Music and the drum in African Cultures
The Mouth Organ or FluteClick thumbnail to view full-size
West Africa Drum Ensemble
Music and the drum in Africa have been tools used to mobilize communities for different occasions over millennia. A collection of ensemble to produce different sounds, represent a culture and dress has been made by the different people in the African continent. Many are indigenous and many are a hybrid of two or more cultures both in and outside of Africa.
Wherever a trumpet is blown or a drum sounded people will come to the place where these two are making their sound. Cultures in Africa have used these and other means to bring people together. The ululation, the rapid beat or the sound of the trumpet or horn are still used to mobilize people today. They are sounded at night or during day. The ones sounded at night mostly mean there is trouble somewhere or an emergency that requires more than one people to handle. In USA they have level one or two or three fires! In Africa the culture of categorizing emergency has also been used. When the village chief is calling for community clean ups, clearing the village well and marking the common boundaries as well as sharing the bounty the drum is used or a horn of some kind.
The visit by a dignitary may be announced earlier and notifications may hang at community meeting venues with information on venues and dates. On the day of the event it is not uncommon for one to find that the area singers or troupe has been commissioned to make music, dance and drama.
The political scene has capitalized on these means even more in Africa inspite of the modern music instruments, jazz bands or singing groups. The drum and traditional music have persisted. The drum may be sounded to announce a funeral but it is only silent when mourning is taking place. Later during the installation of a heir, that is when the drum comes out and reverberates as if it were never silent at all.
Identity as conveyed through music, dance and drama
Status, Symbol and Identity
The Drum, rhythm and accompanying music are key identifiers of a culture. From the long drums whose membranes are made from goat, sheep or monitor lizard skin to the big bass drums whose membranes are made of cow hide to the smallest drums made of metal one can tell a culture and ethnicity.
The common animals or resources in an area have been used to make music instruments and mimicked to make sounds that are incorporated in the songs. It is not uncommon for one see an ensemble whose troupe has colored costumes, large ostrich feathers made into crowns, animal skins and rattles to follow. The rattles may be metallic or in form of small gourds in which seeds are sealed. These rattles are then shaken to follow the rhythm of the music. The rattles may be worn on the body or legs. They could also be held in the hands. Other forms of rattles are made like small flat cartons of small dry reeds with a space for seeds or small stones and a weaving on the sides to hold the stones or seeds inside.
The ensemble and the types of instruments used mark the kind of music to be played. It could be a sad song, a song about adventure, a song about war, a song about peace, a song about a long passed great person, a song about behavior, a song about gender or a given culture.
Music and the drum are identifiers and enhancers of status, symbol and identity.
Skills in playing instruments
Children, youth and elders are able to show off skills in music, dance and drama. Music and the drum have been used to train, perfect and pass on skills through generations.
The ability to hold one's notes, the discipline of rhythm and the hard work towards perfection not to mention harmony and working with others to achieve a goal has been seen in music and playing the drum.
There are a variety of skills that music and playing the drum bring out of a person or a group. The ability to entertain others, the ability to find time for practice, dependability, duty, roles and responsibilities are some of the soft skills. The hard skills could be: Singing different notes, leading others, encouraging others and keeping the team together. Music composition and its playing is around this kind of organization.
Entertainment as conveyed through music, Dance and Drama
Entertainment, marketing and continuity
Music and the Drum have endured as entertainment tools. The drum and accompanying music bring a smile to many attending an event. The music or beat of the drum could be such that it carries a message of hope, or reminds people of a past event. It could be a lesson to be shared.
Crowds are known to go on a frenzy when a favorite song is played. They are also enticed to sing along. This way they pit themselves with the originators of the songs or those performing the songs.
Many corporate companies have hired entertainers to promote brands and products because the people feel attachment and relate to experiences at very memorable events. Thus, a product hitting the market for the first time may get introduced during an entertainment event. People will tend to link its introduction to an event they recall and remember as a memorable one. They may continue purchasing this product or brand.
Entertainers are also sustained by the continuous flow of commissions. Let us recall that many get sponsorship and are able to promote their talent by the assured flow of cash. They are able to raise funds to pay for the people, costumes and instruments.
Music and the drum are a link on continuity by entertainers, market and public.
Social Political Message
Music and the Drum are media for conveying messages from eradicating poverty, diseases, political messages and other forms of messages.
The messages are remembered perpetually as one hums a song or recalls an entertainment event. This way people emulate and act out what was in the message.
Music and the Drum from your area
Is the following using even today in the music of your culture?
Music and the Drum in Africa still command a very respectable and enduring position:
1. They are used in mobilization of communities.
2. They enhance status, symbolism and identity.
3. They are a media to train, promote and hone skills
4. They are used in entertainment of people
5. Through music or the sound of the drum different messages are conveyed.