South African Music Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

South Africa has a rich musical history, and your students will explore that in this lesson plan. They will exposed to several kinds of South African music and learn to compare and contrast them.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Define several styles of South African music
  • Identify and distinguish indigenous and Western influences in South African music
  • Explain how South Africa's history, struggles, and culture are reflected in its music


90-120 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.


Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.


Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.


  • Copies of South African Music: Origin & History lesson and lesson quiz
  • Audio clips of samplings of songs in these styles: Khoishan chant, kwela, and isicathamiya
  • Audio clip of full songs in these styles: Khoisan traditional, KwaXhosa traditional, Zulu traditional, marabi, kwela, mbaqanga, and isicathamiya
  • Lyrics for a few basic South African call-and-response songs


  • Start class with a basic discussion about South Africa.
    • Where is South Africa?
    • What do you know about life and culture in South Africa?
    • When you think about music from this region, does anything come to mind?
  • Play an audio clip of a Khoisan polyphonic chant. Ask students to describe it.
    • What do you hear in this clip?
    • How could you describe this music?
    • Do you hear multiple melodies, being chanted at once? What effect does that have?
  • Play an audio clip of a kwela song, and ask students to discuss it.
    • How is this different from the Khoisan chant?
    • How is it similar?
    • How might these two types of music coexist in the same country?
  • Distribute copies of the lesson South African Music: Origin & History.
  • Break students into groups. Students will read this lesson in their groups, with one person reading aloud at a time, switching every paragraph. Using this method, ask students to read the sections ''What is South African Music?'' and ''Origins of South African Music.''
  • Pause here and discuss the following questions:
    • How does the music of South Africa reflect its history?
    • How did the introduction of new cultures/oppression of others impact music?
    • If you were to listen to music from South Africa, such as those audio clips we heard earlier, what traits do you think you would listen for to see European influence? What traits would you guess indicate more traditional Khoisan, KwaXhosa, or Zulu influences? How might these be found in different melodies, instruments, or harmonies?
    • Why do you think musical styles like jazz and blues might have been able to blend fairly easily with musical traditions native to southern Africa? Stylistically, what did they have in common?
  • Ask students to continue reading the lesson in their groups, working through the remaining sections. Discuss the following information as a class:
    • What role did music play in South African culture and life?
    • Can music be political? How so?
    • What was Apartheid? What impact did it have on South Africa?
    • What do you think music reflects about modern South African identity? Is it significant that so many musical styles have blended together?
  • Play an audio clip of an isicathamiya song. Discuss this piece of music.
    • How is this similar to the pieces we heard earlier? How is it different?
    • What aesthetic traits define this song?
    • What are some of the influences you hear?
  • You may test student understanding with the lesson quiz.

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