Music in Africa: Travelling on a Song

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Music

Module overview

The Indian Ocean offers a vast and diverse area for study, and its surfaces, depths and inland waterways present different vantage points from which to understand its myriad political, economic and cultural flows. In this course, we focus on the role of music in the historical reconstruction of the eastern African regions specifically, focusing on histories of slavery, trade, indenture and empire, as well as on nationalist and post-colonial trajectories in the making of sound, style and performance. The course places emphasis on gender--and women musicians in particular— as well as the use of film in the making and transmission of these musical histories.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • 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.
  • Term 1 presents a series of case studies of music in ritual and sacred contexts such as spirit posses¬sion, court ritual, initiation societies, and life cycle ceremonies.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

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

Suggested reading

  • Fair, Laura. 2001. Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community, and Identity in Post-Abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890-1945. Athens: Ohio University Press.
  • Gupta, Pumila, Isabel Hofmeyr and Michael Pearson (eds), 2010. Eyes Across the Water: Navigating the Indian Ocean. Pretoria: UNISA Press/Delhi: Penguin India.
  • Lewis, I. M., Safi El, Ahmed, and Sayed Hamid A. Hurreiz. 1991. Women’s Medicine: The Zar-Bori Cult in Africa and Beyond. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute.
  • Maxon, Robert. 2009. East Africa: An Introductory History, 3rd Revised Edition. West Virginia, The University Press.
  • Middleton, John. 1992. The World of the Swahili: an African Mercantile Civilization. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  • Ntarangwi, Mwenda G. 1989. “Taarab texts, gender, and Islam in an urban East African context: Social transformations among the Waswahili of Mombasa, Kenya.” PhD dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • 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.


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