8 Chapter 8: Issues in the Music of Africa, the Arab World, India, and China


There are many issues that help us understand the context, politics, and social impact of music.  Some of these will be explored in the following chapters and they include:  colonialism, history, gender and sexuality, teaching and pedagogy, and many more.  At this point, let us only consider one of them, , since it has a great importance in the teaching, study, transmission, and scholarship of music.


is a system of symbols used to represent musical sounds, techniques, and expressions. It is used to record and communicate musical ideas to musicians so that they can perform the music accurately. Common musical symbols used in notation include clefs, staffs, notes, rests, rhythms, dynamics, and articulations.

Music uses a combination of notes, rests, clefs, and other symbols to indicate the pitch, duration, dynamics, and expression of the music.

The most basic element of music is the note, which indicates the pitch and duration of a sound. Notes are represented by round symbols, called noteheads, placed on a musical staff, which is a set of five horizontal lines. The vertical position of the notehead on the staff indicates the pitch of the note.

Rests, which indicate silences or pauses in the music, are represented by different symbols depending on the duration of the silence.

Time signatures and barlines are also used to indicate the meter of the music and to divide it into regular rhythmic units.

Modern music notation software can also include other symbols such as chord diagrams, guitar tab, drum notation and more.

Watch this video to review what you learned about musical notation:


Issues in African Music


The preservation of African music is an important task, as it helps to ensure that the rich and diverse musical traditions of the continent are passed on to future generations. There are several ways in which African music can be preserved, including:

  • Recording and archiving: Recording and archiving African music is an important step in preserving it for future generations. This can include both audio and video recordings, as well as written documentation of the music and its cultural context.
  • Education and performance: One of the best ways to preserve African music is through education and performance. By teaching and performing the music, it helps to keep it alive and ensures that it will continue to be passed on.
  • Collaboration with local communities: Collaborating with local communities is important in preserving African music, as they are the ones who are most closely connected to the music and its cultural context. This can include working with traditional musicians and dancers, and supporting local music festivals and events.
  • Digital preservation: As technology advances, digital preservation is becoming an increasingly important tool in preserving African music. Digitizing old recordings, creating digital archives and making them accessible online can help ensure that the music is preserved for future generations.
  • Protecting and promoting cultural heritage: African music is an important part of the continent’s cultural heritage. Protecting and promoting this heritage can help to preserve the music and its cultural context for future generations.

Overall, preserving African music is an ongoing process that requires a multi-faceted approach, including collaboration with local communities, education and performance, and the use of technology to ensure that the music is accessible to future generations.


North African music and Sub-Saharan African music are both diverse and rich with tradition but have some distinct differences.

North African music is heavily influenced by Arabic and Berber cultures and is characterized by the use of complex rhythms and the incorporation of instruments such as the , , and . The Gnawa music of Morocco, which combines traditional Berber and sub-Saharan rhythms, is a good example of the blend of cultural influences in North Africa.  We’ll consider this music in the next chapter.

Sub-Saharan African music is diverse, with traditional music varying greatly between different countries and ethnic groups. It often features polyrhythmic patterns and the use of drums and percussion instruments. The use of the human voice is also prominent, with traditional singing and call-and-response singing common. The use of the and the are also notable in sub-Saharan African traditional music.

Some examples of Sub-Saharan African traditional music include the music of West Africa, the traditional music of the Ashanti people of Ghana, and the traditional music of the Zulu people of South Africa.  A is a West African musician, storyteller, and oral historian. The tradition is an important part of the cultural heritage of many West African societies, particularly in countries like Mali, Senegal, and Guinea. are known for their ability to preserve and pass down the history and oral traditions of their communities through their music and storytelling.


has had a significant impact on music in Africa. During the colonial period, European powers imposed their culture and values on the colonized people, including their music. This often resulted in the suppression of traditional African music, as well as the forced adoption of European music and instruments. In some cases, traditional music was banned and punished. However, African musicians also drew inspiration from European and American music, incorporating new styles and instruments into their own music to create a unique sound. After the decolonization, some African musicians started to reclaim and revitalize traditional music, while others continue to incorporate new influences.


