The Kent State University African Ensemble was created in the 1980s by University Professor Halim El-Dabh. Upon joining the faculty in 1989, Dr. Kazadi wa Mukuna, Professor of Ethnomusicology, assumed the direction of and developed the group to its present state. Under his leadership, the African Ensemble has moved into a different dimension - the accurate presentation as to the nature and style of African music, a process reflected in the way music is taught to students by applying the traditional techniques of teaching both vocal and instrumental music, and by explaining the cultural context in which this music is traditionally played.
The repertoire of the African Ensemble includes drumming, dancing, and singing from various traditions in Africa. In addition, the Ensemble includes in its repertoire the urban dimension of African music with songs from different countries in Africa. these songs show the extent to which urban African music has been influenced by outside styles. The KSU African Ensemble is probably the only university-based African music ensemble in the nation that explores this dimension of music in Africa.
The release of the compact disc "Mchanganyiko wa Muziki wa ki Afrika" (Medley of African Music) reflects the group's identity and the wide range of its repertoire. It includes traditional instrumental pieces from different countries in Africa, vocal music without accompaniment, songs sung in different languages, and urban pieces using guitar, trumpet, double bass, flute, and saxophone.
The African Ensemble performs regularly for residence hall cultural programs and other campus events such as the KSU Folk Festival, Festival of Nations, African Night, May 4 Memorial Celebration, and the Kent State University African Studies Program Conference, among others. The Ensemble has also a long list of off-campus and out-of-state performance venues which include the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Chicago Festival of African Arts; Ohio Music Education Association; and, Illinois Central College, Peoria.