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Chapter 8

Dipsticking the Study of Indigenous African Music from the

John Blacking Era into the 21st Century

Madimabe Geoff Mapaya

Indigenous African music, like all music, is as old as humanity (Adum, Ekwugha &
Ojiakor, 2015; Friedmann, 2011). European explorers and missionaries encountered it
before its study took root. It was only in 1947 in South Africa, with the formation of the
African Music Society, followed almost a decade later in 1955 by the formation of the
Society for Ethnomusicology in the United States, that scholarly attention to African
music gained traction (Agawu, 1992). Before these developments, the music was merely
documented, if studied at all, primarily for purely musicological reasons. Its study, in the
main, served as a way in which insight into the culture and/or religiosity of Africa was to
be (mis)construed. African music thus fitted into the scheme of the academic economics
of disciplines such as sociology, ethnology and anthropology. Although not explicitly
declared as such, most scholars of African music were, and still are, creatures of erstwhile
colonial, imperial and now neo-imperialist agencies – knowingly or otherwise. It has been
commonplace for ethnomusicologists, much like anthropologists, to serve colonial and
other repressive governments as either informants or advisors specialising in the
colonised, Christianised, suppressed and generally disenfranchised nations. For instance,
after 1953 John Blacking himself, a doyen of ethnomusicology, served as an assistant
government advisor on aborigines in Malaya. True to the colonial agenda, he was
promoted to assume full anthropological responsibilities after the death of Williams-
Hunt. One of the issues he was to preside over was the removal of the aborigines from
the jungle (Howard & Blacking, 1991) – one of the most violent and inhumane forms
of colonial atrocity.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that indigenous African music practices have
endured. Three of the many strategies that ensured their perpetuation are the general
effectiveness of African knowledge management practices, the manner in which the
music was largely insulated from external persuasions and the power and spirit of Africa
to tolerate, accommodate, assimilate and acculturate inbound influences. Unlike the

Western mode of documenting and storing knowledge in libraries, African
epistemologies, including music, survive by way of continual performance and/or
retelling from one generation to the next. For as long as the ritual basis for such
reperformance or retelling remained relevant, it continued and does so to this day. Even
new rituals carry on with the same knowledge management and skills transfer practices
of old. Most importantly, for as long as rituals remained relevant and the threshold of
inbound influences was still tolerable, this music was able to survive.
In cases where musical acculturation was not desirable, the culture owners and
custodians simply insulated what was precious from undesirable outside influences by
compartmentalising the music as mmino wa baswa (music for the youth), mmino wa setšo
(music of origin) or mmino wa sebjalebjale (modern music), and so on. Once the distinction
is drawn and the compartments are defined, it becomes difficult for any inbound musical
influence to affect the musical essence of mmino wa setšo (Mapaya, 2014). For instance,
even the adoption of the lap harp (dipela tša harepa) or the liturgical music of the African
indigenous church has remained subservient to the performative philosophies of dinaka
– the reed-pipe ensembles that form the tonal reference for most Northern Sotho music
genres. It is remarkable that in this way, mmino wa setšo and some other cultural practices
have survived the onslaughts of colonialism, imperialism, apartheid and modernity in its
broad sense. Where contact with external forces is unavoidable, acculturation and
enculturation processes are engaged to maintain African sensibilities.
The question then is: why is it difficult for knowledge practices such as indigenous
African music to find their way into the schooling system? To probe this anomaly, this
chapter evaluates the epistemological state of indigenous African music in academe and
advocates the recuperation and/or reconstruction of Africa-sensed approaches and the
cultivation of African exigency in pursuit of the study of African music. In essence, it
seeks to enjoin scholars to assert the place of indigenous African music within the
broader scheme of musicology.

Encountering indigenous African music in academe

The study of African music is entangled in a multifaceted but fundamental problem.
Firstly, its composite nature – that is, its conjunction with dance, costume and other
surrogate or allied art forms – requires a wide-ranging expertise and set of tools.
Components of this set may reside in more than one person, department, field or even
discipline. In a scientific world, these components are isolated and dealt with separately.
However, it would be tragic if one were oblivious to the conjoined nature of the music.
Appreciative of the preceding, this chapter, for scientific reasons only, focuses more on
the musical aspect of mmino wa setšo. For a moment, we move from the premise that
indigenous African music is after all music, and that according to scholars such as Babbitt

