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Tang, Patricia, 21M.293 Music of Africa, Fall 2005. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

21M.293 Music of Africa

Fall 2005

Several people playing small drums tucked under their arms.
Drummers playing the tama (small talking drum) in Dakar, Senegal. (Photo by Prof. Patricia Tang.)

Course Highlights

This course features an extensive listening list.

Course Description

This course is an introduction to selected musical traditions of West Africa. A variety of musical practices and their cultural contexts will be explored through listening, reading, and written assignments, with an emphasis on class discussion. The course includes in-class instruction in West African drumming, song and dance, as well as lecture-demonstrations by guest artists.

After an introductory unit, the course will be organized around four main geographical areas: Senegal, Mali, Ghana, and Nigeria. An in-depth study of music from these countries will be interspersed with brief overviews of Southern, Central, and East Africa.



Course Requirements

The core of this course consists of lectures, in-class listening and discussion, and outside reading and listening assignments. Lectures and discussions will be supplemented, where possible, with guest lecture-demonstrations, film or video screenings, and hands-on workshops. Regular attendance of class is required, and students will be expected to actively participate in discussions and in-class workshops.


There is no required textbook for this course. Readings from various sources will be assigned for each class session.

Papers and Projects

Students are required to write two papers, complete a musical transcription exercise, and produce a final project paper and oral presentation.

Exams and Quizzes

One in-class exam, scheduled on Lec #13, will cover materials from lecture, readings, and listening assignments from the first three units. A short quiz will be given towards the end of the semester. There will be no exam during the final examination period.

Academic Honesty

Please remember that plagiarism in writing papers is a serious academic offense, and includes any use of unacknowledged outside sources, either scholarly or by fellow students.


Written Assignments, Attendance, and Participation 50%
Exams and Quizzes 20%
Final Project 30%

Students must receive a passing grade for each component of the course in order to pass the course as a whole.


Unit 1: Introduction: Ethnomusicological Approaches to African Music
1 Preliminaries; Overview of Course  
2 The Field of Ethnomusicology, the Concept of "Soundscapes" and its Application to the Study of World Music

Building a Cross-Cultural Musical Vocabulary
3 Organology and Instruments: The Sachs-Hornbostel System of Instrument Classification  
4 African Music: A Review of Ethnomusicological Literature Paper 1 due
Unit 2: Senegal
5 Senegalese History, Culture, and Music

Focus on Wolof Griots, Masters of the Sabar Drum
6 Popular Music in Senegal: mbalax and Hip-Hop  
7 Sabar Drumming: An Introduction to Basic Hand Techniques, Rhythms, and bàkks  
8 Sabar Drum Workshop with Artist-in-Residence, Lamine Touré  
9 Interlude: Southern Africa  
Unit 3: Mali
10 Music of the Mande: The jali and his Instruments Musical transcription exercise due
11 Guest Lecture - Demonstration by Balla Kouyate, a Balafon Player from New York City  
12 Malian Superstars: Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare and Ali Farke Touré  
13 Midterm Exam  
  Evening Performance by Lamine Touré and Group Saloum  
Unit 4: Ghana
14 Music Cultures of the Ewe and Dagbamba  
15 Case Study: Agbekor (Ewe) Paper 2 due
16 Urban Music Roots: Highlife and Palm-wine Music Submit final project proposal
17 Interlude: Central Africa  
Unit 5: Nigeria
18 Music and Identity: jùjú and fúji Bands  
19 Music and Politics: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's Afro-Beat  
20 Music and Ritual: Hausa Music and the bori Ceremony Submit final project progress report
21 Interlude: East Africa  
Unit 6: Conclusions
22-24 Final Presentations  
25 Conclusions Final paper due   Tell A Friend