Censorship of music in Africa has been an issue in many countries on the continent, with governments and other authorities using various means to control the content of music and limit freedom of expression. The reasons for censorship can vary, but often include political, social, or religious considerations.  In some countries, governments have used censorship to control the spread of political or social messages that they view as a threat to their power or ideology. This has been the case in countries like Zimbabwe, where the government has targeted musicians who criticize the government or its policies.  In other countries, censorship has been driven by religious or moral considerations, with authorities seeking to control the spread of music that they view as promoting immorality or inappropriate behavior. This has been the case in countries like Sudan, where the government has targeted musicians who promote Western-style music and dress.  In some cases, censorship has been driven by economic considerations, with governments or other parties seeking to control the distribution and sale of music to protect their own financial interests.  Despite these challenges, many African musicians have continued to produce and perform music despite censorship, often using underground networks and social media to bypass government restrictions and reach their audiences.  Overall, the censorship of music in Africa is a complex issue that varies by country and is influenced by a range of political, social, and economic factors.


Gender roles and sexuality have played a significant role in African music throughout history. In many traditional African cultures, music is closely tied to religious and spiritual beliefs, and as such, it often reflects societal norms and values.

In many African societies, men are traditionally seen as the primary musicians and performers. Men often play instruments like drums, , and guitars, and are also responsible for composing and arranging the music. However, women also play an important role in traditional African music, often singing and dancing in ceremonies and celebrations.

In terms of sexuality, African music often expresses and reinforces societal norms and values around gender and sexuality. For example, in some traditional African societies, music and dance play a significant role in rituals related to coming of age and initiation, including initiation into adulthood, marriage, and even fertility. In these rituals, the music and dance often serve to reinforce societal norms and expectations around gender roles and sexuality.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to challenge and subvert traditional gender roles and stereotypes in African music. Many contemporary African musicians and performers are pushing the boundaries and challenging societal norms around gender and sexuality through their music and performances.

Overall, gender roles and sexuality have played a significant role in African music throughout history and continue to shape the way it is performed and understood today.


African music has had a significant influence on American music, particularly in genres such as blues, jazz, and rock and roll. The transatlantic slave trade brought millions of enslaved Africans to the Americas, who brought with them their musical traditions and instruments. The African rhythms and melodies present in their music helped to shape the development of blues and jazz, which later influenced the development of rock and roll. Additionally, the African American community has continued to draw inspiration from African music and incorporate it into their own music throughout the 20th century.

In more recent times, many African musicians have also been influenced by American music, particularly hip-hop and R&B, which have gained popularity across the continent. Many African artists have adopted elements of these genres into their own music, creating unique African versions of these styles.

Overall, the influence of African music on American music and vice versa is a two-way street, both cultures have continuously influenced each other throughout history.


Issues in Arabic Music


, as you already know, is a system used to represent music through the use of written symbols, and it is used in many different musical traditions, including Arabic music.

In Arabic music, written notation is used to document and preserve traditional melodies, rhythms, and forms. The use of notation in Arabic music has a long history, dating back to the 19th century when it was first introduced by European musicians and musicologists who were studying and documenting traditional Arabic music.

The most common form of notation used in Arabic music is the solfeggio system, which uses the letters of the alphabet to represent different notes. This system is similar to the Western solfeggio system, and it is used to notate the melody and rhythm of Arabic music.

Another system used to notate Arabic music is the maqam notation system, which is used to notate the complex melodies and rhythms of traditional Arabic music. This system uses a combination of letters and symbols to represent different notes and rhythms.

The use of notation in Arabic music varies depending on the region, genre, and context. While notation is widely used in classical and traditional forms of Arabic music, it is less commonly used in more contemporary forms of Arabic music. Also, not all Arabic music is written down, traditional music is often passed down through oral tradition and improvisation is an important aspect of Arabic music.


