bind them together in such contexts and those that operate when they form permanent associations or "bands" of their own specifically for making music.
Just as there are musical roles ascribed to women, so are there roles that men may assume in certain contexts. There are situations in which these roles are played spontaneously by men who are not in any kind of associative or organized relationship: for instance, in societies where social life revolves around periodic brewing of millet or banana beer, drinking songs may be performed quite spontaneously. The performance of work songs by gangs of men or by cooperative work groups would seem to fall within this category, as would the singing of special songs by men during a funeral ceremony.
Sometimes situations are found in which all members of a community may join together in singing special songs of a ceremonial occasion, as in the ancestral rites of the Sambaa of Tanzania. In thefikaya ngoma ceremony performed for a male relative one to four years after his death, for example, there is a preparatory rite in which a beer pot is used as the main ritual object. A hole is dug for burying this pot and the master of ceremonies sings as he digs. The participants outside the house where the ceremony is taking place approach it, singing, "Evil enters the house of the master." Those inside the house reply in song, "They come in, they go out"; that is, evil spirits may enter the house, but the ceremonies about to be performed will soon drive them out. Slender bunches of leaves and twigs of certain plants are hung over the pot, while the chanting continues. The master of ceremonies ties bells around both legs, singing:
May I tie the string of ornaments of the master of ceremonies? Let us work to please him.
He starts to dance, taking small steps along the walls of the hut; other people join him, singing and dancing. This continues for about four hours. Shortly after this preparatory rite, the main ceremony of invocation of the major ancestral spirits and their appeasement is begun. The master of ceremonies begins to sing:
Hear, hear you, the message of wisdom, you novice who came to worship his own spirit. Fall on your knees, worship nkoma, worship. God the spirit of Zeuta may sleep in peace, and that of Bangwe.
The people then respond in chorus:
Fall on your knees, worship nkoma. God the spirit of Zeuta may sleep in a deep sleep, and that of Bangwe.
The master of ceremonies invokes his own spirits; after the last invocation, he begins to dance to the accompaniment of drums, bells, and songs. Those present then join him in the dance around the beer pot. After a while he takes off the bells and hands them over to the clan elder, who then invokes the ancestral spirits of the clan one by one, mentioning the name of the deceased for whom the ceremony has been organized last. When this particular person is mentioned, the drums are beaten and the women sound a loud, sharp trill. After silence is restored, they all sing in a chorus:
May the spirit sleep in peace. One grain of corn can fill the silo.
That is, provided the spirits do not interfere, one man is capable of filling a house with his children. The master of ceremonies takes over the bells. A live chicken is brought, and beer and a few beads are forced down its throat. The master of ceremonies then sings:
The children (of a socerer) are wizards. They forbid me to hoe with them.
Each young member of the family in turn then carries the chicken on his shoulder, dancing with sliding steps along a circular path as he sings. Then they kill the chicken and hurriedly prepare a soup; each child is given a portion. After this, all the participants except the old men go to a place outside the village where they lie on their backs. Meanwhile, those left behind in the house sing:
We wait for the master, until he returns. He returns with a goat: he returns with a cow.
Then the master of ceremonies, singing and carrying beer, the legs of the chicken, banana stem, and a broom, leaves the house for the spot outside the village. With the broom, he sprinkles beer over those lying on this spot, exclaiming, "Rise whom we call to rise." Rising up, they respond, "Thank you for coming. We would have been lost." All then return to the hut, singing, "I come from the abode of the dead where I looked for a cow." As a goat is placed on the unhinged door of the hut, they sing:
The bird lays eggs in a dry tree. I myself may lay my eggs in a tree which fell down.
In other words, the dead (fallen trees) survive in their children (birds). The goat is then killed, and while they are flaying it, they sing, for the blood of the sacrificial animal will go to the spirit of the dead as an offering and a token of the covenant between the living and the dead.
Spontaneous groups such as these are motivated by community sentiments and sometimes by their reciprocal obligations within the community. Death in one family would not be the concern of only the bereaved family that has to arrange for the funeral; it would be the concern of the rest of the community as well, who will attend in sympathy and give every assistance to the family. The puberty-rite ceremony of a girl in one family will also be celebrated as a community event; other women would attend because some day it might be their turn to celebrate their daughters' puberty rites.
It is not difficult for people to come together for a particular event and to take part in the music of the occasion as required by custom. The communities in which spontaneous performing groups are formed are usually small, and individuals can be reached through established lines of communication and the network of social relations that bind them together. Messages are passed on from one person to another by word of mouth or by means of instrumental speech-surrogates such as drums, flutes, or trumpets.
The musical life of an African community is generally not left exclusively to spontaneous groups or limited to their activities. There are also organized groups, in which roles and responsibilities are distributed among members in some kind of associative relationship. Such performing groups are more or less permanent units within the social organization. When they perform in public, only those who are members can participate fully in their activities. The rest of the community are naturally attracted to them, but they come as spectators and audiences with limited opportunities for active participation.
There are two types of organized performing groups: those that exist solely for the performance of music, and voluntary associations that perform distinctive music of their own.
Music societies and clubs that perform for their own enjoyment or for the entertainment of others are found in many parts of Africa. They may be invited or hired to perform on social occasions by those immediately responsible for organizing such occasions, and may perform on this basis at funerals, marriage ceremonies, or feasts. Wherever they go, they perform the music in which they specialize, regardless of the occasion.
Among the Nyasa of the Songea district of Tanzania, such associations are well organized, and music and dancing are taken seriously. According to Pamela Gulliver, every village has a dance club of some kind, either a men's club or a women's club, and musical contests are held from time to time between these clubs. Since performances are taken seriously, every club practices its art frequently, especially during the week of contest.
The same sort of emphasis on music as the basis of an association appears to be true of other African countries. In Nupe country in Nigeria, such groups are identified "by the name of their leaders or by the names of the styles in which they specialise" and may enjoy the patronage of some leading personality. Similarly, in Tanzania, the Nyamwezi have quite a large number of musical organizations, some of them rather similar in conception to those of the Sukuma people, such as manyanga, kasomangita, migobo, buyeye, singoma, galaganza, masegera, and the new popular association hari ya mays.
Every area in Ghana has a number of such groups, each of which specializes in the music and dance of one or two recreational musical types. In Akan communities, one may find bands specializing madowa, sanga, tetea, adenkum, kurunku, asaadua, etc.; in Ga communities, those that specifically playawe&a/o, tuumatu, tsuimli, etc.; in the Ewe area, those that especially perform tuidzi, dedeleme, agbadza, agbeks, agutemi, gabu, etc., while tuubankpinii, dzera, bla, and tora bands are found in the Dagomba area. This list can be greatly enlarged with examples from several other areas of Ghana.
The formation of musical organizations encourages creativity and innovation. Such associations may add new songs to the repertoire of an existing musical type, or as in Nupe country in Nigeria, evolve an individual style and build up a special repertoire.
Musical Specialists and Royal Musicians
The second major classification of music groups includes those attached to traditional establishments. Among these are musicians associated with occupational groups or craft guilds, such as those of Hausa country in northern Nigeria. According to David Ames, male musicians are "traditionally tied to the following craft groups whose members are patrons: (a) blacksmiths (b) butchers (c) hunters (d) musicians and praise shouters themselves and (e) farmers." For each group there are prescribed sets of musical instruments. Another class of musical specialists is composed of those attached to royal courts, and of those connected to nobles or heads of leading households in stratified societies, such as praise singers, whose primary function is to maintain the oral traditions of their patrons.
Music occupies a very important place at the courts of African kings, and may form part of the integrative mechanism of traditional political systems. Some societies have mythical symbols of office which may include musical instruments. Among the Ankole of Uganda, for example, this symbol is a sacred drum called bagyen-danwa, and there is a special cult built around it. The Lovedu of the Transvaal in the Republic of South Africa also have sacred drums: they are said to be four in number, and the smallest of them is mystically linked with the life of the queen and the welfare of the state. Similarly, the mythical symbols of the Bambara ancestral pantheon are the tabale drum and the ngoni harp.
Reigning chiefs may also be mystically related to ancestor chiefs, who continue to have a hand in the affairs of the living. In Akan society, these are represented by sacred blackened stools, each of which may have a bell attached to it for summoning the spirit of the ancestor.
Because of the religious basis of political authority, an African king may have priestly functions. He may be expected to perform or supervise the performance of certain rituals for the benefit of all. These may be private or collective public rites, and may include periodic ancestral ceremonies, rain or sowing rites, and so forth, which may be performed with music.
The integrative mechanisms of the state may also include festivals organized around major agricultural rites, officially recognized divinities, or episodes from the history and traditions of the people. Such festivals are nearly always great occasions for music making, as well as occasions for public re-enactment of the beliefs and values on which the solidarity of the state depends.
In addition to festivals, there may also be a number of ceremonies and rites designed to give opportunities for expressions of loyalty to the reigning monarch, or in the case of the monarch himself, loyalty to the state or to the ancestors. There are ceremonies and rituals concerned with the installation of kings or the assumption of other political offices, all of which are performed with music provided by musicians of the royal court.
Due regard may also be given to the king as a person, to his movements, which may be heralded by music, and to his need for relaxation and entertainment, which may also be met through music and dance. In this connection, the institution of praise singing and historical chants is a very important one, and the role of the griot (praise singer) is a vital one in some societies.
In the past, the kings of powerful states had an elaborate daily musical program. The kings of Dahomey, like the kings of Ashanti of old, required music at certain intervals of the day. The day began with music and ended with it; there were dinner drums at the court of the king of Ashanti, for it was customary for servants of the court to feed on his bounty, and there were talking drums, as there still are, for conveying his messages to the people.
The judicial and administrative structure of the state and its organization for warfare or for the performance of other communally important tasks also had a musical counterpart. Tribunal drums were used in the Akan area of Ghana for summoning councilors to the court. In the past, a person found guilty of petty theft (such as stealing a fowl or something from the garden) was punished by being marched through the streets with the object in his hands, followed by the music of special drums. Executions of civil and war criminals were also marked by special drumming.
All these called for muscial attendants at the court, men who were for the most part specialists in particular areas of musical practice. This custom has survived, and one can still find different types of royal musicians such as drummers, fiddlers, trumpeters, flutists, and so on. Some of them perform individually, while others perform in ensembles.
The freedom that such musicians have to perform on their own outside the hearing of their patrons varies from place to place. In some societies, musicians of the court can only perform their music outside the royal court with the expressed permission of their masterthis is the case in the Akan area of Ghana. On the other hand, there are places where royal musicians are allowed to perform during important social events in the community and to function as entertainment groupsthis is the case in Dagomba country, where royal lunsi (hourglass drum) players perform twice a week in homage to their master, but are allowed to attend weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies, or to play on market days. The musicians are always busy on such occasions, for tradition allows them to accost people and drum or sing their praise names in return for gifts of money, which Dagomba custom makes obligatory.
In addition to purely musical groups and performers attached to establishments, there are a number of social groupsusually in the form of associationsthat have their own distinctive forms of music that they perform in connection with their ceremonies and other activities. Among such groups are warrior organizations, which may be modeled on the basis of age, as in some parts of Bantu Africa, or on a territorial basis, as in the case of the Akan of Ghana. The music of such warrior organizations may reflect both their military function and the fact that in peacetime they function as associations. In Ghana, they may perform civil duties whenever required: they may be responsible for clearing paths, building bridges, organizing search parties, or dealing with other emergencies. Accordingly, their songs are varied both in style and subject matter, corresponding to the varied contexts in which they perform.
Another kind of heroic group is the hunters' association. Among the Yoruba of Nigeria, the special music of this association is ijala, a form of chant characterized by a large variety of texts or verses. A hunter may chant some of them while on his way to the bush. But the greatest outlet for performance is provided by the ritual and ceremonial occasion, of which there are three major types.
First, there is the onset of the Ogun festival, during which hunters, warriors, and worshipers of Ogun, the god of iron, worship together. The chants are performed during the vigil preceding the hunting expedition which is part of the festival, and also after the expedition. The hunters take turns at performing the chants to those assembled, recounting the experiences of hunters in the bush, singing in praise of Ogun and in praise of nature or specific objects of nature such as particular animals, birds, and trees, as well as the crops that sustain hunters while out in the bush. Second, there is the occasion when hunters meet to entertain each other, or when the heads of the various hunters' associations in the whole of Yorubaland come together to consolidate their relationships and to enjoy their musical art together. Third, there are the ceremonies of the life cycle connected with the hunter and his family, when performances of ijala chant are sanctioned by tradition.
Hunters' association performing the hunters' dance
Similar hunters' associations are found in other societies, for example, among the Ewe, Adangme, Builsa, and Akan of Ghana. To become a member of the Akan hunters' association, one must have killed a wild elephant; but to be called a master hunter, one must have killed not less than three wild elephants. There is a large repertoire of songs that hunters sing for their public rituals and ceremonies: songs referring to their association, experiences in the bush, the kinds of animals they hunt, and so forth. When the members of such hunters' associations perform, they may be joined by their families. If an association does not have members who can play drums to accompany the songs for their dance, competent drummers may be invited to assist them.
