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Africa is a vast continent and its regions and nations have distinct musical traditions. Most importantly, the music of north Africa (red region on map) has a different history from that of Sub-Saharan African music.

North African music

The music of northern Africa has a considerable range, from the music of ancient Egypt to the Berber and the Tuareg music of the desert nomads. The region's art music has for centuries followed the outline of Arab and Andalusian classical music: its popular contemporary genres include the Algerian Raï. For further details see: Music of Egypt, Music of Libya, Music of Tunisia, Music of Algeria, Music of Morocco and Music of Mauritania.

With these may be grouped the music of Sudan and of the Horn of Africa, including the music of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia.

Sub-Saharan music

African traditional music is frequently functional in nature. Performances may be long and often involve the participation of the audience. There are, for example, many different kinds of work songs, songs accompanying childbirth, marriage, hunting and political activities, music to ward off evil spirits and to pay respects to good spirits, the dead and the ancestors. None of this is performed outside its intended social context and much of it is associated with a particular dance. Some of it, performed by professional musicians, is sacral music or ceremonial and courtly music performed at royal courts.

The emphasis upon communal singing in Sub-Saharan African music has, as in Europe and Oceania, led to the development of harmony and the homophonic texture. Formally, a lot of music uses a call and response structure with elaborate improvisation, variation and development based on rhythmic cycles of varying lengths, of backbeat and syncopation. Musically it may be divided into four regions:

Musical instruments

Hand drumming is significant throughout Africa
Besides using the voice, which has been developed to use various techniques such as complex melisma and yodel, a wide array of musical instruments are used. African musical instruments include a wide range of drum, slit gongs, rattles, double bells as well as melodic instruments like string instruments, (musical bows, different types of harps and harp-like instruments like the Kora as well as fiddles), many types of xylophone and lamellophone such as the mbira and different types of wind instrument like flutes and trumpets.

Drums used in African traditional music include tama talking drums, bougarabou and djembe in West Africa, water drums in Central and West Africa, and the different types of ngoma drums (or engoma) in Central and Southern Africa. Other percussion instruments include many rattles and shakers, such as the kosika, rainstick, bells and woodsticks.

Relationship to language

Many African languages are tonal languages, leading to a close connection between music and language in many African cultures. In singing, the tonal pattern or the text puts some constraints on the melodic patterns. On the other hand, in instrumental music a native speaker of a language can often perceive a text or texts in the music. This effect also forms the basis of drum languages (talking drums).and

Popular music

African popular music, like African traditional music, is vast and varied. Most contemporary genres of African popular music build on cross-pollination with western popular music. Many genres of popular music like blues, jazz, salsa and rumba derive to varying degrees from musical traditions from Africa, taken to the Americas by African slaves. These rhythms and sounds have subsequently been adapted by newer genres like rock, rhythm and blues. Likewise, African popular music has adopted elements, particularly the musical instruments and recording studio techniques of western music. African music is often determined by the region that it is practiced in.

Influence on American music

African music has been a major factor in the shaping of what we know today as blues and jazz. These styles have all borrowed from African rhythms and sounds, brought over the Atlantic ocean by slaves. Paul Simon, on his album "Graceland" has used African bands and music, especially Ladysmith Black Mambazo along with his own lyrics.

As the rise of rock'n'roll music is often credited as having begun with 1940s Americanmarker blues, and with so many genres having branched off from rock - the myriad subgenres of heavy metal, punk rock, pop music and many more - it can be argued that African music has been at the root of a very significant portion of all contemporary music.

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