Term 2 Perspective Lessons & Assignments

1 West Africa

West Africa

Africa is a large continent with a range of different cultures. The traditions of people in Kenya are very different from people who live in Liberia because they live far away from each other. North Africa is very different from South Africa because it is influenced by the culture of the Middle East. However, within a certain area of Africa there is a shared language, shared traditions, and art.

West African nations share similar musical styles and cultures. Historically, West Africa was the source of the Atlantic slave trade in the 1700's and 1800's. Ships from Europe would pull up to the shores of Senegal and Sierra Leone and load thousands and thousands of African people aboard. These ships would sail off and the people would be sold as slaves in other countries, mainly the USA and countries in the Caribbean. Many died and others suffered unimaginable cruelty. It is a tragic and difficult part of our human history.

When these people were taken from their homes, they brought their culture and music with them. They established communities and they kept some of their musical traditions alive, even in the face of such terrible hardships. The Atlantic slave trade eventually ended in around 1860-1880, but the music of the African slaves had already started to influence their new land. It has affected the music of North America, Latin America and the Caribbean ever since.

Power of Music

Music was, and still is, central to life in West Africa. It served many purposes:

  • Music for rituals and ceremonies
  • Music for praise, possibly religious
  • Work songs to pass the time and make working less tedious
  • Storytelling
  • To send signals or messages
  • ... and just for fun!

Traditional music was not written down. It was passed down by listening and teaching it to others. Learning music this way is called learning by ear or by rote. It is a form of oral tradition and we can trace some forms of music back thousands of years through this path.