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Analyzing Electronic music production in africa

Does African Electronic Music retain qualities from traditional African Music? And if so, how does it implement conventional electronic music production techniques to it?


Electronic music seems to have taken over the world as the industry for electric instruments grows. Synthesizers have evolved in such ways that we have better samplers and synthesis engines built into instruments and computers. In this day and age we have a lot to choose from when it comes to producing a track. In this post I will discuss the production of electronic music in Africa. Mostly focusing on the assets used to achieve the sound that they have. 

 Picture of a Roland TR-808, picture taken from Wikipedia's page for the instrument. 

Picture of a Roland TR-808, picture taken from Wikipedia's page for the instrument. 

I chose African Vibration's Hinde to start. The song uses a drum machine (most likely a Roland TR-808). These were very common in the 80's since it was cheaper that recording a drum set, or at least this is what they were meant to be used for. 

The sound of the drum machines, such as the Roland TR-808 became a very popular because musicians liked its sound. In Hinde by African Vibration you hear the very reverberated clap in the drum beat, That clap along with the hats seem to be coming from a drum machine, while the congo-sounding drums are harder to tell. If the piece was fully electronic, it would have been played from a sampler, since its sound does not resemble a synthesized sound, at least not for the time this was produced. 

Synthesizers are a huge part of electronic music, since the basis of a lot of production in electronic music revolves around the idea of synthesis. I don't think much of the modular synthesis is present in African electronic music, but the presence of synthesizers is obvious as soon as you hear the lead or accompanying lines of many of the electronic classics of Africa. 


We have already heard it in the previous example, but here is another example from 1985, Afro Breakdance by Tata. In this song most of the instruments are synthesizers, including the bass line and sweep-like sounds. 

 A picture of the famous synthesizer Juno-106. 

A picture of the famous synthesizer Juno-106. 

The last element that is a little harder to pinpoint is the use of samplers. Samplers have been a game changer for electronic musicians. Since its creation, the sampler became very popular because of its ability to play real instrument recordings as if you were playing a real instrument, like playing a flute, or a violin without having to hire a player. The problem of course was the lack of expression that something like a violin can get. 

In these examples we hear a lot of instruments, I could theorize that some of them might have been samplers, but it is hard to tell. In this next example, we do find samplers being used. 

 Picture of the Mellotron sampler. The first Sampler.

Picture of the Mellotron sampler. The first Sampler.

A topic that arises from talking about samplers is limitations. The first sampler that came out back in 1963 the Mellotron, was fairly limiting, but at the time extremely powerful. It used tapes that were played any time you pressed down a key. Samplers have of course, evolved to become much better instruments, and here you can hear an example of that. There is some light brass that responds to the drums and bass, and while it doesn't sound realistic, the sound may be desirable by the artist. 

The use of these instruments was common in many places in the world, but in African electronic music you can hear some of the influence of traditional music into it, like call and response in some of the melodic lines. The drum sequences seem to follow conventional electronic drum patterns, mostly kick on the floor, snares on two and four. 

Another factor that seems to be in most of African electronic music of the 80's is the use of sweeps, which sound like laser effects. This sound resembles in some way the approach that sound designers synthesize a drum such as a tom, or a kick drum, which it can be speculated that the sweep sounds might be a way to resemble or refer to some kind of action in African drum playing, such as squeezing the cords in a talking drum (or dondos). After all, synthesis can be either recreating a real instrument sound, or glorifying it. 

In conclusion, after listening to some of Africa's renowned electronic hits, I have seen a similarity in the instruments that are used worldwide for electronic music. African elements still remain evident in the pieces that we've heard. Some rhythmic patterns, while very conventional to regular electronic music when it comes to drums, gains richness when listened to with the bass patterns and different synthesized sounds like brass. They all complement each other in the traditional call and response that a lot of African music contains. Samplers nowadays are a good resource since they can use samples from traditional drums, and run them into sequencers creating an almost realistic sounding African drum pattern to keep time on your electronic composition. It is left to the reader to decide if you can truly identify these as traditional African compositions because of their lack of the human element. 


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