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There is no doubt that African tone systems have played a significant role in phonological theory. What is in stark contrast is how little African languages have figured in our understanding of the phonetic structures of tonal categories and, consequently, the phonetics-phonology interface for tones. What also remains underexplored is how contextual phonetic variation and phonological alternations serve to signal higher-level information, such as cuing sentence structure and encoding information structure. Answers to these questions potentially shed light on the deeper and more general issue of speech variation and linguistic representation. The goal of this panel is to bring us closer to understanding the universality and diversity of the forms and functions of speech melody in African tone languages.