Music is a social, psychological, and emotional phenomenon that is an integral part of cultures throughout the world. Music is not universal in the fact that it plays different roles in various countries. Music may carry a different purpose to a man from Ghana who plays goumbe, as compared to the nine year old girl who is taking Suzuki violin lessons. However, the emotive purpose of music is what makes it universal.
The video above shows a group of teenagers and children from West Africa playing various drums and dancing. Rhythm is a central part of their musical culture; the children grow up hearing these rhythms every day, as they start participating in the music and dancing at a young age. In places such as Ghana, music is more of a way of life than anything else.
For those of us living in America, music here does not seem to be as much of a way of life as it is a social effect. There is a great need for music, but music seems most valuable in America in its ability to entertain. Musicians may spend hours of practicing to get into the symphony, or to reach whatever goal they may have, in hopes that they might make it big. However, this practicing is done behind closed doors, unlike the social aspect of music in Ghana, where it is played all day in the streets.
The purposes and reasons for music are obviously different between the two countries. But what makes music “universal” is the need to experience passion, hope, love, or whatever emotion it may be. This, more than anything else is what ignites people in their musical journey.