Music in Africa: Critical Listening

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Music & School of Arts

Module overview

Mali and the Mande Cultural World:  Playing the Tradition

In this course we focus on a part of West Africa that has produced some of the continent’s most celebrated stars and music – the savannah region that was once the empire of Mali.  We will examine the legacy of this empire and its languages, oral traditions and social structures, and their impact on music in the region today. The course places special (but not exclusive) emphasis on the music of the Mande peoples in Mali, Guinea, Gambia and Senegal.

Each session will revolve around contextualised critical listening to a number of iconic recordings, covering a wide range of styles and artists who have been influential either at home or abroad (or both). These will include 1970s dance bands from Mali and Guinea (eg the Rail Band, the Super Biton, Horoya and Balla et ses Balladins); little-known but highly influential kora players of the early post-independence era (eg Lalo Keba Drameh and Batourou Sekou Kouyaté); world music super-stars (eg Salif Keita, Ali Farka Touré, Toumani Diabaté and Bassekou Kouyaté);  and pioneering women singers (eg Kandia Kouyaté, Oumou Sangaré, Fatoumata Diawara).  We will also look at some new-generation Malian takes on hip hop, coupé decallé, and Senoufo xylophone (eg Master Soumy, Sidiki Diabaté, Baba Sallah and Neba Solo).

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • The aim of the course is to give an in-depth understanding of the dynamics and flows of influential styles, repertoires and instruments throughout the Mande cultural region and its diaspora.
  • Through critical listening we will learn to recognise the distinctive sounds and aesthetics of individual and regional inflections.
  • We will assess the role of the local and global music industries in promoting artists who by ‘playing with tradition’ have given music from this part of the Africa continent such a high profile in recent decades.


  • 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