A hunters' association is an organized group, but its members may hunt on their own or with the assistance of younger hunters-in-training. Such associations are select, and rather different from bands typical of societies like those of the Bushmen and the Pygmies, who live primarily as hunters and gatherers. But it is important to note that music plays a similarly vital role in the lives of such groups.
Cult Groups and Religious Societies
Musical activities organized around the gods that are worshiped may also form the basis of associations. These activities take various forms, and may be differentiated in intensity and duration according to the aims and purposes of worship, its public, or exclusive character. Some occasions involve no music at all, while some require music other than the special music of the gods to be used. There are occasions when both the music of the gods and other types of music may be performed, and some that make exclusive use of the music of the gods. In some societies, the same sort of music is played for all gods worshiped in a specific style, except that the songs and their texts may be varied to suit the focus of worship; there are, however, societies in which each god central to a cult has his own distinctive music.
All those who worship a particular god may form a loose association, and may be bound together simply by their common belief and dedication. Participation in the music may be denned for each worshiper by the roles that are assigned to the different groups within the community of worshipers. In some societies, the singing is done mainly by women, while in others it is done by men or by all those present, regardless of sex. Where instruments are used, they may be played by specialists within the community of worshipers or by others recruited for the purpose.
In addition to loose cult groups formed around particular gods, secret societies or organized religious associations are found in some areas. Many of these have a fairly elaborate structure, with conditions for membership as well as procedures for admission and retention of membership, and, on occasion, external means of identification in the form of tatooing, incision, special hairdos, costumes, or special masks. Among the Sukuma of Tanzania, for example, there are a large number of such associations, each of which has its own distinctive characteristics. R. Hall gives vivid descriptions of the traits of associations in the Maswa distirct of Sukuma-land in Tanzania, where one finds the bagika, bagalu, basaji, dadono, banunguli, bagyyangi, bayeye, banyaraja, bafumu, and basvaezi religious societies.19 The distinctive tatooings of the bagika, according to Hall, are
a double line of incisions from right shoulder to left waist (occasionally the opposite direction also), an arrow-shaped series of incisions on the left cheek or shoulder and a zigzag line of incisions up the backs of the arms and across the shoulders. [R. de Z. Hall, "The Dance Societies of the Wasukuma, as Seen in the Masura District," Tanganyika Notes and Records,! (1936), 94-96.]
The bagalu have a different set of markings, consisting of "a ring round the left eye, a double ring round the diaphram and circles on the left breast and shoulder blades." The banunguli have both incisions and a special hairdo. The hair is done up in tufts, and each person has "a girdle of incisions with one line above and two below on the abdomen."
Each society has its own distinctive musical type and dance, as well. Some sing and dance wearing ankle bells; others sing, drum, and dance. Although music and dance are very important activities for these societies, the basis of their association is religious or fraternal in character. They may also have practical utilitarian aimsfor example, the societies that practice medicine or specialize in knowledge about snakes and their poisons and antidotes, or mutual-help societies that provide collective labor for agriculture.
It will be evident from this review of the social organization of music that every member of a community could be involved in one or more of the musical events that take place in community life, for music making is related to the needs of traditional institutions and the social groups that organize their lives around them. There is music for the young, for men, for women, and for craft guilds and associations. Opportunities arise for free musical activity, for creating music outside ceremonial occasions, and for making enjoyment a basis of association.
The range of musical activities that each generation supports is not limited to items passed on to them by the previous generation. New pieces are added to the repertoire of a musical type from time to time, while others are modified or abandoned. Every so often, new musical types similarly come into vogue, while some of the existing ones lose their popularity or cease to be performed. The periodic revival of individual items or of whole categories of music takes place through the initiative of individuals, but it may also be stimulated by the recurrence of events with which such musical types are associated.
The cultivation of musical life in traditional African societies, therefore, is promoted through active participation in group life, rather than through the creation of special musical institutions. This is what forms music making in Africa into a community experience, for the continuity of musical traditions depends to some extent on both individual and collective effort. It is the creative individual who builds up the repertoire or re-creates it, but those who learn it and perform it on social occasions sustain the tradition and make it a part of the common heritage.