African Ancestral Music and Its Phenomenal Influence in the Evolution of Modern Music

African music has more influence in modern music that any other ancestral musical style found in the history of mankind. After all, given the characteristics as having emanated from the oldest species of humans, African rhythms and styles of expression had spread widely across key Western regions as a result of colonizations and enslavement.

Modern Western music is without doubt a representation of how African music had evolved through thousands of years, from the blues and jazz which found their way into various contemporary musical expressions and instrumentations. Eventually, African sounds and rhythms have been carried forward as influences in modern genres like rap, hip-hop, house, tribal house and techno.

A Brief Glimpse at the Antiquity of African Music

Since archaeologists say that the most ancient of human bones were dug up in the African continent, it is widely surmised that Africa is the birthplace of music. However, the vastness of the continent gave birth to a variety of musical expressions influenced by the different nomadic cultures that came to settle in different fertile geographic locations.

Experts in African music categorize African music into two distinct sets: North African and Black African. Yet typical of all categorization of music there are crossovers between the two sets.

North African

The areas covered by the North African regions of the continent were populated by various nomadic tribes coming from Arabic and Islamic cultures.

That being the case, most experts tend to exclude North African music as the true origin of Africa’s ancestral music, being mostly performed by soloists accompanied by stringed Arabic instruments. It is also evident that monophonic or single melodic structure of this type of African music has not had much influence in the evolution of modern day music.

Some examples of musical instruments from which North African music was developed include the following:

Ancient Egyptian Instruments – such as the single reed woodwind called Arghul, the 3-stringed lute originating from Greek’s Pandura and the Turkish Kanun, a stringed instrument that somewhat resembles the harpsichord.

Moroccan Instruments represented by the Sintir, a three-stringed instrument described as a cross between a banjo and a bass.

Sahrawi Instruments – from the Sahara Include the Xalam which many experts believe is to be the original version of the modern day banjo.

Sudanese Instruments – were in the form of horns and tambourine as performances relied heavily on vocal prowess used in chanting that can induce a trance-like state. The musical concept is known as melismatic and common in other cultures where vocal performances aim to put listeners into a trance.

Tuareg Instruments include the Bendir, the oldest known form of frame drum largely similar to the tambourine but played using using the hand and fingers.

Black African Music

The reason why Black African music is regarded as the true form of ancestral music in Africa, is because they evolved from musical rhythms and expressions of the indigenous people that inhabited the Western, Central and Sub-Saharan regions of the continent.

Unlike in the North African regions, traditional Black African rhythms were more complex, or poly rhythmic. This can be described as two or more rhythms not sharing the same tempo, played simultaneously.

Southern African instrumentations involved vocals, clapping and drumming. Most notable of the musical instruments that originated from this region is the Isiginci, which is the traditional African version of today’s six-string guitar. This simple instrument was an inexpensively constructed musical object that even after the colonization of the region, the instrument played a significant role in mission schools and African Christian weddings.