Since the Department of Music was instituted in 1971, its staff have served as pioneers in South Africa in the fields of ethno-musicology, jazz, music technology, African practical music-making, popular music studies and opera, as well as by introducing access courses and taught post-graduate courses. The department is known both nationally and internationally for its creative work and published research in the fields mentioned above and in other fields, including musicology and music composition. The staff of experienced, caring teachers have developed a wide variety of academic offerings and community-oriented programmes and projects, including a series of lunch-hour and other concerts, UKUSA, the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music, OSCA, and the African Music Project.
The department hosts a number of lecturers and performers from abroad each year, visitors who contribute to the education of students by means of lectures, workshops, recitals and master classes. Serving approximately 260 undergraduate and 50 graduate students at present, the department is small enough to be a friendly place where students and staff can all get to know and learn from each other and yet large enough to provide a wide variety of courses and other opportunities for learning. Current students have come from all over South Africa and from Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Eritrea, Germany, Canada and the USA. The department also has cooperative agreements with universities in Germany, Canada, Australia, Sweden and the USA, and are actively pursuing possible agreements with other institutions all over the world.
The department's African Music Project promotes the study, practice and appreciation of African music. The project initiates and revitalizes community-based programs and provides forums for musical exchange, education and research in African Music. The Project organises an annual African Music Festival in May. This Festival offers a profile of music practices from Africa and thus encourages an awareness of the diversity and wealth of music traditions in the continent. Embracing a different theme each year, the festival features local and Pan-African artists.