AFRICA: Africa World Press Guide

compiled and edited by WorldViews

Breadth and diversity

"For the majority of Africans, music remains live and closely tied to their daily lives. The fact that this existence is now under threat from war, famine, invasion and western cultural imperialism in no way diminishes the continuing contribution which Africa makes to the enrichment of our daily lives."
--Ronnie Graham, The Da Capo Guide to Contemporary African Music, p. 15

The music of Africa cannot be squeezed into one mold. There is the traditional music of drums (perhaps the predominant musical reference point in the minds of Westerners); there is the modern or popular music of Mali's Ali Farka Tour e, Nigeria's King Sunny Ade and his African Beats, and South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo. In fact, as musicologist John Storm Roberts has observed, "there's no way to write coherently about the music of a continent covering 52 independent nations, be tween 800 and 1600 languages (depending on your definition), and at least five major cultural groupings."

Roberts, who is founding director of Original Music (Tivoli, N.Y.), is responsible for the World Music chapter of the All Music Guide: The Best CDs, Albums, and Tapes (Erlewine and Bultman 1992). The Africa portion of the World Music chapter (pp . 776-795) illustrates the breadth and diversity of African music with a representative sampling of musicians and annotated musical selections displayed under country headings that run from Algeria to Zimbabwe. In his column-long overview of African music and brief introductory essay on world music Roberts highlights the beauties of world and African music ("enriching beyond belief") and issues the necessary cautions against dividing the musical world into The West and The Rest.


World Music: The Rough Guide (Broughton et al. 1994) is a useful complement to the All Music Guide. The latter is stronger in its annotated lists of individual recordings, while the strength of World Music lies in its long and informe d narrative overviews of the musical traditions of the Mediterranean and Maghreb (chapter 3), West Africa (chapter 6), Central and East Africa (chapter 7), and Southern Africa (chapter 8). Sidebar material on individual artists and musical instruments and discographies of selected recordings round out each chapter.

Scottish historian Ronnie Graham has produced two classic guides to African music: Stern's Guide to Contemporary African Music (Graham 1988) (published in the United States as The Da Capo Guide to Contemporary African Music, New York: Da Capo Press, 1988) and The World of African Music: Stern's Guide to Contemporary African Music (Graham 1992). Graham's guides are organized by country (North African countries are not included), with a map, brief historical introduction, and overvie w of each country's traditional and modern musical heritage. Graham provides a biographical sketch of key musicians in each country category, along with a short list of recommended musical titles (with date, distributor code, and order number).

The All Music Guide, World Music: The Rough Guide, and the Graham books are the places to look for informed and trustworthy recommendations of African musical titles on compact discs, records, and cassette tapes. Catalogs from distributor s and mail order outlets are another source, though the reliability of recommendations will vary.

Reference books

Two complementary bibliographical guides to African music were published in 1991 by Greenwood Press and Hans Zell Publishers:

General reference guides and textbooks with information on African popular music are

Studies of African music

Recommended studies on various aspects of African music include

In the Time of Cannibals: The Word Music of South Africa's Basotho Migrants (Coplan 1994) and A Song of Longing: An Ethiopian Journey (Shelemay 1994) are case studies of music in two distinct African environments, immigrant mine workers f rom Lesotho and the Falashas of Ethiopia.

Dancing Prophets: Musical Experience in Tumbuka Healing (Friedson 1996) is focused on the Tumbuka of Malawi, while South Africa and Sierra Leone, respectively, are the locations for two other studies: Nightsong: Performance, Power, and Practi ce in South Africa (Erlmann 1996) and Seeing with Music: The Lives of Three Blind African Musicians (Ottenberg 1997).

Studies that set African music in a broader cultural and geographical context include


For biographical information on African musicians see Eileen Southern's Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (Southern 1982) and Stapleton and May's African All-Stars: The Pop Music of a Continent (Stapleton and May 1987).

Africa's musical personalities are featured in Breakout: Profiles in African Rhythm (Stewart 1992) and Musicmakers of West Africa (Collins 1985).

Curriculum materials

Four recommended curriculum guides that open up the riches of African music are:

Major distributors of world and African music

See the discography below and the listings of recordings in the books cited above for the names of other distributors. Addresses for U.S. distributors may be found in the back of editions of Schwann Spectrum. Addresses for distributors in Europe and the U.K. are given in annual editions of Kemps International Music Book (Showcase Publications, annual).

African Discography

Compiled by B. D. Colwell, producer, Simnadé, Music from Africa,
KVMR-FM (Nevada City, California)


North Africa




West Africa





East Africa

Taarab Music




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