“Music in Africa” comes to Ramapo next semester

Photo courtesy of U.S. AID Africa Bureau, Wikipedia

Next semester, Ramapo is offering a new course entitled “Music in Africa,” which will introduce students to a selection of musical traditions from the African continent. The course will cover a diverse range of performers, from amateurs and community musicians, to specialists who are responsible for passing down the oral histories of tribes, to professional touring musicians involved in commercial music. A wide selection of locations, genres, styles, musical settings and relevant social issues will be discussed.

“The curious beauty of African music is that it uplifts even as it tells a sad tale,” Nelson Mandela once said. “You may be poor, you may have only a ramshackle house, you may have lost your job, but that song gives you hope.”

Taught by Professor Andrew Kaye, Music in Africa (MUSI 245-01) will be held on Tuesday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The course will feature music technology and industry, cultural analyses and musical descriptions. Students will explore musical settings, cultural functions, types of instruments and ensembles, musical structures, performance practices and different musical aesthetics. Students will also have the opportunity to make music in class and conduct research off-campus. 

The influence of African music has been far-reaching, perhaps most notably in its impact on North American music. It has been celebrated by artists such as Dave Matthews, Paul Simon and The Rolling Stones, with African sounds and rhythms being integrated into their respective acts. The genres of blues, jazz, bluegrass and old-time folk can all trace their roots to the stylings of African music. It has also had a significant influence on Caribbean and Latin American genres.

“African music, though very old, is always being rediscovered in the West,” said Miriam Makeba, a singer and civil rights activist who was the first artist to popularize African music around the world.

Traditional African music is quite diverse and historically ancient, varying from one region to another. Typical instruments used across the continent include rattles, agogo bells, shakers and rain sticks. In Sub-Saharan Africa, however, the music is driven by an array of percussion instruments such as drums, xylophones and the mbira or “thumb piano.” The region is also known for its use of polyrhythms, which are two or more conflicting rhythms played simultaneously. 

“Traditional music is important for all societies in the world,” said Professor Marc Gidal, a musicologist and Convener of Ramapo’s music program. “The traditional music informs popular music, carrying significant associations for communities as well as individuals and often informs public rituals, both sacred and secular.” 

Through their exploration of the subject, students will gain an understanding of the music’s relationship with textual recitation, religion, drama, dance and art – in addition to race, ethnicity, class, politics, economics and globalization. A background in music studies is not required for the course.

“Music as a topic provides windows into societies, histories, communities and people’s lives. Learning to appreciate music allows us to experience and enjoy the music on deeper levels, while enriching our understanding of issues pertinent to the world and our own lives,” Gidal said. 

For more information, students can contact the School of Contemporary Arts on campus.