Music is the creative art of arranging various sounds in sequence to create a piece of music through the components of rhythm, melody, unity, and tone. It is one of the primary universal artistic aspects of all human cultures. For many centuries music has been a part of everyday life for almost every culture on earth. Today it continues to be a vital part of life, whether it’s an old folk or new age music. It brings people together and makes emotions and memories that last a lifetime.
An ethnomusicologist is a person who studies the impact of music on society and culture. An ethnomusicologist studies how music is produced and organized sound through sound patterns. It also studies how that music is perceived by the people who hear it. It applies to all areas of music including music theory, anthropology, composition, ensemble performance, musicological studies, and digital music production.
The rhythmic and tonal organization of African music is striking and compelling. The sounds are unique and have their own individual “voice”. This voice, collectively, creates a powerful, emotional expression. The musical language of the Achebe culture, for example, expresses sadness, happiness, love, and longing while expressing a variety of emotions in varying tones and pitches.
Aristotle was the first to suggest that there are different kinds of music. He said that music is “no doubt a soul, like breathing, speaking, or eating.” Later, during the Middle Ages, musicologists began to distinguish four types of music–Western music (classical music), Celtic music, folk music, and the African traditional music. However, some afro Africans (including Nigeria’s Asheru Shakur) considered themselves to be more than just musicians.
African music, in essence, can be seen as the culmination of all the sounds and beats of the universe. It is a language of beauty. African music, like classical music, contains the basic elements of harmony and repetition; beats that remind us of nature, the universe, the past, or one another; the presence of one another rather than one sound. For instance, a single drumbeat expresses the sorrow of one person to another. If only one drummer rhythmically joins these beats, the whole song will be expressed in sorrow, longing, or celebration.
Both Aristotle and Plato thought that music was the product of emotions, sounds, and melody. They were both right. However, when it comes to classical music and Africa, let’s remember where the two came from and how music relates to the human experience.