From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"West Africa's musical heritage includes a wide variety of popular music styles, especially from the countries of Senegal, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria. In addition griots, wandering musicians and praise singers, are found throughout the region, and some musical instruments (like the kora and some kinds of drums) are found in many West African countries."--Sholem Stein
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries distributed over an area of approximately 5 million square km:
- Burkina Faso
- Côte d'Ivoire
- Cape Verde
- The Gambia
- Sierra Leone
With the exception of Mauritania, all of these countries are members of the ECOWAS or Economic Community of West African States. The UN region also includes the island of Saint Helena, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean.
West Africa is oriented west of an imagined north-south axis lying close to 10° east longitude. The Atlantic Ocean forms the western and southern borders of the region. The northern border is the Sahara Desert, with the Niger Bend generally considered the northernmost part of the region. The eastern border is less precise, with some placing it at the Benue Trough, and others on a line running from Mount Cameroon to Lake Chad.
Colonial boundaries are reflected in the modern boundaries between contemporary West African nations, cutting across ethnic and cultural lines, often dividing single ethnic groups between two or more countries.
West Africa is far-reaching, stretching from the Sahara Desert to the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the wide variety of cultures in West Africa, from Nigeria through to Senegal, there are apparent similarities in dress, cuisine, musical genres and wealth. Islam is the predominant religion of the West African interior and the far west coast of the continent; Christianity is the predominant religion in coastal regions of Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote d'Ivoire; and elements of indigenous religions are practised throughout. Before the decline of the Mali and Songhai Empires there was a sizable group of Jewish communities in areas like Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, and Nigeria. Today there are Jewish populations in Ghana, Nigeria and Mali. Along with historic migrations, these religions have culturally linked the peoples of West Africa more than those in other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The game Oware is quite popular in many parts of West Africa. Football is also a pastime enjoyed by many, either spectating or playing. The national teams of some West African nations, especially Nigeria, regularly qualify for the World Cup.
Mbalax, Highlife, Fuji and Afrobeat are all modern musical genres which enjoin listeners in this region. Traditionally, musical and oral history as conveyed over generations by Griots are typical of West African culture.
A typical formal attire worn in this region is the flowing Boubou (also known as Agbada and Babariga), which has its origins in the clothing of nobility of various West African Empires in the 12th Century.
The Djembe drum, whose origins lie with the Mandinka peoples, is now a popularly played drum among many West African ethnic groups. The Djembe, along with the highly intricate woven Kente cloth of the Akan peoples of Ghana and the distinct Sudano-Sahelian architectural style seen in the many mosques of the region (see Djenné), are the primary symbolic icons of West African culture.
Family is an important aspect as well, being a main priority.