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African Music


Worldbeat describes the fusion of indigenous and western styles - either organically or by design - which has taken place since the mid-1980's. It covers a whole range of music of a non-Western origin which has been modernised and commercialised to make it more palatable for western audiences and is a distinct category from World Music, which encompasses indigenous musical styles - folk, dance, instrumental etc. - the scope of which is far too wide for this review to cover.
Musical purists often squirm at development of Worldbeat, but it exemplifies the battle between commerce and artistic purity that underlies virtually all popular music. The harsh truth is that without adaptation into Worldbeat a good deal of World Music has limited international appeal, and it's exponents quite possibly a severely limited income.
Foremost within this category is music from West and South Africa. Nigeria's King Sunny Ade, Senegal's Youssou N'Dour, Papa Wemba from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mory Kante and Salif Keite from Mali and Ladysmith Black Mambazo from South Africa have all found willing audiences in the west, often with patronage and promotion from established stars such as Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, David Byrne and Steve Hillage.
The sub-genre known as "Afrobeat", developed since the early 1960's primarily by Nigeria's Fela Kuti, is a rather more organic development. This energetic, politicized hybrid of Yoruba drumming, highlife, jazz and funk helped to shape the music of pioneers such as Roy Ayers and Brian Eno, and survives as a vibrant strand in many countries into the 21st century.
Another natural fusion is the infiltration of Rai - a style derived from the shepherd music of Algeria - into the mainstream of France in the 1990's. In Algeria it is centred in the port of Oran. In France it speaks for "voiceless" North African Arab, and it's major artists are Khaled - the "King of Rai" - and Rachid Taha. It's rise may prove to be interesting for future development of pop, given the way it replaces western harmony with "colour", governed by which instrument takes the melodic line.
Traditions as diverse as Bulgarian choral music, Scandinavian folk, Indian raga, Ghanaian "highlife", Pakistani qawwali, Spanish flamenco, Argentinian tango and Brazilian samba have all received the Worldbeat treatment, and the process continues.

Prominent songwriters

King Sunny Ade
Youssou N'Dour
Mory Kante
Salif Keite
Joseph Shabalala
Rachid Taha


audio : International

books : on Worldbeat


audio : World & Folk

books : on Worldbeat