Evolution of Music in Africa in the Digital Era

Evolution of Music in Africa in the Digital Era

By Isaac Masiga

 Nyatiti  Band Players


Music has been termed as a universal language that has broken barriers of communication in such a way that one doesn’t need to pursue in depth studies in order to understand music. It comes naturally. Music is not limited to words. The words in a piece of music make just part of the elements that describe music. Music has a way of evoking different emotions even if the words may not be understood. For example a dirgesung by professional mourners in Luo Nyanza evokes sad emotions and therefore is also a communication tool to let people know that someone has passed away. Similarly, a circumcision song sung by Bukusu tribesmen in Western Kenya communicates that someone is about to get circumcised not just because of the words in the song but the accompaniment that goes with the song which include the musical instruments and also the different sounds and chants made by those who sing them. Foreigners from other countries usually come to such ritualistic rural events to observe and enjoy these ceremonies and the music accompaniment even though they don’t understand what is being sung. That is the reason why Samba, which is a Brazilian genre of music, can be enjoyed by a Zulu from South Africa by just the tunes emanating from the piece, even if the Zulu may not understand a word of Portuguese that may be the language of the piece.

Theoretical Foundation

Technology has drastically changed how we live. The theories of MoreRevolutionMobility Revolution, and Mentality Revolution1  have explained how societies have evolved. In essence Moises Naim the man behind the theories, explained how decentralization has shaped civilizations. In his explanation, when people have more it opens their perceptions and they want more and as a result they move more which is the mobility revolution. As they move more they interact more with people of different cultures and places. This makes them question more about their own living standards and are no longer gullible, and don’t end up believing everything they’re told by authorities. As a result power has shifted more to the people because of these revolutions.

Looking at it from the African perspectivemusic has evolved a lot. As people in Africa get more and more resources and move more, they transfer their cultureand adopt other cultures. This involves taking their music to other places and also adopting musical styles and incorporating them into their music. That is why there have been genres in the African context that have come out of a fusion between different African music. There has also been a fusion between African music and western music. This fusion has been names Afro-fusion or World Music. The video below is an example of an afro-fusion performed by Yunasi the band.


Yunasi – African Night

There are many other similar examples of how the Moises Naim’s theory has been replicated in the African people’s lifestyles as far as music is concerned. The revolution theory explains how people’s thinking has changed and this is shown through how they express this thoughts through the music they do.

On the contrary, rulers in Africa have also used music to influence their power over their subjects. Moises mentions four main channels of power that the megaplayers and rulers use to influence their subjects. These powers are; muscle power, the code, pitch and reward. The Democratic Republic of Congo, which was formerly known as Zaire, is one of the examples where rulers have used music to influence their powers over their subjects through music. The video below is a piece of music done by the legendary artist Francowhich sings of praises for the dictator known as Mobutu Sese SekoMobutu used to use his power to influence artists in Zaire to compose music that sings about praises for him (Hatitye, 2014). The music demonstrates muscle and code power, which were used by Mobutu to make him appear like God or one of the deities.


Candidat Na Biso Mobutu – Luambo Makiadi & le T.P .O.K. Jazz 1984


Just as much as political leaders have used music to influence their power, the people have also risen up and reacted against the political leaders and have highlighted ills in the society and dissatisfaction against these political leaders. This is explained in Moises’ theory of the Mentality Revolution, where people think by themselves and know what is right and demand for it from the authorities. In the example below, Eric Wainaina the artist sings about corruption in Kenya. He’s an example of an artist who uses his music to speak against the corruption by the authorities based on the mentality revolution.

Recording and Documentation

The digital era has brought a lot of revolutionary changes as pertaining to African music in general. Perhaps one of the most significant changes brought about by the digital era is the ability to document African music. Documentationmay involve simple recording with a video camera or a handheld sound recorder, or it may involve a more complex process that involves studio production or multi-track recording. The advantages that this documentation has brought are insurmountable. The recordings have made it possible for people to refer to these recordings that happened in the past and they can use the recordings for various purposes such as inference, remembrance, educational purposes, historic archiving, economic purposes and so on and so forth. Before the digital era, these music genres were sung at particular events and were never remembered again until the next time an occasion arises and they are sung but technological innovations have made it possible to document these works.


The mobility revolution also helps to explain how African music has taken a totally different and beneficial direction. Thanks to technology, African music can easily be distributed digitally via recording media such as CDs and DVDs, and it can also be

Source: mdundo.com

distributed online using platforms such such as SoundcloudMixcloud and the likes. There are also many other African music distribution sites such as mdundo.com that promote and distribute African music on a larger scale. This has made it possible for Africans to export their music and culture to other parts of the world; hence, what once was not known is now known because of technology. African music is strongly imbibed in the African culture. The ability to be able to export music has made it possible for Africans to also export their culture, which is very rich and vibrant. Apart from being known, this has helped African nations gain a lot economically from tourism.



