Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Afrobeat & Highlife: Popular Contemporary West African Music

Photo Credit: Joaquim Coelho (CC)

One of the ways we immerse ourselves into a culture is to listen to its music, traditional and modern. It's interesting to compare our pop music to that of the culture in question, and to hear the different instruments and compositions of both modern and traditional music. Music is such an important creative expression in all cultures, and I find it important to be able to appreciate all types. Throughout the year, we have been listening to West African music every time we eat West African food and work on a craft or activity. We regularly borrow CDs from our library or listen to songs available online (for free). 

For general playlists of West African music, we've been using the following:

  • Spotify -- this is a program you can download and search their playlists database. By searching for "West Africa", various playlists come up, some with contemporary music as well as some with folk & traditional music.
  • Songza -- I use this playlist database as an app on my phone, but you can also access their playlists online (within North America it seems). They have a great playlist called "Essential West African Sounds" (we listen to this playlist a lot); and one called "Essential Afrobeat" - see below for details on this genre.
  • Africa: 50 Years of Music -- This is an exceptional 18 CD collection that aims to represent the music of Africa - no small feat indeed! The collection has 3 CDs focused on West African music that are great to listen to. This is a very pricey set that's difficult to come by, but if your library has it (ours did), it's worth checking out.

There are a two genres (of the many in the region) I'd like to highlight because they come up so regularly as being influential in the West African contemporary music scene:

Highlife music originated in Ghana at the turn of the 20th century and by the 1930s had spread throughout West Africa. This genre still continues to be popular as well as its modern derivatives. It's characterized by jazzy horns and multiple guitars, and more recently has a synth driven sound. 

  • Old School Highlife music -- 1.5 hour playlist here
  • Modern Highlife dance music -- 1 hour playlist here

Afrobeat was created and named in the 1970s by Fela Kuti, a Nigerian superstar. It combines traditional Nigerian music with highlife music as well as American funk and jazz. Fela Kuti sang about government corruption and injustice, and was arrested and imprisoned many times. 

Afrobeats is today's popular Nigerian music that combines Afrobeat with hip hop and R&B.

  • Fela Kuti Afrobeat -- 3 hour playlist here
  • 70s Afrobeat -- 38 video playlist here

  • *please note that we have only listened to these playlists, and not watched the videos, therefore I am unaware of what, if anything, might be considered inappropriate for children.

    I hope you get a chance to enjoy some West African music!

    We have more posts related to West African music:

    Learn about Griots, traditional West African musicians, singers, historians & storytellers here.

    Learn about traditional West African instruments, and how they sound here.

    Learn how to make your own Shekere, based on the traditional West African gourd rattle, here


    1. Isn't it sad we have to put that disclaimer on music playlists? It can be such a challenge to find good videos to show kids.

    2. I had a quick listen to all the links and am very happily listening to the modern Highlife dance music right now - just up my street! I have a husband who would love the beat (Gary's an excellent drummer) of the music. Thanks once again for sharing. I feel I am being very well educated!

      1. I'm glad you're enjoying the music! It's upbeat, and fun, isn't it?


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