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Glossary: African Styles of Music

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A term used by Fela Anikulapo Kuti to describe his fusion of West African with black American music.


Yoruba style of talking drum percussion from Nigeria.


Yoruba word meaning “life force”, is used to describe the Bahian style of Brazilian pop music popular in that country.


Originating from the Luo people of from Western Kenya, this style is widely popular throughout the country.


A popular style of music from the Shona people of Zimbabwe. Also called mbira-based music, one of the best examples of this sound is the music of Thomas Mapfumo.


Nigerian Yoruba voice and percussion style using original African percussion instruments popularized by Kollington, Barrister, and Adewale Ayuba. A percussion conversation.


Morrocan music of people descended from the slaves brought from Mali in the 16th century. This music features the stringed instruments sintir or gimbri, singing in unison, and hand clapping. Most often played at healing ceremonies.


Generic term for a West African oral historian-cum-minstrel; a storyteller.


Dance music from Ghana and Eastern Nigeria, originating from the popular kpanlogo rhythm developed in Ghana in the 60s.


Traditional Zulu call-and-response a cappella choral music sung by men from South Africa. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is the premier example of this style of music.


Manding word for a West African oral historian-cum-minstrel; a storyteller.


Hard, fast percussive Zimbabwean dance music, influenced by mbira-based guitar styles.


Generic South African term for popular music.


I.K. Dairo was credited with being the first modern Juju star. This popular style from Nigeria relies on the traditional Yoruba rhythms, but instead of being played on all percussive instruments as tradition demands the instruments in Juju are more Western in origin. Drum kits, guitars, keyboards, often pedal steel guitars and sometimes accordions (squeeze box) are used along with the traditional dun-dun (talking drum, or squeeze drum). King Sunny Adeis the most well-known of all Juju performers.


Kwassa Kwassa
Shake-your-booty dance style began in Zaire in the late ’80s popularized by Kanda Bongo Man.


South African pennywhistle (tin flute) music.


Cameroonian dance rhythm from the Douala region, is also the name of the country’s most popular pop style typified by Manu Dibango.


South African three-chord township music of the 1930s-1960s, which evolved into “African Jazz”.


Mozambique’s popular roots-based urban rhythm, a distinctive dance sound.


(pronounced M’balah) Senegalese (Wolof) percussion music was modernized by Youssou N’Dour, characterized by a sweet, funky combination of Afro-Cuban rhythms, Wolof drumming, and American pop.



Also sometimes called “Township Jive”, this South African township music was first popularized in the 60’s. Johnny Clegg and the Mahatolla Queens are good examples of this sound.



from Cape Verde is a soulful genre often sung in Creole-Portuguese and played in a minor key emotional tone, mixing sentimental folk tunes filled with longing and sadness with the acoustic sounds of guitar, cavaquinho, violin, accordian, and clarinet.



Palm Wine
music originates in the tropical Sierra Leone located on the the far West coast of Africa. Typical to the Palm Wine sound is the light and airy guitar riffs originally played on acoustic guitar accompanied by traditional percussion instruments. Palm Wine is the sweet milky sap extracted from the palm tree. It ferments quickly and is a popular drink at bars and dance halls, as well as at social occasions where the music originated.



Youthful pop music from Algeria. Rai’s typical themes of love and drinking have brought Rai singers in conflict with Islamic militants.



Originally from Jamaica, this internationally played sound dominated by bass, drums (or often drum machine), and guitar chops is associated with the Rastsafarian religion, liberation politics, and ganga.



New York Puerto Rican adaption of Afro-Cuban music.



The basic underlying rhythm that typifies most Brazilian music.



Samba Reggae
(pronounced sam-ba heg-gay), grew out of the blocos afros(Black carnival associations) a tradition begun in 1974 in Bahia, Salvador. The Bahian Carnival Associations with their afoxe (pronounced ah-fo-shay) drum sections are similiar to Rio’s samba schools, with many surdos (big bass drums of varying sizes) and repineques (smaller, high pitched drums) comprising the bulk of the rhythm section. Olodum is one of the first groups to popularize the sound.



comes from combining the words “soul” and “calypso”, is modern Trinidadian pop music.



is a musical style that grew out of ’50s Cuban rhumba music mixing the kwassa kwassa dance rhythm with zouk and rhumba. Many African artists, originally from the Congo (or Zaire), relocated to Paris, which became a popular expatriate community for them, and where they are mostly still based.



a musical style from Mali typified by a strong Arabic feel along with the sound of the scraping karinyang, women play the fle, a calabash strung with cowrie shells, which they spin and throw into the air in time to the music.



A Muslim style of music performed most often as a wake-up call for early breakfast and prayers during Ramadan celebrations.



Creole slang word for “party.” Modern hi-tech Antillean music produced mostly in Paris.

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