Music connects us with a culture when we travel. You can take a picture of a museum, bring back a souvenir, or recipes from your favorite destinations, but nothing evokes emotion like a piece of music. It might be the way it was performed or the experience you had while listening to it, but when you return to that piece, it will take you back to the people and the place purely by the way it makes you feel. With our Travel Tempos, we’ll explore the relationship between music and travel, and take you on a cultural journey through our curated playlists.

Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela taken during his 70th birthday celebration by photographer and personal friend, Santosh Peters

The call of Africa

Africa’s music is ancient, rich, and diverse. Songs, sounds, and music are a part of every important event in a person’s life, from birth to death. Music is used to cure the sick, bring rain, celebrate life, spread messages of hope, and in daily ceremonies; creating a deep sense of connection to the beats and lyrics. The sounds of Africa have even inspired many famed international performers such as Paul Simon, Sugarman, and Louis Armstrong.

During the independence period of the 1960s, music in Africa evolved to reflect the vibrant political and cultural period, and there was also more freedom to the composition, seeing musicians blend traditional and foreign musical styles. Politics began to take center stage with the new lyrics and beats, with the new notion of music as “ammunition.” Musician Fela Kuti created Afro-Beat in defiance of the Nigerian Government, and Hugh Masekela, “the father of South African jazz”  composed anti-apartheid messages and pleaded for Mandela’s return home from prison through his music.

Today, that plead for human rights continues with music produced by Playing For Change, a movement created to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music. Afro Fiesta members Mermans Mosengo and Jason Tamba are among the artists that work with Playing For a Change and help to spread the message through their music.

As well as using music to stir a movement, the instruments used by musicians can also work to move listeners. Take the ancient drum, a sound that is still prolific in African music today. Drums have played an intrinsic part in the sounds of Africa for centuries. Traditionally used in civil and battle ceremonies, and to convey messages across great distances, the sound of the drum is often referred to as the “heartbeat” of Africa.

Pairing the beats with lyrics, one of the most prolific sounds you’ll hear in African music is that of the ostinato – repeated short musical phrases to drums.