The teaching and pedagogy of Arabic music is typically based on the transmission of knowledge and skills from master to student through a combination of oral and written instruction.  Traditionally, the study of Arabic music has been based on the master-student relationship, where a student would study with a master musician and learn through observation, imitation, and practice. This approach is still used in many traditional music schools and conservatories.  In recent years, there has been a shift towards more formalized and structured methods of teaching Arabic music, particularly in universities and conservatories. This often includes the use of written notation and instructional materials, as well as the incorporation of Western music theory and pedagogy.  The teaching and learning of Arabic music can also include the study of different aspects of the music, such as history, theory, performance practice, and the use of different instruments.  In addition to formal education, many people learn Arabic music informally through participation in community music groups, or by learning from family members and friends.  Regardless of the approach, the teaching and pedagogy of Arabic music often emphasizes the importance of maintaining the traditional techniques and forms while also encouraging experimentation and innovation.  Thus the teaching and pedagogy of Arabic music can vary depending on the region, cultural context and the level of education, and that the traditional approach is still widely used especially in countries where there is less access to formal education.

The transmission and preservation of Arabic music is an ongoing process that involves passing down knowledge, skills, and traditions from one generation to the next.

Traditionally, the transmission of Arabic music has been based on the master-student relationship, where a student would study with a master musician and learn through observation, imitation, and practice. This approach is still used today, and many musicians continue to learn and pass down traditional techniques and forms through this method.

In addition to the oral tradition, the use of written notation has played an important role in the transmission and preservation of Arabic music. Written notation was developed in the 19th century and has been used to document and preserve traditional melodies, rhythms, and forms.

More recently, technology has also played a role in the preservation of Arabic music. The use of recording technology has allowed for the documentation and preservation of traditional music, and the internet and digital media have made it possible for people all over the world to access and learn about Arabic music.

Another aspect of preservation of Arabic music is the work of Ethnomusicologists and musicologists, who study and document the traditional music of different cultures, including Arabic music. This research helps to understand, appreciate, and preserve the traditional music and its cultural context.

In addition to the above, there are also initiatives from governments, cultural organizations and private initiatives to preserve and promote Arabic music. These include festivals, concerts, competitions, and educational programs that aim to raise awareness about the importance of preserving and promoting Arabic music, and to encourage its practice and study.

Therefore the preservation of Arabic music is an ongoing process and that the transmission and preservation of Arabic music is facing several challenges such as globalization, urbanization, and the influence of Western culture.


Music has a long history within Islam, and it has been an important part of Muslim culture for centuries. However, the relationship between music and Islam has been a complex and sometimes controversial one.

Many Islamic scholars have traditionally held that music is permissible if it does not lead to sinful behavior and is not used in a way that is disrespectful or dishonors God. Some Islamic scholars also believe that music can have spiritual and therapeutic benefits and can be used as a means of drawing closer to God.

On the other hand, some Islamic scholars and conservative Muslims believe that music is haram (forbidden) because it is seen as a distraction from the worship of God and can lead to sinful behavior. They argue that it can be a source of temptation, and that it is not consistent with the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad).

is widely accepted within Islam as it is considered a form of devotional music that is used to invoke the presence of God and to achieve a state of spiritual ecstasy.

In general, the Islamic stance on music varies depending on the interpretation of Islamic teachings and the cultural context. However, it is widely accepted that if music is performed and consumed with moderation and in a respectful manner, it can be considered permissible in Islam.

refers to the act of reciting or reading the Quran, the central religious text of Islam. Quranic recitation is considered a highly spiritual and devotional practice in Islam and is considered as a way of gaining blessings, forgiveness, and closeness to God. It is also considered a way of gaining knowledge and understanding of the teachings of Islam. Quranic recitation is typically performed in Arabic, the original language of the Quran, and is usually accompanied by the proper pronunciation and intonation of the text, which is known as Tajwid.

, also known as the adhan, is the Islamic call to worship that is recited by the muezzin, the person appointed to lead the call to prayer, to invite Muslims to come to the mosque and perform the congregational prayer (salat). The adhan is recited in Arabic and consists of specific phrases that declare the greatness of God and the importance of prayer.

The is recited five times a day, at specific times determined by the Islamic calendar. It is traditionally recited from a minaret, the tower of a mosque, but can also be recited from loudspeakers or other speakers in modern times. The adhan is considered a devotional act of worship and is also meant to remind Muslims of the importance of prayer and devotion throughout the day.

