Music in Africa: Musical crosscurrents in East Africa and the Indian Ocean

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Music

Module overview

The Indian Ocean offers a vast and largely unexplored area for study, where its surfaces, depths and inland waterways present different vantage points from which to consider myriad political, economic and cultural flows. In this course, we will focus on the role of music in the historical reconstruction of the region. Equally, we will examine how journeys across multiply connected geographical regions have contributed to the making of musical genres and practices. Taking as our point of departure a noted musician, an iconic song or instrument, or a seminal genre, each class will trace musical links, circuits and connectivities towards an understanding of broader contexts. The focus of the course is therefore on movement, travel and intercultural crossings – some centuries old and based on slavery, trade, empire and indenture; others more recent, impelled by nationalist or post-colonial movements. The course draws on critical discourses from history, literary studies, gender and religion in building an understanding of sound and soundmaking in the region.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

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

Suggested reading

  • Agawu, Kofi. 2003. Representing African music: postcolonial notes, queries, positions. Routledge.
  • Gupta, Pumila, Isabel Hofmeyr and Michael Pearson (eds), 2010. Eyes Across the Water: Navigating the Indian Ocean. Pretoria: UNISA Press/Delhi: Penguin India.
  • Barz, Greg. 2004 Music in East Africa: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (Global Music Series) Oxford University Press, USA.
  • K. N. Chaudhuri, 1985. Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ray, Himanshu Prabha, and Edward A. Alpers. 2007. Cross Currents and Community Networks: The History of the Indian Ocean World . New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Clifford, James, 1997. Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century . Harvard University Press.
  • Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The Black Atlantic: modernity and double consciousness .
  • Topp Fargion, Janet. 2014. Taarab Music in Zanzibar in the Twentieth Century. A Story of ‘Old is Gold’ and Flying Spirits . Ashgate.
  • Fair, Laura. 2001. Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community, and Identity in Post-Abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890–1945. Ohio University Press.
  • Essien, Kwame, and Falola, Toyin. 2008. Culture and Customs of Sudan . Santa Barbara, CA, USA


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