West Africa is the area covering the westernmost region of the African continent. The region of West Africa lies between the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea.
West Africa is comprised of 15 or 16 (sometimes Cameroon is included) countries that cover more than 2 million square miles of land. West Africa boasts a population of more than 250 million people (see Resource 1).
West Africa is believed to have been inhabited since 12,000 B.C. The region is also home to some of Africa's greatest civilizations, including the empires of Songhai, Mali, Ghana, Benin and Ashanti.
Unlike most of Sub-Saharan Africa, West Africans do not speak Bantu-based languages. West African languages (excluding Creole languages) are classified in numerous branches of the Niger-Congo language family. These languages, unlike Bantu-based languages, usually lack a noun-class system and are derived from the tonal and nasal patterns of early Sudanic dialects (see Resource 3).
The modern banjo originated in West Africa. Made from a synthesis of gourd-bodied stringed instruments, the African lute was reinvented and adapted by enslaved Africans in America. The original instrument was commonly played by griots, who were revered in West Africa as musicians, storytellers, poets and oral historians.