Watch this video to review what you learned:


Censorship is a significant issue in the Arabic music industry, and many artists have faced censorship and restriction of their work because of their lyrics, themes, and/or videos. In many Arabic countries, the government and religious authorities have significant control over the content of music and other forms of media. This means that music that is deemed to be offensive or in violation of religious or moral values can be banned or censored. Themes such as sex, politics, and criticism of the government are particularly sensitive and can lead to censorship.  Artists who produce music that is critical of the government or that addresses sensitive political or social issues can also face harassment, imprisonment, and even violence. This has led to self-censorship among many artists who avoid discussing certain topics in order to protect themselves and their families. In addition to government censorship, there is also self-censorship among the music industry and media outlets, who avoid promoting or airing music that may be controversial to avoid backlash and negative publicity.  Despite the censorship, many artists and musicians continue to produce music that addresses important social and political issues, using metaphors and symbolism as a way to express their views without getting banned. Some also use the internet and social media to bypass censorship and reach their audience.  It can be said that the level of censorship and control of the music industry varies from one country to another, and that the censorship laws and practices are in constant evolution.


In traditional Arabic music, there are distinct gender roles and expectations placed on men and women. Historically, men have typically been the primary performers and creators of Arabic music, while women have played a more limited role. Men are typically considered to be the primary vocalists and instrumentalists and are often the ones who perform in public and on stage. They are also often the ones who compose and arrange music. On the other hand, women’s participation in Arabic music has typically been more restricted. In some traditional societies, women were not allowed to perform in public or on stage, and their participation in music was generally limited to singing in private or at home.  However, in recent years there has been a change in this paradigm, and more and more women are becoming involved in Arabic music as performers, composers, and producers. This trend is particularly seen in the Gulf countries, where women are breaking the traditional barriers and making a name for themselves in the music industry.  There are many examples of women who have been successful in the Arabic music scene, despite the traditional gender roles.

Sexual themes and references have long been present in Arabic music, but the way they are expressed, and the level of explicitness can vary depending on the cultural, social, and historical context.  In traditional Arabic music, sexual references were often implied through metaphor or symbolism and were not always explicit. However, in recent years there has been a shift towards more explicit sexual themes and references in Arabic music, particularly in pop and hip-hop. This reflects a shift in societal attitudes towards sexuality, and a greater willingness to discuss and express these themes in the public sphere.  However, while some Arabic music may contain explicit sexual content, many Arabic countries still have strict cultural and legal restrictions on such content. This means that sexual themes and references in Arabic music can still be considered controversial and can lead to censorship and backlash.

Finally, the representation of women in Arabic music, particularly in videos and performances, can be highly sexualized and objectifying. This is a reflection of a wider societal issue, and there has been criticism and discussions about the way women are represented in Arabic music and media in general.

In conclusion, the representation of sexuality in Arabic music varies depending on the genre, the artist, and the cultural and societal context. It can range from implicit references in traditional music to more explicit representation in contemporary music, but it’s a topic that is still considered sensitive and controversial in many Arabic countries.


Arabic music, like many other cultural forms in the Arab world, has been deeply influenced by European . During the colonial period, European powers exerted a great deal of control over the region, and their cultural influence was felt in many areas, including music. European military bands and orchestras were often brought in to perform for colonial officials and the local elite, and many Middle Eastern musicians were exposed to European classical music for the first time. Additionally, European music notation and instruments such as the piano and violin were introduced and adopted into Arabic music. As a result, many traditional Arabic music forms have been modified to incorporate elements of European music, and a distinct genre of “Arab classical music” emerged. This genre often features Western-style orchestras and arrangements, and is still popular in the Arab world today.

, thus, has had a significant impact on Arabic music. During the colonial period, European powers exerted control over many Arab countries, and their cultural influence was often imposed upon the indigenous population. This included the suppression of traditional music and the promotion of Western-style music. Additionally, many musicians were forced to adopt Western musical instruments and techniques. However, despite these efforts, Arabic music has managed to preserve its traditional elements and continues to evolve and thrive.


Issues in Indian Music


Music censorship in India is a contentious issue, with various groups and government bodies seeking to regulate or restrict certain types of music. The Indian government has the authority to censor music under the Cinematograph Act of 1952, which allows for the banning of films and songs deemed to be obscene or offensive. Additionally, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is responsible for reviewing and censoring films and music videos. However, the laws and regulations surrounding music censorship in India are often criticized for being vague and inconsistent, and for being used to silence political dissent and minority voices.