(1958), Chua (1999) and Cook (2000), music is music. Like any other type of music, it
warrants musicological expertise and tools for its study to be realised. Analysis and all
other forms of musicological investigation can be employed in the exercise. Additionally,
from this premise, one may argue that indigenous African Musicology should have some
articulation with mainstream musicology. Evading such musicological scrutiny will
inevitably relegate it to the trappings of ethnomusicology, where the ‘us versus them’
power politics of academe are unduly energised and rationalised.
Secondly, starting from or accessing the study of African music purely from the
ethnomusicological point of view creates an opening for many pretenders with little or
no undergraduate grounding in musicology, or the benefit of adequate
lived/performative experience, to claim centre stage in the discourse of the study of
indigenous African music. Such vulnerability often overshadows the urgent task of
musicological investigation, and most regrettably leads to flippant connotations,
abstractions and misrepresentations. The problem of misrepresentation is thus real and
diverts attention from what needs to form the core of the study (Agawu, 1992, 2003a;
MacCall, 1998). Whereas arguments supporting this manner of entering the field may
exist, such approaches are often unethical, suggesting that the study of African music
does not warrant a systematic and scientific musicological approach. Mere recorders of
cultural encounters, including anthropologists, ethnologists and sociologists, can write
about it and thus accrue to themselves expert status.
Thirdly, entering the field without undergraduate musicological training or
appropriate music performance experience undermines the study of the music, the need
to cultivate performative skills, and the value of immersing oneself in performative-
specific traditions. The role of the radio disc jockey in the demise of the music industry,
especially in South Africa, is but one indication of how badly things can go wrong if this
is encouraged and promoted at the expense of hard-nosed musical training. Similarly, the
role of the anthropologist could be accused of stunting the growth of performative
knowledge and being the cause of many problems that bedevil the study of African
music today. While this assertion may sound essentialist, it is nonetheless worth
mentioning. Evidently, only when musicologists such as Reverend A. M. Jones, Percival
Kirby and John Blacking entered the field did some substantive musicological content
and facts result from the study of African music.
Assuming that a consensus is reached on projecting musicology as the most logical
site for the study of music, scholars of African music should still be strategic in their
musicological adventures. Musicology, deemed one of the older ‘sciences’ (Harap, 1937),
consists of branches of musical knowledge such as theory, history and to some extent
acoustics. However, like many other disciplines, it is not immune to the challenges of
growth and those brought about by the onset of divergent perspectives. To deal with

these difficulties, musicology has had to evolve and to adjust to the sociopolitical
dynamics of the world; for it could no longer afford to be seen as ‘part of the nineteenth-
century nationalist project: where early musicologists saw themselves as musical
philologists’ (Cook, 2005:3). It cannot uphold the Eurocentric posture or be seen to be
‘of western forms of music only, while neglecting or ignoring what the West relegates to
folk or popular music status’ (Mapaya, 2014:2000). Furthermore, it cannot continue to
be ‘what we do musically when we put our instruments down, when we stop singing,
when we stop composing’ (Helm, cited in Lieberman, 1976:201), if it is to encompass,
amongst other things, indigenous African music. Clearly, post-colonial impulses are
forcing a rethink of musicology, thereby positioning it to accommodate music forms
that were traditionally outside its scope. This in part is the rationale behind the
enthronement of concepts such as ‘new musicology.’
Amongst other myths to discard is the unintelligible assertion that African musical
praxis is devoid of theory, or is couched in ineffable terms or what scholars such as
Cosentino and Fabian (1992:166) refer to as ‘performative ethnology’. The ‘African’ in
African Musicology should be embraced, regardless of its exogenous connotations of
course. Moreover, in African Musicology, therefore, the question of African languages
should be considered; for as Bachlund (2012) opines, musicology is conducted in words
and not in music. Nedergaard-Larsen (1993) agrees that language, with all its cultural
nuances, is the medium of musicology. Otherwise, to think or talk in discursive terms
about African music, or European music for that matter, is both a convenience and a
popular academic indulgence. Music is essentially a performative enterprise, belonging
to musicology. This is why most musicians are loath to express their musical ideas in
words, and prefer to demonstrate their point.

Disciplinary inappropriateness of ethnomusicology

The discipline of ethnomusicology, the supposed home for non-Western music such as
African music, is arguably inappropriate for the study of African music because it is
embroiled in a number of difficulties, ranging from its links with anthropology, its
exclusive and self-serving nature, its failure to impact meaningfully on the growth of
African scholars to its questionable role in the development of the very music traditions
it purports to champion.
Firstly, ethnomusicology is understood as anthropology’s ‘stepchild’ and a ‘second
class citizen in the society of the social sciences and the humanities’ (Rhodes, 1956:457).
This characterisation or link between anthropology and ethnomusicology is remarkable
and/or even burdensome. Many years after Rhodes, Kingsbury (1997:284) continues to
perceive ethnomusicology as ‘the institutionalisation of an epistemological double
standard; examination of social interaction which generates musical experience [which

is] specific to the study of “other’s musics”’. As Steady (2005:1) posits, like anthropology,
which is intricately linked to colonialism and imperialism, and helps to develop the image
of the ‘savage’, ethnomusicology could hardly escape this kind of post-colonial scrutiny.
It comes as no surprise at all that ethnomusicology continues to suffer from the sins of
its more established big-brother disciplines, even today. At face value, some of its critical
characterisations may seem crude, but they are truthful and representative of genuine
scepticism. This truism is further amplified by the ascension of voices from so-called
non-European and feminist academe, plus the general awakening by scholars to post-
colonial impulses and realities. Suffice it to say, the intensity of criticism against the
discipline of ethnomusicology has increased markedly, especially pointing to its particular
and unashamed attitude and etic approach to non-European music genres.
The discipline of ethnomusicology is self-serving, and by its close affinity with the
stubborn notion of fieldwork excludes those born into the nations that are commonly
under study. Universities and associations, particularly in Europe and the United States,
continue to churn out mainly non-African scholars who unfailingly specialise in African
music. They admire the works of those who managed to create chiefdoms out of studied
communities (Mapaya, 2014). For instance, the heroics of the ethnomusicologist, often
at the expense of the music itself, become the focus. Very few students today remember
any Vhavenda children’s songs. However, they certainly will remember John Blacking.
Given its standing within academe, ethnomusicology should have benefited Africa
by now, especially the study of African music. More Africans should have become
expressly knowledgeable in practice as much as they are in theory. Music classrooms on
the continent and elsewhere should be awash with enthusiastic, emergent and
established African musicologists. However, in reality, and as the South African case
study illustrates, the discipline of ethnomusicology has failed to influence or impact on
the development of indigenous African music content for classroom purposes.
Moreover, it has not succeeded in improving the material conditions of practitioners of
indigenous African music, let alone improving the quality of the music itself. Given its
apparent failures, scholars such as Helm are within reason in answering in the affirmative
to Lieberman’s (1976) poser: ‘should ethnomusicology be abolished?’ What good is
ethnomusicology if it can barely fulfil the tasks alluded to here?
Clearly, ethnomusicology of the John Blacking era no longer enjoys as much
credibility as it once did. The decline in popularity of 19th-century theories seems
unstoppable, with scholars now constantly questioning the intentions of the academic
enterprise, which prefers the prefix ‘ethno-’ when dealing with knowledge of other
cultures (Worsley, 1997). Wachsman (1969:164) observes: ‘Musicology by itself is bad
enough, but in conjunction with the prefix ethno- it offends many people.’ Indeed it
does. This is why Agawu (1992) wonders whether ethnomusicology is a sub-field of

musicology, ethnology, anthropology, sociology or a standalone discipline. Given these
developments, I doubt if ethnomusicology will be rescued from the clutches of
Despite these and other critical voices, ethnomusicology has served indigenous
African music with some measure of success, especially by placing it in the purview of
academe. Admittedly, the study of African music has attracted some scholarly interest
because of the intervention or involvement of scholars such as Blacking. However, it
would be injudicious to ignore the veracity of criticisms by esteemed scholars such as
Connery (2009), Kidula (2006), Kingsbury (1997) or even Rhodes (1956) when we
evaluate progress thus far; for apart from the groundwork already laid by disciplines such
as anthropology, everything about indigenous African music is still the same to date. In
some cases, the situation has arguably even worsened.

Recuperation and/or reconstruction of Africa-sensed approaches

Nothing could represent the misunderstanding between the ethnomusicologist and the
African musicologist better than an academic exchange between Agawu and Erlmann,
as epitomised by their respective articles Contesting Difference: A Critique of Africanist
Ethnomusicology (Agawu, 2003b) and Resisting Sameness: À propos Kofi Agawu’s Representing
African Music (Erlmann, 2004). Erlmann unfairly accuses Agawu of resisting the
sameness between musicology and African Musicology; for Agawu alludes to the very
notion of sameness he is accused of resisting. It would seem the two scholars are talking
past each other, because they essentially agree that enough sameness between
musicology and African Musicology exists, and that the two disciplines in fact cross-
While I personally support the view that musicology should be all-encompassing, I
would venture to caution against losing sight of the fact that indigenous African music,
in some instances, begs for a specific and dedicated mode of musicological enquiry,
especially if the music and the attendant art forms are to benefit academe and communal
developmental agendas. To be oblivious of the peculiarities of African music is to deny
it dedicated scholarly investigation. Accordingly, operating at both programmatic and
methodological levels, African music scholarship should strive to place abstractions and
ideations of indigenous music practitioners on par with theories and fabrications brought
about by academic mediation. Ideally, African musical epistemologies should not be
subsumed into disciplines such as anthropology or sociology, as is presently the case.
They should be elevated to levels comparable to music cultures in any other part of the
world. Such elevation should translate into African music being taught in the classroom,
side by side with Western music, such as jazz or rock; and should, similarly, occupy
significant space in the catalogue of world music. Only when such a balance is achieved

will African music knowledge be transportable from its original context into the modern-
day classroom, here in Africa and elsewhere. Otherwise, to agitate hastily for sameness,
as the multiculturalists tend to do, might betray attempts to mainstream indigenous
African music.
Despite the resurgence and, of course, the validity of the latter in recent South
African music education discourses, acknowledging the conjoined nature of indigenous
African music is, in part, the reason this chapter prefers the concept indigenous African
music to the designation musical arts. After all, the term ‘indigenous African music’,
analogous with most African conceptions, say mmino wa setšo in Northern Sotho, is an
aggregation of regionally, customarily, culturally and ethnically constituted musical terms
for a prevalent practice. It is analogous in that the nomenclature does not wantonly
pigeonhole the phenomenon as either art or science, but also credits the culture bearer
by situating it in a specific cultural space. Essentially, mmino wa setšo means the ‘music of
origin’ with the origin or owners attached as the suffix. For example, we may talk of
mmino wa setšo sa Maindia (meaning cultural music of India) or for that matter music from
any culture. Perhaps the most appropriate referent that could harmonise the indigenous
African music, musical art and mmino wa setšo nomenclatures is ‘cultural music’.
Nevertheless, further exploration is needed to give currency to this notion.
It is also revealing that in Sesotho languages the term molodi is analogous to melody,
while rhythm is referred to as morethetho (a term that is quite rhythmic in sound), and the
thudding sound to moribo. Go dumela implies providing harmonic texture in both
responsorial and contrapuntal fashion. Furthermore, Bahananwa talk of moletse – a
fashioned and particular short dance sequence – and setepe (a step) – a compositional unit,
which add up to moletse. Whereas setepe is self-explanatory, moletse is equivalent to what
Ngema (2007:67) considers ‘fundamental rhythmical-patterns’. Interestingly, when an
African calls for a tune in a performative environment, he or she in fact invokes a three-
pronged thought pattern; one prong being koša (song), the next morethetho (the defining
rhythmic topos of the drum section), and the other moletse. In other words, a member of
dinaka or any music genre, and indeed the audience who bring to the performance a
functional knowledge and certain levels of expectation of performance standard, can tell,
simply by seeing moletse and without actually hearing the sound, which koša is being
performed (Lebaka, 2001:78). This means, since baletši ba mmino wa setšo (indigenous
music practitioners) are at the centre of the phenomenon, academe could be better
served by relying on concepts that are derived from the culture itself (Agawu, 2003a:6–
Notably though, the University of Pretoria, the University of Cape Town – and by
extension the Pan African Society for Musical Arts Education (PASMAE) as well as
associated journals – seem to prefer the ‘musical arts’ concept, perhaps emboldened by

Professor Meki Nzewi’s remark that ‘the term “musical arts” reminds us that in African
culture the performance arts disciplines of music, dance, drama, poetry and costume art
are seldom separated in creative thinking and performance practice’ (Nzewi, 2003:13).
Following this truism, some (mostly younger) scholars could be excused for mistakenly
thinking of the ‘musical arts’ concept as being specific or peculiar to African music. The
fact is, the concept was in circulation in the 19th century, and with no specific reference
to African music (see Anon, 1878; Stratton, 1882). By not reconciling the two
perspectives alluded to in this section, scholars are likely to be continually accused –
rightfully so – of ‘inventing African rhythm’ (Agawu, 1995), or ‘inventing Africa’
(Mudimbe, 1988), as it were.

Cultivation of African exigency in pursuit of the study of African music

From within the ranks of ethnomusicology, the post-colonial urge necessitated an
orientation to the study of African music that could arguably engender a discipline
known as African Musicology. It would seem that since the 1950s the notion of African
Musicology has never been explicitly defined, but merely implied or embedded within
ethnomusicology. Save for Nketia’s and Bebey’s efforts, it is only in the last three decades
that some African scholars have insinuated, and in some instances argued, that the
discipline of African Musicology does exist and is, in fact, a markedly different mode of
academic enquiry from ethnomusicology and what may be regarded as traditional
musicology. African scholars, particularly those grounded in musicology through their
undergraduate training, and in some instances their performative application throughout
the many socialisation stages or processes, increasingly fancy themselves as (African)
musicologists, as opposed to ethnomusicologists (Kidula, 2006). Primarily, the argument
is that the interest of African musicologists lies in the study of their own music rather
than that of others; and that as evidenced by Nzewi’s contribution, African scholars view
African music as both an art and a science, warranting both scientific engagement on the
one hand, and artistic and aesthetical appreciation on the other.
In almost every sense, all African music scholars started as ethnomusicologists in that
they had to study music from other cultures as a prerequisite to gaining access to
universities. For some time now, classical music standards have informed the required
university entrance grades. Bodies such the United Kingdom-based Associated Board
of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) and Trinity College have been the custodians
of such a grading system. Much later, the University of South Africa became the third
alternative (Mapaya, 2016). These bodies have since incorporated jazz into their grading
portfolios, with African music out of the picture. Those aspiring to major in African
music are thus compelled to study other kinds of music as a prerequisite to enter

Most literature on African music is authored by Africanists who are non-Africans.
The list of pioneering texts includes works by John Blacking and his contemporaries, all
of European descent. To date, most journals still insist on these authors being quoted in
order to confirm the merit of the paper. Citing indigenous practitioners from whom
these scholars learnt and distilled their theories is usually not permissible: in fact, it is
considered unscholarly. This means then that the African musicologist needs
endorsement from ‘foreign monks’ when studying his or her own music (Shih, 2010:44).
This is an untenable situation indeed, as the established citation protocols are hardly ‘self-
evidently valid or preferable when viewed from an African perspective’ (Agawu,
2007:258). How can Africa progress with such a handicap? One way is for African
musicologists to proceed without hesitation, as most of them already do, to articulate
African epistemologies found in the music of their cradle. The manner in which
knowledge is managed should give credit where it is due – to the indigenous
practitioners. Treating such knowledgeable practitioners as if they were objects should
be discouraged: instead, they should be revered and honoured. After all, such an
approach to knowledge should be valid and desirable in any African context.
Nevertheless, the idea of ‘African Musicology’ owes its roots primarily to the work
of Kwabena Nketia. African scholars today agree that the most important work worthy
of credit for engendering the African Musicology discipline is Nketia’s 1964 publication
titled The Music of Africa. In addition to this seminal book, Nketia authored many
conference papers and published journal articles. From an African perspective, he
presented talks and gave lectures that were rather musicological in their thrust. This is
why his body of work is seen by many as the fulcrum or bedrock of what is called African
Musicology today.
After Nketia and Bebey, luminary African scholars such as Akin Euba, Joshua
Uzoigwe, Kofi Agawu, Lazarus Ekwueme, Meki Nzewi, Mwesa Mapoma, and Samuel
Akpabot continued to advance the course of African Musicology by initiating a legion
of younger scholars into African musical epistemologies. A healthy number of African
voices are beginning to counterbalance theories proffered by fieldwork-wise scholars
(Mugovhani & Mapaya, 2014). However, despite these developments, African Musicology is
still to be thoroughly articulated as a distinct field of study alongside musicology, new musicology
and perhaps the now discredited discipline of ethnomusicology.

