SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Music in Africa

Module Code:
Taught in:
Full Year
This course aims to provide a framework for an understanding of music originating in the African continent. Students are introduced to selected musical cultures as well as issues and approaches, with a critical look at African musicology. The course addresses both “traditional” and “popular” musics, covering some of the best documented musical genres from Africa, as well as current musical trends, and some of the leading artists. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Students will become familiar with some of the major styles, musical instruments/ensembles, and recording artists of Africa, and develop a critical understanding of the ways that they have been represented in the literature.


Two hours per week

Scope and syllabus

TERM 1: The Indian Ocean offers a vast and diverse area for study, where its surfaces, depths and inland waterways present different vantage points from which to understand its myriad political, economic and cultural flows. This term we focus on the role of music in the historical reconstruction of the region, focusing on the histories of slavery, trade, indenture and empire, as well as of nationalist and post-colonial movements in the shaping of certain sounds, style and performance practices. During the term we will highlight two issues in the making of these musical narratives, namely biography and film.

TERM 2: will focus on the rich musical traditions of the cultural world of the Mande peoples of West Africa, from Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso. These countries have produced some of Africa’s best known stars in recent years, such as Salif Keita, Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate, Fatoumata Diawara and Seckou Keita, to name but a few, as well as many outstanding performers on the local scene who are little known outside their countries but hugely popular at home. Each lecture will revolve around in-depth analysis and discussion of five iconic pieces of music recorded from the 1940s onwards, looking at their social, historical and political contexts. Ultimately, the emphasis will be on an understanding of the actual sounds – with individual and regional traditions, instruments like the kora and ngoni, and vocal styles, all discussed in detail.

Method of assessment

One 1 000 words essay (10%); One 2 500 words essay (25%); One 3 000 words essay (30%); One Oral Exam (15%); One Listening Test (20%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules