International Music Day: African Art's Influence on Music
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International Music Day: African Art’s Influence on Music

As the languid sun sets on yet another 1st of October, the world prepares to come together in a grand celebration of International Music Day. This joyous occasion, established by the International Music Council in the year 1975, reminds us of the vital role music plays in our lives, the connections it fosters, and the cultural exchange it facilitates. One cannot speak of such musical influences without mentioning the rich history and diverse cultures of Africa. It is a continent that has left an indelible mark on the global music landscape through its rhythms, instruments, and artistic expressions. In this journal, we shall delve into the profound impact of African art on the world of music, exploring the ways in which it has shaped genres, inspired artists, and brought about innovative musical techniques.

Traditional African Music and Instruments

To fully appreciate the influence of African art on the global music scene, we must first acquaint ourselves with the unique characteristics of traditional African music. It is a world of rhythmic complexity, an intricate tapestry of beats and melodies that captivate the listener. The use of call-and-response, a technique where a leader vocalizes a phrase that is then echoed by a chorus, unites performers and audiences alike. At the heart of this music lies storytelling, a way for communities to pass down their histories, share their experiences, and make sense of the world around them.

African instruments are equally fascinating, embodying the continent’s rich musical heritage. The djembe, a West African drum, speaks with a thunderous voice, while the talking drum, found across the region, communicates in tones that mimic human speech. The kora, a 21-stringed harp-lute, weaves delicate melodies, and the mbira, a thumb piano, creates hypnotic patterns. Wind instruments, such as the flute and the algaita, a double-reed instrument, add yet another layer of complexity to this musical tapestry.

Influence of African Art on Popular Music Genres

The roots of African art run deep, and nowhere is this more evident than in the popular music genres that have shaped our modern world. Let us now explore the ways in which African art has left its mark on jazz, rock and roll, and hip-hop.


Jazz, that most American of art forms, owes much to the rhythmic foundations laid by African music. Syncopated beats, polyrhythms, and the vital energy of African drumming have become integral to the jazz sound. Jazz musicians often employ improvisation, a technique reminiscent of the fluid spontaneity found in African music.

The likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald, titans in the jazz world, were deeply influenced by the African art that surrounded them. In their hands, jazz became a powerful medium for cultural expression, an exploration of African-American identity, and a testament to their ancestors’ resilience.

The Influence of African Diaspora Artists on Global Art
International Music Day: African Art’s Influence on Music | March 1950: Louis Armstrong plays trumpet in his dressing room before a show in New York.

Rock and Roll

Rock and roll, too, bears the unmistakable fingerprints of African art. The genre traces its origins to rhythm and blues, itself a rich fusion of African-American musical traditions. The driving beats, the syncopated guitar riffs, and the distinctive vocal styles of rock and roll owe much to their African predecessors.

Pioneers such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley drew upon the wellspring of African music to create a sound that was fresh, exciting, and unmistakably their own. Their innovations would go on to inspire generations of rock and roll musicians, from the British Invasion bands of the 1960s to the punk and grunge acts of the late 20th century.


Finally, we turn our attention to hip-hop, a genre that has its roots firmly planted in the soil of West African storytelling and Griot culture. The Griots were oral historians and poets who preserved the stories of their people through song and verse. This ancient tradition found new life in the urban streets of America, where hip-hop emerged as a powerful form of self-expression and cultural pride.

The sampling of African rhythms and beats has become a hallmark of hip-hop production, with artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, and Kendrick Lamar incorporating these elements into their music. Their work is a testament to the enduring power of African art, as they continue to break boundaries and challenge conventions.

Cross-cultural Collaborations and the World Music Genre

As the influence of African art spread across the globe, it inspired a wave of cross-cultural collaborations and the birth of the world music genre. These creative partnerships have not only enriched the musical landscape but also helped to promote understanding and appreciation between diverse cultures.

Fela Kuti and Afrobeat

Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician and activist, was instrumental in the development of Afrobeat, a genre that blended traditional African rhythms with Western jazz, funk, and soul. Kuti’s music was both a celebration of his heritage and a powerful vehicle for political and social activism. Through his work, he brought the sounds of Africa to the world stage and inspired a new generation of musicians to explore the possibilities of cross-cultural collaboration.

Paul Simon’s “Graceland” Album

In 1986, American singer-songwriter Paul Simon released his groundbreaking album “Graceland,” which featured collaborations with South African musicians such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Makeba, and Hugh Masekela. The album showcased a fusion of American pop and African choral music, introducing millions of listeners to the rich musical traditions of the continent. “Graceland” also sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and the ethical complexities of artistic collaboration in a world still grappling with the legacies of colonialism and apartheid.

Global Impact of World Music

The emergence of world music as a genre has had far-reaching effects on the global music industry. It has encouraged a growing appreciation for diverse musical cultures and fostered an environment in which artists from different backgrounds can collaborate, innovate, and learn from one another. This exchange of ideas and influences has enriched our understanding of the human experience, helping us to see the beauty in our differences and the common threads that bind us together.

In conclusion, as we reach the end of this musical journey, it is clear that African art has had a profound and enduring influence on the world of music. From jazz to rock and roll, from hip-hop to world music, the rhythms and melodies of Africa have shaped the soundscapes that define our lives.

On International Music Day, it is essential to recognize and celebrate the contributions of African art to our global musical heritage. This occasion serves as an opportunity for cultural exchange, a chance to learn from one another, and a reminder that our shared love of music can bring us closer together.

As we continue to explore the rich and varied world of music, let us remember the vital role that African art has played in shaping it. Let us support and promote cross-cultural collaboration, and strive to create a world in which the diverse voices of our global community can be heard, appreciated, and celebrated.

FAQ – International Music Day: African Art’s Influence on Music

Q: Does African music influenced the music of today?
A: Yes, African music has significantly influenced many modern music genres, such as jazz, rock and roll, and hip-hop. Its rhythms, instruments, and techniques continue to inspire musicians and shape the soundscapes of today’s music.

Q: What are the major musical influences of African music?
A: The major musical influences of African music include its complex rhythms, unique instruments (such as drums, stringed instruments, and wind instruments), the use of call-and-response, and the importance of storytelling and community.

Q: Why is African music the most influential music in the world?
A: While it may be debated whether African music is the most influential music in the world, it certainly has had a significant and lasting impact on global music. Its rich history, diverse cultures, and distinctive rhythms have shaped various music genres and inspired countless artists, leading to cross-cultural collaborations and innovations.

Q: Is International Music Day in June or October?
A: International Music Day is celebrated in October, specifically on the 1st of the month.

Q: Is October a music month?
A: October is not officially designated as a music month, but it does include the celebration of International Music Day on the 1st of October, which promotes the importance of music in people’s lives and encourages cultural exchange through music.

Dr. Abigail Adeyemi, art historian, curator, and writer with over two decades of experience in the field of African and diasporic art. She holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Oxford, where her research focused on contemporary African artists and their impact on the global art scene. Dr. Adeyemi has worked with various prestigious art institutions, including the Tate Modern and the National Museum of African Art, curating numerous exhibitions that showcase the diverse talents of African and diasporic artists. She has authored several books and articles on African art, shedding light on the rich artistic heritage of the continent and the challenges faced by contemporary African artists. Dr. Adeyemi's expertise and passion for African art make her an authoritative voice on the subject, and her work continues to inspire and inform both scholars and art enthusiasts alike.

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