In Africa, music plays an important part in the way people interact, celebrate and relay historic events! Music is a form of communication and it plays a functional role in African society. Songs accopany marriage, birth, rites of passage, hunting and even political activities. In certain African communities music is often believed to ward off evil spirits and to pay respects to good spirits, the dead and ancestors.
Although the musical styles and instruments vary from region to region, there are some common forms of musical expression. By far the most significant instrument in African music is the African drum. It expresses the mood of the people and evokes emotion. The beat of the African drum is considered the “heartbeat of the community” and its rhythm is what holds the dancers together.
Dance is an integral part of the African culture. Dancers use symbolic gestures, masks, costumes, body painting and props to communicate. The dance movements can be simple or complex with intricate actions including fast rotation, ripples of the body and contraction and release. Dance is used to express emotion, whether joyful or sorrowful and it is not limited to just the dancers. Many times, spectators will be encouraged to join in.
The African masks that are used in dances have religious, ceremonial and functional origins. Certain artists will undergo a ceremonial purification process, and offer prayers to ancestors before even beginning to carve the mask.
[caption id="attachment_3183" align="alignnone" width="299" caption="Dogon Mask Dance in Mali"]
The African mask is believed to represent a spirit and it is also believed that the spirit possesses the dancer as they wear the mask. The chosen dancer goes into a trance-like state in order to receive guidance and wisdom from the ancestors. The dancer will utter and moan the messages received and a wise man, who accompanies the dancer will translate the message.
To find out more ways African music is used in Africa read our article on the importance of drums in African tradition
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