The Making of the Musical World - A Story in Sound - Andrew Killick

The Making of the Musical World - A Story in Sound - Andrew Killick

West Africa: Joining In and Standing Out

The Making of the Musical World - A Story in Sound - Andrew Killick

Andrew Killick [+-]
University of Sheffield
Andrew Killick has been teaching and writing about the world’s music professionally since 1998. His passion for all forms of music has led him literally around the world, including studies at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Washington, periods of fieldwork in India and Korea, and teaching at Illinois State University and Florida State University before taking up his current position at the University of Sheffield in 2003. Originally trained as a classical pianist, he also plays the Korean gayageum zither and an English bagpipe, the Northumbrian smallpipes. His academic publications include two books on Korean music topics, about twenty refereed journal articles and book chapters, and substantial contributions to the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music and the Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. In his spare time he likes to compose “rounds” in a wide variety of musical styles.


The African root of American popular music is traced back through the history of slavery to the West African cultures from which most slaves in North America came. Guarding against any assumption that West African musical cultures were the same in the days of the slave trade as they are now (which might represent the ethnocentric view that “other cultures don’t have history”), historical evidence is reviewed to establish that the features relevant to the story were already present at that time. One such feature, shared with most African cultures south of the Sahara, is that music-making is oriented toward communal participation (“joining in”) more than presentation by performers to a passive audience. Musical features that promote participation are discussed in the context of drumming ensembles, including the “polyrhythmic” African approach to musical time that fed into the American “backbeat.” At the same time, stereotypes of African music as consisting only of drumming and repetitive patterns are counteracted by focusing on two types of musician who “stand out” from their communities as highly skilled musical specialists: master drummers and the bard-like griots who sing to the accompaniment of the harp-lute kora. The master drummers with their “talking drums” also challenge our initial definition of music by blurring the distinction between musical sound and speech.

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Killick, Andrew. West Africa: Joining In and Standing Out. The Making of the Musical World - A Story in Sound. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Sep 2024. ISBN 9781781793411. Date accessed: 07 Dec 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.27320. Sep 2024

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