Apart from tourism, the revolution of music in the digital era has brought a lot of economic benefits to African music such as the sale of published music. Selling of published music was first accomplished by media fronts in the western world that established a structure for creating and publishing music. With these platforms such as iTunes and CD Baby, Africans have been able sell their music online just like the rest of the world. Harnessing of this technology has enabled the sale of African music to any part of the world. Furthermore, Africans have been able to hold concerts not just in Africa but all around the world, and this has also been another major source of revenue for African artists.


Shrinking Technology

Microchip: Sourced from hackerslot.com

The more revolution explains how people started getting more resources and consequently making more investments in the music industry. Billions of dollars in investments were used to set up state of the art studios with the most expensive electronic equipment used in the production of music. These studios have been producing music for many years creating entertainment for many generations. The different genres of music produced have been used for many different purposes which are centered on entertainment and providing content for the entertainment industry. Well known studios that have been at the crest of providing entertainment are Abbey Road StudiosSony Music and Capitol Studios just to mention a few. With the digital era, there has been a major shift in technology making it possible for equipment that costs thousands of dollars to be able to be encapsulated in music production computer software built into a small computer. This has given the power and ability to many ‘wannabe’ music producers to be able to produce good quality music very cheaply. Some set up what’s famously known as ‘bedroom

Home Studio Setup: Sourced from homestudiodaug.com

studios’ and have produced hit after hit music. Because of this innovation shift and technological advancement, many African producers have been able to publish a lot of African music using a very simple setup, something that was not possible before when sophisticated equipment could only be accessed by a few in western countries. It used to take millions of dollars to setup a sophisticated studio but now all this has changed. There were a notable number of key African musicians who would have had to travel to Europe to publish their music, but this has now changed with the digital erabecause technology has made it possible to produce quality music in Africa and by Africans.

Marketing and Advertising

In traditional Africa, the marketing of music used to be primarily word of mouth. Ceremonial songs could be sung as villagers moved round the village, starting with small crowds and as they moved along people would join and eventually becoming a mammoth crowd of villagers then the intended message in conveyed. This was how they would advertise the music. But now in the digital era, technology has opened the door to have many different choices of how the music could be advertised such as digital online marketingnewspaperstelevision and radio advertisement.


Learning Resource

Perhaps, one of the notable impacts of the digital era on African music is the ability to learnEducation and knowledge is key to a diverse number of opportunities. It used to be that when one wants to be a musician, a producer or a sound engineer, one has to go to a music school that offers those courses, and in Africa such schools are very rare. And if they’re there they are expensive and sometimes they are not well equipped and produce half-baked students. With the digital era, a lot of learning resources have been put online for anyone in the world with Internet access to be able to benefit from these. Most of

Source: thewimn.com

these resources are shared resources, and not necessarily by professional teachers per se, but by individuals who are already making it in the music industry or have made it already, and their passion is not to make money from what they know, but they have a desire to share the knowledge they have acquired in the field of music. So platforms such as YouTube have made it possible for many African musicians to self-teach themselves from these online tutorials hence saving thousands of dollars needed to go to prestigious schools to learn music. Some of these prestigious schools such as Berklee School of Music, which has produced heroic stars as far as the music industry is concerned, have realized the potential of harnessing what the digital age has to bring. They setup online schools that can be learned by anyone remotely from any part of the world at a subsidized fee. This of course means many other schools offering the same thing avail their content online at a small fee thus causing there to be a lot of competition in the industry. This competition has been both positive and negative. On the positive side, there has been the ability to get many students to be enrolled in the schools through proxy and no need for students to be there physically at school. On the negative side, this competition has made some schools to close because they can’t compete with the avenues that provide the same content they are offering for free. For example, it would not make sense for someone to travel all the way to the United States from Africa to get knowledge that they can simply get online at a subsidized cost or at no cost at all, thereby denying some of these schools students. For these reason, many of these schools have had to adapt their teaching methods to go with the new and changing technology so that they are not rendered obsolete.



Music in Africa has evolved a lot because of the digital era. It’s now possible for musicians all over Africa to collaborate and exchange culture. Artist from West Africa can collaborate with artists from East Africa. Those from the North Africacan collaborate with those from the southern parts of Africa and so on and so forth. As seen in the Coke Studio Africa project, which became a big platform for this collaboration, it has shown just how much impactful technology has shaped music in Africa.


Hatitye, E. K. (2014, Dec 7). A Brief History of Popular Music in DRC. Music Africa Magazine. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: http://musicinafrica.net/brief-history-popular-music-drc-0

Kling, A. (June 3, 2013). Naim’s End of Power. Library of Economics and Liberty.Retrieved July 14, 2016 from the World Wide Web: http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2013/KlingNaim.html

Further Readings





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