Politics and music have been intertwined in India for many years, with various songs and performances being used to express political views and mobilize social and political movements. Many Indian musicians, particularly those in the film industry, have used their platform to promote political causes and ideologies.

Historically, Indian music has been used as a tool for political propaganda and mobilization. For example, during the Indian independence movement, patriotic songs were used to inspire and mobilize people to fight for freedom from British colonial rule.

In recent years, Indian music has also been used to comment on and critique current political issues and events, such as corruption, poverty, and inequality. Many musicians have used their music as a form of protest, and songs have been written and performed to raise awareness about these issues and to call for change.

Additionally, in Indian cinema, film music has been used as a means of promoting nationalistic sentiments and promoting a sense of national unity. The music often reflects the culture, values, and sentiments of the Indian society and reflects the social, economic and political climate of the time.

Overall, politics and music have a close relationship in India, with music often being used as a tool for political expression and social and political mobilization.


Colonialism had a significant impact on Indian music, as the British colonial government actively sought to suppress and control Indian musical traditions. The British viewed Indian music as inferior and primitive, and sought to replace it with Western classical music.

During the colonial period, the British government imposed strict regulations on Indian music and musicians. They banned certain instruments and styles of music, and established Western-style music schools and academies, which aimed to train Indian musicians in Western music. Many traditional Indian musicians were forced to change their styles or give up music altogether.

Despite these efforts to suppress Indian music, many traditional musicians continued to perform and pass on their music in secret. Some Indian musicians began to incorporate elements of Western music into their own compositions, creating new fusion styles of music.

In addition, Indian musicians who were trained in Western classical music began to compose music that reflected the Indian musical tradition and culture. These composers helped to preserve traditional Indian music and create a new musical style that reflected both the Indian and Western musical traditions.

Overall, colonialism had a significant impact on Indian music, as the British sought to control and suppress traditional Indian musical styles. However, Indian musicians continued to perform and preserve their music, and many adapted and incorporated elements of Western music into their own compositions, creating new fusion styles of music.


Gender roles in Indian music have traditionally been defined by societal norms and cultural expectations. In classical Indian music, for example, women were generally not encouraged to become professional musicians and were often relegated to singing devotional songs in the home. In popular music, women have been more visible as performers and songwriters, but they still often face challenges in the industry such as discrimination and sexual harassment.

However, there are also examples of female musicians who have broken through these barriers and achieved success in the Indian music industry. Women like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, and K.S. Chithra, who have had a long and successful career in the music industry. And now, many female artists are breaking the traditional gender roles in music and making a name for themselves in the industry through their talents and hard work.

In Indian music, sexuality is often depicted using suggestive lyrics and imagery, as well as through the use of sensual rhythms and melodies. The themes of love, desire, and eroticism are common in both classical and popular Indian music and are often used to express the emotional and physical aspects of human relationships. Additionally, many Indian music traditions, particularly classical forms such as Kathak and Bharatanatyam, incorporate erotic gestures and movements into their performances, which are meant to convey the emotions and experiences of the characters in the stories being told through the music. Overall, sexuality plays an important role in Indian music as a means of expressing the full range of human emotions and experiences.


Issues in Chinese Music


Music teaching and pedagogy in China has a strong emphasis on traditional Chinese music and the mastery of traditional instruments. The most common instruments taught in schools and music conservatories include the , , and . Students typically begin learning music at a young age and progress through a rigorous curriculum that includes both theoretical and practical studies. Music education in China also often includes ensemble performance and training in traditional vocal styles such as . Additionally, many students participate in national music competitions and exams to showcase their skills and progress.


China is home to a diverse population of ethnic minorities, and each group has its own unique musical traditions. Some of the main ethnic minority groups in China include the Tibetans, Mongols, Uyghurs, and the various ethnic groups of the Yunnan province.

Tibetan music is characterized by the long-necked lutes and flutes, as well as chanting and throat singing. Mongolian music features the use of the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) and the yatga (zither), as well as traditional vocal styles. Uyghur music includes the use of the and the (plucked lute), as well as traditional dances such as the “dap” dance.

