Traditional Music & Characteristics

In Africa, there is a vast array of cultural music deriving from different regions. African music is as vast and wide and diverse as the whole continent itself. In more rural regions of this continent such as Kenya or Tanzania, one can find (rather more prominently than other less rural regions) music of the Pop Genre, which is derived from the use of more ancient African culture, techniques, music theory and instruments. An excellent example of such a song is Malaika by Miriam Makeba.


This song, played in its live studio form (its most prominent form) is a fast-paced,  entirely African piece. Its lyrics are of a Swahili tongue and talk about meeting an angel (a lover, of which the narrating character of the story of the lyrics is speaking about) of which they cannot deserve, love or have married, due to a lack of monetary means.

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These lyrics are a perfect example of what African folk music lyrics were usually about. A lot of the ancient African music, techniques, rhythms, and lyrics were passed on through oral means. They have been passed on my so long that the true origins of most of these factors cannot be determined. The lyrics of these songs are usually in the portrayal of a tale of History, a patriotic journey of Africa, a scene of a great warrior or Hero. often times our Lord and Jesus (much like the book of Psalms) and sometimes may even offer a hidden story, message or moral in the lyrics.

Malaika, on the other hand, is a song of lyrics which portray a mixture of a lesson and a story. This non-scenic story is of a lover who cannot marry his bride, due to the bride cost which comes with marrying her.

I am defeated as I do not have wealth

I should’ve married you, Angel

I am defeated as I do not have wealth

I should’ve married you, Angel

Money, disturbs my heart

Money, disturbs my heart

And what should I do? I am your fellow youngster

I am defeated as I do not have wealth
I should’ve married you, Angel
I am defeated as I do not have wealth
I should’ve married you, Angel…

Now, onto the playing of the song itself.

This song utilizes less of Tanzanian specific instruments, playing style and such elements–however,  it utilizes the more broad spectrum of African playing.

from the Youtube link above, one may see that the use of 5 Congas. The different types of Congas are Quintos (highest) Tres Dos or Tres quintos (the middle drums) and then the Salidor (the lowest sound of the three). This piece uses all.

Then, one can see the classic, iconic use of off-beats and syncopation. As stated above, African beats would use these frequently, where at the same time, the west would use more sophisticated and organized and up-to-the-book beats.

This song also makes the use of the notes D, G, and A, which are native chords of the African pentatonic scale which is used prominently is African folk and Pop music.

Tanzanian folk-pop music (one of the biggest, if not the biggest genres in this region) is heavily inspired and based off of the ancient folk music. Pop songs of this era and region are generally very simple, repeated set of chords and song flow, much like western pop.

The style of old Tanzanian is played in a very happy, broad tone. These songs are in this style, for Tanzanians (and other African individuals) play music in order to dance, show expression and daily life through music. The African culture is known to use music for pleasing the opposite sex, for special events, and happiness. In more ancient traditions, Africa is known to use drums such as the Djembe and the Talking Drums in order to communicate through long distances.

Although this is still practiced in the more extreme rural regions of Africa, this method would involve the playing of a certain to signify certain messages or events, such as the beat to signify and exalt the African King whom may be approaching or present.


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