SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Atlantic Africa: (P)Layers of Mediation in African Popular Music (UG)

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

This course focuses on 20th and early 21st century musical trends in “Atlantic Africa”, a term that is as much conceptual as it is geographical. One key to this is the long established and ongoing musical dialogue across the Atlantic, which we will consider in detail, along with related issues of hegemony, appropriation, and re-claiming, placing Africa in the centre of the dialogue. We will explore the complex dynamics and histories that link, and sometimes separate cultural and musical identities across these vast geographical areas. Some of the genres to be discussed are amongst Africa’s best known and most influential popular musics which have transcended national borders; others, although essentially hybrid, are quite specific to a single locale (while capturing the imagination of global audiences). The course will also focus on some recent “back to roots” trends and ask what is the state of play with “traditional” music across the region, and how (and where) does the concept of “tradition” apply, when it has been heavily mediated by the music industry? Who and what are the “(p)layers of mediation”? What about individual agency?


  • This module is capped at 30 places

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • An ability to recognise major popular musical styles, instruments and recording artists from relevant areas of the continent;
  • A critical understanding of the historical, economic and socio-historical contexts of, and influences on popular music production and consumption in colonial and post-colonial Africa;
  • A critical knowledge of salient scholarship in the field, as well as major artists and recordings.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 1,000-word review (worth 20%)
  • One 2,500-word research essay (worth 50%)
  • One Listening Test (worth 30%)

Suggested reading

  • Agawu, Kofi. 2003. Representing African music: Postcolonial notes, queries, positions. Routledge.
  • Barber, Karen. 1987. Popular Arts in Africa. African Studies Review 30.3 (Sept.): 1–78.
  • ___________ (ed). 1997. Readings in African popular culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
  • Broughton, Simon et al (eds). 2006. Rough Guide to the music of Africa and the Middle East (3rd edition)
  • Drewert, Michael and Cloonan, Martin. 2006. Popular music censorship in Africa. Ashgate
  • Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The Black Atlantic: modernity and double consciousness.
  • Jaji, Tsitsi Ella. 2014. Africa in Stereo. Modernism, Music, and Pan-African Identity. Oxford University Press.
  • Kirkegaard, A & Palmberg, M.,eds. 2002 Playing with Identities in Contemporary Music in Africa. Stockholm: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet.
  • Merriam, Alan P. 1964. The Anthropology of Music. Northwestern University Press.
  • Nketia, Kwabena 1974. The Music of Africa. W. W. Norton & Company
  • Solomon, Tom (ed). 2015. African Musics in Context: Institutions, Culture, Identity. Kampala Uganda: Fountain Publishers.
  • Stone, Ruth (ed). 1997. Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: Vol 1, Africa
  • White, Bob. 2011. Music and Globalization: Critical Encounters (Tracking Globalization). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules