Coast to Coast: African Music Across the Atlantic

This weekend, whilst conveniently ignoring the impending arrival of Christmas,  I’m hoping to get the opportunity to visit Urbis and take a look at their exhibition Home Grown: The Story of UK Hip Hop. As many of you know I’m a massive fan of African music, particularly of the Blues variety, and during my time at the International Slavery Museum I produced an interactive exhibition called Black Music Soul Power which mapped African musical traditions throughout the Diaspora. I am fascinated with the transatlantic exchange of music particularly in modern history, none more so then when African-American artists travelled to Africa in the 1970s to explore their ancestry. This exchange  inevitably impacted on the music scenes of the countries the artists visited but they found themselves incorporating African elements into their own work also. The video below documents the Godfather of Soul James Brown’s visit to Senegal in the 1970s.

I must admit that I’m pretty much tone-deaf myself and didn’t inherit my father’s accomplished Spanish  guitar skills, but musical traditions and styles interest me not simply for their musicological merits but as vehicles of cultural continuity and transformation, resistance, expression and tradition. Hip Hop, as the global phenomenon it has now become, incorporates all of the above, and none more so than in the work of MC Baloji. Baloji is a Belgian rapper with Congolese roots and his music culturally combines US Hip Hop with Congolese rhythms. His music is a great example of continuing traditions embracing elements of relatively new practises whilst at the same time acting as a platform for cultural and political expression.

The Living Cultures collection has an interesting selection of African, specifically west African, musical instruments, most of which are percussive such as drums. There is also other culturally significant material associated with the performance of music such as masks used in religious, civic and masquerade events, some of which can be seen in the Living Cultures gallery.

Nigerian drum, 1850-1890, Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2010.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

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