Due to foreign settlers, it’s safe to say the so-called African music currently is quite different compared to the original African music. Missionaries brought with them Christianity which is a bit different from the traditional beliefs. Most African leaders abandoned their traditional practices to follow the newly introduced Western culture. This cultural inheritance resulted in a hybrid between African and foreign music, corrupting the original traditional African music. Very rare communities can be said to have retained their original sounds.
Migrations are another reason why traditional African music is a bit hazy. When the Sub-Saharan desert living conditions became unbearable, communities moved in search of greener pastures. As always, these migrating communities exchanged cultures, some of them having been adopted from the foreign settlers.
Most of the information about ancient African music is based on archaeological findings. Paintings on rocks are used to identify and date African musical culture.
Written materials by missionaries such as Ibn Batuta also provide some insight into ancient African musical culture. Linguistics and oral literature are also key information sources on African music.
Traditional musical instruments
What are some of the musical instruments used by ancient Africans?
- Tension drums: Otherwise known as Dundun pressure drums, tension drums were quite popular among the Yoruba. The Dundun tension drums are hourglass-shaped and are played with a stick. These pressure drums were perfect to spice up any ceremonial function, hence they were highly regarded. Some ethnic communities in Nigeria still use the drums for events due to their efficiency and glamour.
- Iron bells: Iron bells were brought by the Kwa speakers to Central Africa. Iron bells come with several variations. The clapperless bells can be played with a stick to produce sounds that rhyme with traditional African music. The single and double bells are also struck to produce sounds for ceremonial purposes. These are the type of sounds usually in burial and divine ceremonies. Iron bells are still used to date.
- Horns: Horns were extracted from antelopes, elephants, or even roots from trees. Horn blowing is an art that demands a lot of practice. By the number of sounds blown, the hornblower can convey messages that are well known among the community members. By switching between tones fast and repetitively, horns can create rhythms and sounds that can be musical.
Call and response tactics
Most songs followed a simple formula. The soloist sings a verse or a line, then the other singers respond. This is the tactic was usually used for traditional folk songs. Other ancient songs include;
- Work songs: Work songs were composed to motivate and provide harmony when cultivating farms.
- War songs: War songs are generally similar to your typical resistance songs. These are the type of songs that will make you run to a fight without the fear of death. War songs were meant to channel bravery and fearlessness among warriors.
This tactic of calling and responding is still used for writing and singing songs among communities in Nigeria.