March 2016 theme: Classical music in Africa

For many people, classical music is where it all began. The label is broad and typically used in relation to what it is not: popular or traditional. It is also referred to as ‘art music’, or given even more confusing labels such as ‘formal’, ‘serious’, ‘erudite’ or ‘legitimate’ music.

A member of the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste (OSK) or Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra. Photo: hmaac.org
A member of the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste (OSK) or Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra. Photo: hmaac.org

Usually associated with European composers like Mozart and Beethoven and typically performed by orchestras, ensembles and choirs (rather than bands), classical music has long enjoyed a loyal following in Africa. This has its roots in colonial times. Since independence and until the present day, classical music continues to be performed, composed, taught and consumed in many if not all African countries. Sometimes this does not stray far from the European originators; in other cases African composers and musicians have crafted a distinctly African brand of classical music, drawing on traditional and even contemporary popular influences.

As with jazz, in some parts of Africa classical music is written off as an ‘exclusive’ or ‘elitist’ genre. But recognition needs to be given to the role that classical music plays in Africa, particularly in terms of education. Many musicians start by gaining formal training in classical music, before branching out into other genres. For the above reasons we have chosen classical music as our theme for the month of March. We have already commissioned and published numerous overview texts covering the classical scene in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon, DR Congo and Madagascar (with more still to come), complemented here by various features and news – essential reading for anyone interested in this timeless genre.​

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