The feasibility of the discipline of African Musicology

For the discipline of African Musicology to claim centre stage in the study of music,
several factors need to be considered: chief amongst these are funding and agency. In
this regard, it is prudent to ask these pertinent questions: Are there scholars who believe
in the notion of African Musicology and are willing to contribute to its growth; and

would such a discipline be financially viable? In the last quarter of a century, it seemed
the idea of African Musicology was finally taking root. The establishment of the
Musicological Association of Nigeria in 1993 at Ilorin, which later became the
Association of Nigerian Musicologists, followed by the formation of the Bureau for the
Development of African Musicology in 2006 in Malaysia as well as the establishment of
the Journal of the Association of Nigerian Musicologists and the African Musicology Online Journal
are encouraging efforts indeed.
Some of these initiatives may be struggling financially, but with a little bit of
innovation, a solution could still be found. In South Africa, for instance, research in
music was collapsed into one enterprise. Despite the pressures of funding, the rationale
was that both musicology and ethnomusicology disciplines are all engaged in research
about music. It was, therefore, plausible that at a historic joint meeting of the former
Musicological Society of Southern Africa and the Symposium on Ethnomusicology held
at the University of Cape Town in 2005, the idea of merging the two organisations was
mooted. This ideal was eventually achieved at the Potchefstroom conference the
following year, where the South African Society for Research in Music came into being
(Agawu, 2003a). This development decisively bridged the divide between musicology
and ethnomusicology by expressly aiming to promote and foster music research in
Africa through a single conference and a single journal publication. The diffusion of
disciplinary boundaries should have spurred the development of the discipline of African
Musicology, even though a tendency to privilege Western art and music is still detectable.
Conclusively, the coming to fruition of the idea of African Musicology is the result of an
ideological as well as a political reawakening, primarily by African scholars and those who
sympathise with or simply work in the African context of post-colonial developments
within academe. The idea of African Musicology can, therefore, be seen in political terms
as the emancipation of Africa and African scholarship.

The hallmarks of African Musicology

With the appropriateness of the discipline of ethnomusicology debated and its agenda
unveiled, we are left with one task – to assert the discipline of African Musicology.
However, what is African Musicology? Is it the study of African music from a
musicological point of view, or the study of music from an African perspective? African
Musicology should essentially be concerned with the study of African music to the
benefit of the continent and its populace, including practitioners of the music.
Ideologically, it should anchor itself in African perspectives, inheriting the strengths of
traditional musicology as well as drawing lessons from its flaws. For example, it should
be alert to the fact that musicologists are considered weak in musical performance
(Kerman, 1985). It should also invest more attention in practitioners’ extemporisations.

To capitalise on this and other criticisms, African Musicology should accommodate the
performative spirit by acknowledging the role indigenous performers could play in the
academic economy.
The concept of a classroom may require rethinking. In Africa, most indigenous
African music training is ritual-bound, and rituals occur in environments shunned by the
educated elite (Mapaya, 2010). As such, the modern African musicologist should brace
himself or herself to participate in such music-making environments. However,
rethinking, repositioning or reinventing the study of African music should not be too
difficult to do, since African Musicology will mostly derive from the African worldview.
The majority of its agents should be Africans who, through normal processes of
socialisation at some stage in their lives, have gone through some of the rituals
themselves. Additionally, such scholars will have close knowledge of the existence of the
necessary understanding and respect for attendant protocols.
Further, indigenous African music is language-bound. What is normally passed off
as an instrumental piece of music is essentially a song, with its origin often reflective of
the lyrical intention. Even though instruments, especially in the ensemble performative
context, may provide what is perceived as the apparent melody, a somewhat different
tune may tacitly linger in the minds of the performers, thereby establishing a deeper layer
of performance integrity. This is the glue, as it were, that holds the pieces together. For
musicology to fit the purpose of investigating African music, it would have to undergo
some adjustments. For instance, it should be capable of simultaneously harnessing the
rigour of scholarship while deriving insight from existing African sensibilities by,
amongst other things, investing in understanding the African worldview, which is often
expressed in the context of rituals. Most importantly, this endeavour will be encapsulated
in the language of the cultural practitioners. In this regard, the discipline of African
Musicology should be more musicological than ethnomusicological, with its object
(African music) being the compound of song and dance, while simultaneously
acknowledging the importance of allied art forms such as visual arts, drama and costume.
In brief, the discipline of African Musicology should take into cognisance the context of the
ritual, and moreover invest in the language of the phenomenon, including the lexicon of
indigenous African music performative cultures.
Furthermore, the main agents of African Musicology should be scholars who,
despite their training, are capable of predicating their enquiry on the African worldview.
Like the Afrocentric paradigm of Asante (1988), African Musicology should be
endogenous, driven by the quest to enthrone the African worldview with a keen interest
in the explications of the African practitioners. African Musicology should strive for
continued attachment to Africa, with its grounding in musicology proper. Scholars of
African music should identify themselves more as musicologists than

ethnomusicologists (Kidula, 2006). A scholar of African music should also endeavour to
dispel Euro-American concepts of African music.
Lastly, African Musicology should resist the unhelpful notion of difference insofar
as the application of musicological principles is concerned. It should become a
respectable mode of enquiry. The need to devise a new notation system or time
signatures is, therefore, an illusion. The aim of African Musicology should be to add to
instead of subtracting from musicology. It should accommodate an understanding of
African cultures and customs, whereby the child’s musical talents are rationalised as an
endowment from badimo (ancestors), or simply the incarnation of a kin member,
especially the parent, grandparent or some close relative who has passed on. While
ethnomusicologists established individual regions or ‘chiefdoms’ for themselves (John
Blacking is deemed a specialist in the music of Vhavenda; Veit Erlmann in amaZulu,
David Rycroft in amaXhosa, and so on), the African musicologist should respect the
fact that the music is communal.

The musicology of African music

The fact that the concept ‘music’ as it obtains in musicology is somewhat different from
a similar African phenomenon is, for scholars of African music, beyond doubt (Merriam,
1977). Whereas musicology, according to Cook (2005), has constantly viewed music as
the score, indigenous African music remains primarily performative or functional. This
slight difference in perception is the result of how scholars have interfaced with the two
types of music. Apart from these scholarly perspectives, there is little separating aspects
of indigenous African music and the Western notion of music; but it is appropriate to
say there are a few considerations that make investigating indigenous African music a
little different (Mapaya, 2013). Some of the major peculiarities of indigenous African
music that may have implications for musicology are its logic, its discursiveness (or not),
its contemplative nature (or not) and its functionality. The logic of the two genres is
different in that Western music, as Kramer (1988) observes, is linear, whereas, on the
contrary, African music is, according to scholars such as Arom (1991) and Nzewi (1997),
cyclic. My own study, however, suggests that African music is neither linear nor cyclic,
but spiral. It does not come around to the starting point repeatedly. Rather, each time it
comes around, the corresponding points are elevated and in a slightly different orbit;
sometimes even faster. This, amongst many other points, accounts for the perceived
differences in logic and in how we should be doing African Musicology.
Agawu (1992) and many other scholars have commented on the question of the
contemplativeness of African music, in response to a rather animated debate. The
veracity of Agawu’s argument seems to have effectively laid to rest ascriptions of the
notion of functionality only to indigenous African music. Before we knew better, we

thought only Western music was contemplative, as opposed to indigenous African
music which was said to be functional. However, all forms of music are both
contemplative and functional in their own right, and all can be discussed in discursive
terms even though ethnomusicologists have suggested that practitioners of indigenous
African music are theoretically oblivious of the theory behind their praxis (Raffmann,
1993). Believing this effectively marks the inability of scholarship to hear, so to speak, the
voice of the African indigenous practitioner. The truth is that the language of the
practitioner and that of the scholar are incompatible. Cognisant of this fact, African
Musicology should be charged with the responsibility of harmonising these discourses
and alleviating these kinds of misrepresentation and misconception by consciously
working towards a common understanding. This could mean teaching the scholar,
amongst other things, the language of the indigenous African music practitioner and the
importance of letting the voice of the practitioner be heard. Conversely, the practitioner
should be aware of the challenges the scholar is experiencing in nudging the two
knowledge systems closer to each other. Otherwise, by ignoring the reality that
indigenous African music is equally as discursive as Western music, we are perpetuating
the colonial mentality that renders the practitioners voiceless.

This chapter traced the beginning of the study of African music and appraised the impact
of traditional musicology as well as ethnomusicology, which because of its close
association with the study of non-Western music, and indigenous African music in
particular, receives a more critical appraisal. The result is a determination that musicology
could better serve African music than does ethnomusicology. In this regard, the referent
‘African Musicology’ is presented as a discipline concerned purely with the study of
African music. One of its defining features, as this chapter argues, is the greater reliance
on the abstractions and ideas held by indigenous African music practitioners. In short,
the chapter proposes that the study of indigenous African music warrants a dedicated
mode of enquiry if the phenomenon, as well as the ideation from indigenous knowledge
practitioners, is to be understood.

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