SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Atlantic Africa: Players in the Mediation of African Popular Music

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
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?

The recent spate of reissued recordings from the “Golden Era” of African music (1960s-70s) will provide an important reference for discussion about musical change. Because the focus of the course is primarily on popular music culture, we will explore the impact of local and international media: radio, television and most recently the internet (Youtube etc), as well as the recording studio as the new “field”.

Students will thus develop an analytical and critical understanding of the musical aesthetics, styles and trends that reflect, and are inextricably connected with, the powerful and diverse cultural history of Atlantic Africa. Ultimately, through music, we acquire a unique insight into the dynamics of life on the continent.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • A critical understanding of the historical, economic and political contexts of popular music production and consumption in colonial and post-colonial Africa;
  • Critical knowledge of local and international recording industries and their impact on local and global aesthetic practices;
  • An understanding of African music in a wider context with particular reference to the circulation of musical ideas and influences;
  • An ability to analyse audio recordings with specific reference to genres, instruments, artists and representational features/influences;
  • A critical knowledge of salient scholarship in African music and related areas of popular African culture.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 2 500 words research essay (worth 60%)
  • One annotated listening test (worth 40%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules