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This unit focuses on music, a demonstrative communication device. According to Ibagere (1994:90), music is quite an important mode of communication in the cultural milieu of Africans, deriving its significance mostly from its entertainment value. Nobody hates music [at least everyone likes a brand of music].It most certainly attracts attention as soon as it manifests


At the end of this unit of study, students should be able to:

  1. define music 
  2. outline the communication functions of music 
  3. explain the role of the musician as a communicator. 


3.1 Music

Before the advent of the current trends in communication technology, people all over the world have their indigenous means of communication and entertainment. Though these means of communication may not necessarily be efficient in terms of reaching a large audience, they are no doubt effective; one of such medium of communication and entertainment is music.

The new Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary (1972) defined music as “The art of giving structural form and rhythmic pattern to combinations of sound produced instrumentally or orally. Also writing on music, Bunhart (1995) stated that “music is sound arranged into pleasing or interesting patterns. It forms an important part of many cultural and social activities. People use music to express feeling and ideas. Music also serves to entertain and relax”.

Music is a basic form of African communication. Music is defined as “the art or science of combining vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) to produce beauty of form, harmony and expression of emotion.” (Pearsall, 1999:940); while Hornby (1984:772) defines Music as the “art of making pleasing combinations of sounds in rhythm harmony and counterpoint”. This means that music does not only consist of songs but other accompaniments (sounds, lyrics, etc) that go along with the human voice. This definition becomes very important when one considers that various instruments used in African music can convey different messages, even when a combination of instruments is used, it also conveys a message. So, music may be seen as well structured an organised patterns and processes aim at achieving a specific objective. It has a universal language of its own and it is tradition based. According to Ibagere (1994:90):

Music could be referred to as the melodic expression of feelings in sound. This expression is done in harmony. Because of its nature, music is divided into a number of sub-groups through which Africans communicate. The main feature of this mode is immediacy. Although, it can also be used to communicate with someone who is remote from the source (like symbolography), it is imperative that the receiver of the message being sent must hear the sound before he would be able to respond to it appropriately

3.1.1 The Communication Functions of Music

From the ancient times, music has been an important aspect of human life. The communication value of music is however more apparent in Africa where music forms a very important part of their rich cultural heritage. The low level of development in the continent, which makes many of modern media of communication inaccessible to many Africans, is failure to promote African forms of communication of which music is an important medium. In various parts of Nigeria, music is used to transmit the cultural values of the society. Hence, it is passed it on from generation to generation.
Although the important role of music is to entertain people all over the world, use music as a medium of communication to achieve different aims both negative and positive. Music as a medium of communication is used to pass on information to listeners and also to give instructions on various aspects of human life. It is used to pass on messages that could have easily been forgotten if given by words of mouth. For example, a group of musicians in the USA formed a group in the early 80s under the auspices of “United Support of Artists for Africa” to release an album, on the need for unity among the different races of the world and particularly to help war victims in Africa with the funds realised. Similar effort was made in Nigeria under the leadership of King Sunny Ade, a foremost Yoruba Juju musician. The song was calling for unity among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria (Fola, 1998). So, in Africa, music is a potent means of disseminating information. Another example is “Choice” a duet by King Sunny Ade and Onyeka Onwuenu was used to promote family planning in Nigeria.

Again, music provides a veritable source of information and communication. Music to both resident and itinerant groups/individuals entertains, educates, instructs, rebukes, and celebrates life at birth and death. It can be combined with other media such as poetry, using it to convey meaning. Music is used to encourage people to work; lull children to sleep; praise the living and the dead; and even as it is believed in Africa, aids the passage of the dead. Music can be used as a double edged sword to promote peace and war; forge a link between past and present; forge national unity; and sensitise the society and mobilise people for development. Thus, could be used to promote family planning, hard work, honesty, accountability, transparency, and the prevention of HIV transmission. Music could take the form of grapevine stories to alert the people on development planned for them (Wilson, 1998:41). According to Akpabio (2003:20), music has been used even in “modern setting to aid the liberation struggle (Lucky Dube, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Sonny Okosun and other artists) address inequities in society, talk about the virtue of love, relationship and a myriad of other uses”. So, African music is not all about “I love you” or “Nigeria Jagajaga”! As Ibagere (1994:90-91) puts it:

Although, like dance, music could be considered simply an art for its own sake, the fact remains that the functional aspect of it in Africa pantheon is of great symbolic significance. One has to be conversant with the cultural background of music before one can actually appreciate its beauty as well as understand the message it passes across and be actually affected by it =

3.1.2 The Uses of Music:

Having looked at the communication functions of music generally, it is important to look at the various occasions and purposes for the use of music. Music is used for various reasons and in sundry places. Generally, people play music during ceremonies, at work, during personal and social activities. In Africa, music is used for different occasions and purposes – it is used during religious worship/festivals, wars, peace time, celebrations/ceremonies (marriage, christening, house warming, chieftaincy, burial, etc) and as an instrument of vengeance by ways of sarcasm or euphemism. Religious Worship/Festivals

Before the advent of Christianity and Islam in Africa, Africans were deeply rooted in African Traditional Religion (ATR). They worshipped different gods. Fola (1998) reported that there are 201 gods in Yoruba land and worshippers of each of them are very devoted. Several gods such as Ogun, Sango, Oya, Obatala etc are worshipped in different parts of Yoruba land. This might explain why there are many shrines located in virtually every part of Yoruba towns and villages; hence sacrifices and festivals are important part of life of a traditional Yoruba. Music plays important roles in these festivals. In fact, many of such festivals such as Osun Osogbo Festival are more like carnivals. Fola (1998) argued that music was used to announce the beginning of major festivals in most Yoruba communities. He stated that there were usually different drum and drumbeats for announcing each festival. Music was also normally used to herald new seasons. Thus, music can be said to perform additional role of time keeping for the predominantly rural people who have no access to modern day calendar and time keeping facilities. War

In the past and even at present, many Africans, ethnic groups and kingdoms fought various wars to prevent secession and maintain their existence as a single kingdom, prevent incursion of enemy kingdoms into their territories, and conquer places and people. Before going to war, music was used to mobilise local warriors into action. The musicians sing their praises extolling their past achievements, as well as the achievements of their progenitors by singing their Oriki (Yoruba term for praise name). On hearing their Oriki, the warriors were usually charged and propelled into action because they would like to justify the honour accorded to them. This even goes on during the actual war to encourage them to fight gallantly until they win. On return from such wars and for the party that won, it is celebration galore and music was on hand; hero warriors were celebrated and musicians were always at hand to eulogise them. Celebrations

Celebration is part of African culture and Africans enjoy celebrating. Africans celebrate after new birth; during house warming, chieftaincy, marriages; and when joining a new age group amongst others. Essentially, any outstanding achievement in life of an individual calls for celebration in Africa. Relatives, friends and well wishers are normally on hand to celebrate and rejoice with the celebrant. Such occasions are characterised by eating, drinking, singing, dancing, donating and rejoicing. It is rare to have a celebration in Africa without music to entertain guests. Ceremonies

There are three most important ceremonies in the life of every African and because of their significances; they are usually celebrated either flamboyantly or conservatively. These are the christening of children, weddings and funerals. Essentially, these three events in the life of an African do not go unmarked.

Parents of new born children normally invite people to christening ceremonies and usually music is used to entertain people, praise, glorify and thank God for the gift of children. Also, at the time a person is getting married, music plays important roles. Apart from playing music to dance and celebrate, the new couple is given several instructions to guide them in their married life through music in addition to the use of words. Fola (1998) argued that new couples are more likely to remember the instructions passed through songs than the ones merely given by words. Again during funeral ceremonies, music is used to herald departed to the grave. The music used to mourn a dead person is known as a dirge. The type of music depends largely on the age of the deceased. If it is a young person that is being buried, they are usually emotional dirges that made most of the people present at the ceremony to weep. However, if the deceased is an aged person, it is usually a form of celebration, marked mainly by the deceased family flaunting his/her wealth. Vengeance

]Just as music can be used to honour and praise, music is still being used among the Yoruba as instrument of vengeance. The type of music is usually satire, to abuse a known or perceived adversary. The negative side of the known or perceived adversary is highlighted through music to humiliate and disgrace, knowing that adversary cannot do anything because of the kind of immunity the musician enjoys, which prevents him from being punished for what he/she sang.

3.1.3 The Musician as a Communicator

Before the advent of the mass media, music served as a means of transmitting messages, especially those with long-term objectives. Prior to now, music was not regarded as a profession in many African countries; hence many parents either frowned or tried to discourage anyone who attempted to make a living out of it. Musicians were regarded as lazy beggars. Many parents would not willingly give out their daughters in marriage to musicians because of their thinking that musicians are not responsible enough to be in-laws (Fola, 1998). However, they were accepted in the society as people who can offer solutions to some societal problems. They provided entertainment for relaxation and leisure; addressed issues concerning the welfare of the society, like propagating community development programmes through their music; and address the excesses of some individuals in the society without fear of reprimand through satirical music. So, it might be argued that musicians in the past were not seen as professionals nor music regarded as a profession, nevertheless, the musician was accepted as a communicator, with the ability to get people’s attention easily through his art.


One very major demonstrative communication form is music. It is very powerful in conveying indigenous messages from generation to generation. It has wide applications and serves as a means of public education. It cuts across barriers and can be used for bad and good. It can be used to educate, praise, entertain or as satire. It is a potent medium for communicating development. It accords musicians some form of immunity. They can satirise dignitaries and groups without getting into trouble. They can be used as grapevine channels to convey information about events being planned for the people. It has the versatility of unlimited reach in terms of capacity to reach people. Music can preach for or against a cause. It requires some form of training to be a musician and it is now becoming a lucrative business, especially in the strictly indigenous music with indigenous instruments. The indigenous music is not outdated and can incorporate even the modern forms of instruments as currently happening in Nigeria as typical with modern church choirs.

So, music is a universal medium that cuts across the barriers of race, religion or gender. It is particularly so among Africans with their rich cultural heritage, in which music plays a major role through its ability to penetrate into the hearts of people. Hence, African music can be used as a medium of transmitting information to Africans, especially the rural folks. From the above, it is obvious that music performs some unique communication functions in Africa.


This unit defined music, presented the communication functions of music, uses of music and the musician as a communicator.


  1. What is music?


  1. List five uses of music. 
  2. Explain two uses of music. 


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