African Dancing & Drums

African culture and life is closely interwoven with rhythm and dance. The rhythm is sometimes dominated by voice with soloist driving the rhythm of the dance. Second to the voice is the sound of the beating drums. There are many different drums that make different sounds depending on how they are made. The most known are the Talking Drums. These drums when played resemble the inflection of the voice.

Traditional African dance serves different purposes; each purpose demands a different dance style. The dances are either ritualistic, ceremonial, for entertainment, or for social gathering. The dances from the African continent are as diverse as the African people; each African country has different ethnic groups each with its own separate history, language, traditions, set of dances, and instruments.

Traditional African Music and Dance Styles

South Africa’s gumboot dance was a dance that originated in the South African mines. The dance acts as a parody between the miners and the guards. This YouTube video shows the African group Black Umfolosi performing a Gumboot Dance.

To learn more about West African Dances visit the Foundation Course In African Dance Drumming. This page hosted by University of California at Berkeley discusses the Anlo-Ewe Culture, drums and drumming, and the principles of African rhythm. A video of George W. Bush dancing with Jembe African Dancers, a tradition dance from West Africa with African Jembe drums.

East African dances vary greatly in rhythm and style. The Maasai are known for their jumps while they dance and normally the sounds accompanying their dances are bells attached to their ankles. Watch this video to watch the Maasai dance.

Ethiopian dancers are vigorous and famous for doing a “shoulder dance” or “head dance” as seen in this video.

Look at this video for a traditional dance from Zimbabwe

Contemporary African Dance

To learn more about contemporary African music purchase a documentary titled African Dance: Sand, Drum, and Shostakovich that explores contemporary African dance. The DVD features eight modern African dance companies from Congo, Senegal, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Mali.

Other Miscellaneous Resources

For different spin on African Music watch the African Children’s Choir sings “This Little Light of Mine” to an African rhythm and dance.

African music is being used in main stream music. Some of the original score from Disney’s Lion King uses African tunes and rhythms. Listen to Missa Luba the African rendition of the Catholic Masses’ Hosanna sang by Voicelab to the rhythm of African drums.

International Library of African Music has the largest archive of African music.

Visit the online Virtual Instruments Museum to see a range of instruments from the African Continent including African Drums.