Watch this video to experience different “throat” singing styles:

The music of the various ethnic groups of Yunnan province is also diverse, with influences from Southeast Asia and India. The music of the Dai people, for example, features the use of xylophones and bamboo flutes, while the music of the Bai people features traditional singing styles such as “da ku.”

China’s ethnic minority music is an important part of the country’s cultural heritage and efforts are being made to preserve and promote it. However, the government’s policies towards ethnic minorities in China have been criticized in recent years, which has affected the music of ethnic minority groups in different ways.

Regional music in China encompasses a wide variety of styles and forms, from traditional folk songs and dances to modern pop and rock music. Some examples of regional music in China include:

Cantonese music, which is popular in the southern province of Guangdong and Hong Kong. It is known for its use of complex rhythms and melodic ornamentation.

, which is a traditional form of opera that originated in the Beijing area. It is characterized by its elaborate costumes, acrobatic performances, and exaggerated gestures.

Mongolian throat singing, which is a traditional form of music from Inner Mongolia that involves singing in a deep, guttural voice.

Chinese rock music, which is a relatively new form of music that has emerged in China in recent years. It combines elements of Western rock music with traditional Chinese instruments and themes.

, which is a traditional form of opera that originated in the Sichuan province, and it is known for its use of colorful face masks, acrobatic and martial arts performances, and comedic elements.

Music of the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, which has its own set of traditional and modern music forms, like the traditional Uyghur Muqam, which is a form of folk music that is characterized by the use of complex melodies and rhythms, and it is passed down orally.


In China, the government uses censorship for music and other forms of media to ensure they align with the values and ideologies of the Communist Party. This includes removing lyrics or themes that are deemed politically sensitive, such as references to democracy or criticism of the government. Some foreign songs and music videos are also banned from being distributed in China. Additionally, many popular foreign music streaming services, such as Spotify and YouTube, are blocked in the country. Overall, the censorship of music in China is a reflection of the government’s efforts to control the flow of information and maintain a tight grip on the country’s cultural landscape.


Western classical music has a long history in China, dating back to the late 19th century when it was first introduced by foreign missionaries and diplomats. Over time, it gained popularity and was embraced by many Chinese musicians, composers, and audiences.

In the early 20th century, Western classical music began to be taught in Chinese conservatories and universities, and Chinese musicians began to study and perform it.

During the cultural revolution, the study and performance of Western classical music was discouraged, but it regained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. Nowadays, it has become an important part of the Chinese music scene, with many orchestras and ensembles dedicated to performing it, and many young Chinese musicians receiving training in Western classical music.

There are also several music festivals, concert series and educational programs dedicated to Western classical music in China. Some Chinese composers have also taken inspiration from Western classical music to create their own works, combining elements of Chinese and Western music to create a unique sound.


In traditional Chinese culture, there are distinct gender roles and expectations for men and women in relation to music. Historically, men were typically the ones who performed and composed music, while women were expected to be listeners and appreciators. This is reflected in the traditional instruments that men and women play, with men tending to play instruments such as the and , and women playing instruments like the zither and dulcimer.

However, in recent years, there has been a shift towards greater equality and representation in the Chinese music scene, with more women taking on traditionally male roles as musicians, composers, and conductors.

Additionally, there is a growing popularity of female solo artists in the Chinese music industry, which is a significant change from the past where the majority of famous singers were men.

While progress has been made, there is still a long way to go in terms of achieving gender equality in the Chinese music industry and in the way that music is taught in China.

In traditional Chinese culture, there has been a long-standing stereotype that women should not play certain instruments, such as the and the , which are more “masculine.” Women were also often discouraged from becoming professional musicians. However, this perception has been changing in recent years, with more and more women breaking through these barriers and achieving success as musicians in China.

Also, there’s the phenomenon of “diva” culture in Chinese pop music, where many female singers are known for their powerful and emotive vocal performances, often characterized by the use of vibrato and belting. This is a popular and successful genre, yet some argue it reinforces traditional gender roles and expectations for women in Chinese society.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of female composers, music producers, and sound engineers in China, which reflects a growing recognition of the importance of women in the music industry.


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