Accordion History in Africa
Accordion History


We are used to hearing traditional African music based on percussion, but the accordion was very popular between 1880 and 1940. The white missionaries probably introduced the accordion into Africa, and much of the continent's music played with accordions is a mixture of Christian hymns and Latin songs.

The popularity of the accordion was probably due to it's sturdy construction and portability. But during the second world war, the guitar became fashionable (and many other Western instruments) and the "old style" symbolised by the accordion lost favour.

Though many Africans played the accordion, few names are recorded. Most musicians were only known to those living in the immediate vicinity, or perhaps the next village. However, in each African country where the accordion has been popular, we can find at least one celebrity. Here we have brief details for countries within Africa.


The accordion was more popular in Gabon than in any other West African country. It was introduced at the beginning of the 20th century by sailors, along with the concertina and the harmonica. Kwame Asare (nick-named "Sam") began recording accordion and concertina music in Great Britain. He was taught the dagomba style of playing (a two fingered technique) by a sailor.


In the 1940s, the High Life Band of E.T. Mansah had an accordionist, and several records had accordions and concertinas on them. The accordion is not known to be played in Ghana today.


Muranga Wagatonyie recorded a tape in 1970 on the single row diatonic accordion. It had African tunes and a Western style waltz., and was accompanied by guitar on some tunes. In 1940s recordings featuring the Maringa style, the accordion is the principal instrument. Unfortunately, there is no trace of the accordion in Kenya today.


Over the years, Lesotho developed a strong accordion tradition, and today it is played in modern Sotho pop music bands. It is accompanied by tambourines, guitars and bass guitars. The musicians are semi-professional, performing on weekends. There are accordionists in the group "Tau La Linare. The people of Southern Sotho adopted the accordion into their traditional music, and have the accordion as the principal instrument. The accordion is sometimes accompanied by the bass guitar and percussion.


In the early 1930's, "Juju Music" appeared in urban areas of Nigeria. This style incorporated traditional everyday work music and elaborate concert music, accompanied by percussion and singing. In the 1940s, the accordion was adapted to this style by I.K Daïro, the pioneer of the Juju melodeon. A self-taught accordionist, he created "The Morning Star Orchestra" in 1954. In 1963 he was made a "Member of the Order of the British Empire", and has played in London and Japan.


The accordion was played by the Mende tribe. They occupied a 2600 km square piece of land in the south-east of the country. Generally, bands included Western instruments such as the guitar, the harmonica, a plastic recorder, and the accordion, which became very popular. Salias Koroma (b 1903) emerged from the Yelibah clan. Koroma's father Boboi Kandor was also an accordion player, and gave his son an accordion, telling him he had to learn to play, so he taught himself. Salias Koroma has recorded numerous records, had his biography recorded by Herbert Hinzen. He has also had a book published.


The accordion can be found in Soweto street bands on the outskirts of Johannesburg, and in bands of the Afrikaner people. They play a music called "Boeremusiek", usually on the concertina. One of the most famous Afrikaner accordionists is Nico Carstens, who has played the piano accordion for over 50 years. Some of his recordings were released on Capital Records in the USA. He has been called the "King of Boeremusiek".


The Bambala people, originally from the Bandudu region, played the accordion at parties and family events. They were strongly influenced by American missionaries. In the 1940's, Antonie Wendo introduced foreign rhythms on the accordion. This became popular in clubs and bars. His group "Victoria", played rhumbas and cha-chas. In the 1950's he opened his own establishment, where numerous musicians invented what was later to be called "OK Jazz". Among these bar musicians was the accordionist Feruzi, who made the Rhumba popular.


Ally Salin played the accordion in a band at a local music club early this century. The club was made up of 42 musicians and 2 technicians. Along with the accordion it apparently had strings, organ, percussion, electric guitar, and vocals. Mwachano Juma also played the accordion in one of these clubs.
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