Music scores in Africa

Music in many African countries is often synonymous with song. In most of South Africa’s nine African languages, for example (See ‘African Music Scores: Instruments and Languages‘), there is no word for ‘music’: the words commonly used are the equivalent to ‘song’, or ‘dance’. The voice is the major indigenous instrument in southern Africa, and the missionaries in this region simply overlaid various indigenous traditions of singing with a western choral approach, and this was written in tonic solfa notation, which African choral composers still use. The idea of ‘purely’ instrumental music written in staff notation is also a western one, introduced during the colonial era of various African countries. The region now has a wide variety of composers and musics.

The word ‘music’ in this Complete Edition, therefore, means different things to different composers and audiences. In relation to the Mohapeloa Critical Edition it means ‘song’: unaccompanied short work for choir, usually Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass (SATB). Mohapeloa called his music ‘songs’ although scores in staff notation that lie within a western tradition would generally be called ‘choral works’, ‘choral pieces’, ‘choruses’, or ‘part songs’. This does not mean that the songs in the Mohapeloa Edition are not also regarded as ‘works’ or ‘pieces’, however. And the word song has, in modern times, come to mean music for most people because of popular song.

The music in the Surendran Reddy Critical Edition is quite varied. Improvisation plays a key role in this music, most of which is instrumental. Reddy’s classical music training places him within the western tradition. His interest in South African jazz and his use of African themes make him sound South African, and in this sense he contributes towards the large repertoire of instrumental works written there since the 18th century and to the Jazz repertoire. In another sense, his musical style, which he described as ‘clazz’, often avoids too close a connection with any particular country.

The music sung by African choirs in southern Africa constitutes a very large repertoire. In 1969, when Yvonne Huskisson published The Bantu Composers of Southern Africa (Johannesburg: SABC) she had entries on 318 composers. Her 1992 supplement contained many more entries on younger composers, and it was still regarded as only the ‘tip of the iceberg’, as it says on the back cover. Let’s assume there are at least 500 composers throughout the history of this genre, composing between a handful and several hundred songs each: that constitutes a historical repertoire of thousands of works. The number of choirs in southern Africa is also huge, if one includes small and large choirs from schools, churches, and community projects in rural areas and townships all over the region. It is the largest performance practice in southern Africa, with the most participants, and has probably generated the largest repertoire. In addition, there are repertoires from other choral traditions in the region, especially those that emanate from church activity. Among the richest sources of choral music in the region are hymnbooks, many of which date well back into the 19th century.

For more information on music in Southern Africa see ‘African Music Scores: History’.

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