World Music Africa

May 23 2014


iven the vastness of the continent, the traditional music of Africa is historically ancient, rich, and diverse, with the different regions and nations of Africa having distinct musical traditions. Traditional music in much of the continent is passed down orally (or aurally) and is not written. In Sub-Saharan African music traditions, it also frequently relies heavily on percussion instruments of every variety, including xylophones, drums, and tone-producing instruments such as the mbira or "thumb piano. The music and dance of the African diaspora, formed to varying degrees on African musical traditions, include American music and many Caribbean genres, such as soca, calypso (see kaiso) and zouk. Latin American music genres such as the samba, rumba, salsa, and other clave (rhythm)-based genres, were also founded to varying degrees on the music of enslaved Africans, and have in turn influenced African popular music.

Listen to World Music from Africa

Geoffrey Oryema - Makambo
Listen to Geoffrey Oryema - MakamboMakambo


very night, as a child in Kampala, Geoffrey Oryema would sit by his father’s side and listen to him playing the nanga, a seven-string harp. He was lucky enough to grow up absorbing both the folk music of his culture through traditional routes, and western techniques through his schooling. His father was a minister in Idi Amin’s goverment and the family’s position in Uganda’s ruling class proved disastrous. Geoffrey was twenty-four in February 1977 when his father was secretly assassinated.


here’s a quiet, contemplative side to African music, and it is from this lineage that Geoffrey Oryema’s music emerges. Although his musical roots lie in Uganda, his work has been inspired by a myriad of influences, including those from other regions of Africa, a complete understanding of Western pop music and the need to define his own unique musical identity. Singing in both English and Acholi, Geoffrey possesses a silky-smooth, sumptuous voice that can flow from lower to upper registers like water. His songs range from moody ballads to tender soul musings – an orchestral mix of organic and electronic music.

LadySmith Black Mambazo
Listen to Ladysmith Black MambazoMakambo


adysmith Black Mambazo, which was formed 1960 in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, have come to represent the traditional culture of South Africa. They are regarded as South Africa’s cultural emissaries at home and around the world. They are a national treasure of the new South Africa in part because they embody the traditions suppressed in the old South Africa.


t has been almost twenty years since Paul Simon made his initial trip to South Africa and met Joseph Shabalala, and the other members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, in a recording studio in Johannesburg. Having listened to a cassette of their music sent by a DJ based in Los Angeles, Simon was captivated by the stirring sound of bass, alto and tenor harmonies. Simon incorporated the traditional sounds of black South Africa into the Graceland album, a project regarded by many as seminal to today’s explosive interest in World music

Ayub Ogada - Obiero
Listen to Ayub Ogada - ObieroOgada


he song 'Obiero' is from the 1997 compilation album 'African Angels' by the Kenyan musician Ayub Ogada. He was born in Mombasa and is from the Luo ethnic group. Ayub is an accomplished player of the traditional east African stringed instrument, the nyatiti and djembe. In the mid 1980's he relocated to the UK where he played his traditional instruments on the streets busking for money. He was approached by Peter Gabriel and participated in one of the early WOMAD concerts. In 1993 he recorded his first album on Gabriel's Real World label and toured extensively with WOMAD.


oday Ayub Ogada is regarded as one of the greatest Kenyan artists of all time. He was born in 1956 in Mombassa as Job Seda, a descendant of the proud Luo people of western Kenya. At six, his parents took him to Chicago, where his father studied medicine. Ayub recalls meeting Muhammad Ali (then Cascius Clay), and experiencing the aftermath of American segregation, even as his parents toured college campuses performing Luo music at a time when the term “world music” was unkown in commercial circles. “When I went back to Kenya,” Ayub once recalled, “I had to relearn my language and some of the vernacular. Going to America was a culture shock, but going back to Kenya was another.” While attending Catholic school in Nairobi, he played in a band called Awengele, and began experimenting with indigenous instruments. While in high school and performing in a rock band called Black Savage, he composed “Kothbiro” an adaptation of a traditional song that would eventually wind up on En Mano Kuoyo. Ayub’s evident musical talent led to a position at the French Cultural Centre in Nairobi, where he composed modern and traditional music for theatrical productions.

Gert Vlok Nel
Listen to Gert Vlok Nel - RivierRivier


ert Vlok Nel (Beaufort West, 1963) is a South African poet. He studied English, Afrikaans and history at Stellenbosch University and worked as a guide, a bartender and a watchman. He has published one collection of poems, Om te lewe is onnatuurlik (To live is unnatural), for which he received the Ingrid Jonker Prize. His countryman Etienne van Heerden praised Vlok Nel as 'one of our finest talents'. Om te lewe is onnatuurlik was followed by a CD, om beaufort wes se beautiful woorde te vergeet, an autobiographical sketch and a full-length show with poems, songs and visual material, which he has performed all over South Africa. Some people say he is a travelling bard with a guitar, comparable to Bob Dylan and the renowned South African troubadour Koos du Plessis. He himself says he admires Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen (‘Tom Waits, he messes about, just like me’). In his début collection, Vlok Nel paints a personal portrait of his childhood in Beaufort West, a rural part of South Africa with a predominantly poor-white population. His father was a railway employee. Vlok Nel writes his lyrics in an unusual and innovative Afrikaans, comparable with, if anything, the language experiments of Antjie Krog. The Dutch poet Gerrit Komrij included eight of Vlok Nel's poems in his anthology of South African poetry in Afrikaans De Afrikaanse poëzie in 1000 en enige gedichten. Gert's re-released album entered the Dutch charts at number 59 in 2006.