The 10 best … reasons to love African music
Music has always been at the centre of the African story. In the spirit of Africa Day, Lesley Mofokeng and Babalwa Shota pay tribute to just a few of the musical maestros who provided the soundtrack to the African tale.
1 Pioneers: They are the generation that paved the way for African musicians.
Nigerian Afro-beat icon Fela Kuti took on political hotheads and his music won.
He was a radical who introduced pidgin English and his enormous harem to the world.
Miriam Makeba was the first African woman to win a Grammy Award – back in 1966.
She followed that up with her 1967 monster hit, Pata Pata, which propelled her into the stratosphere of American popular culture.
The song has been covered by more than 20 artists. She is not known as Mama Africa for nothing.
Trumpeter Hugh Masekela blew away American audiences with his runaway 1968 hit, Grazing in the Grass, which sold more than 4 million copies and earned him a Grammy nomination.
Manu Dibango put an indelible stamp on the music world with his 1972 album, Soul Makossa.
At a ripe 79, the Cameroonian saxophonist and vibraphone player sits comfortably as one of Africa’s music elders.
2 Bands: The legend of Ladysmith Black Mambazo has put them on the tip of all music lovers’ tongues.
They count Oprah Winfrey as one of their biggest fans and their collaboration with Paul Simon in the 1980s turned them into music royalty, not to mention their countless Grammy nominations and wins.
The Parlotones’ sound may not be distinctly African, but they sure fly the South African flag all over the US and Europe.
This rock band has even moved to the US to further conquer the market there.
The Soweto Gospel Choir won hearts at the 46664 Concert in Cape Town, backing big name artists.
Today their Grammy Awards win count sits at two, plus they have a few world tours behind them.
3 Mavericks: When the apartheid regime called it a crime for races to live together, Johnny Clegg went against the grain.
His work with Sipho Mchunu in Juluka turned them into the poster pair of racial harmony.
Clegg so impressed the French that his nickname there is Le Zoulou Blanc (The White Zulu).
Femi Kuti took the baton from his iconic father, Fela, and continues to churn out political anthems in the Afro-beat sphere and, like Fela, is critical of the regime in his Nigerian homeland. He has been nominated three times at the Grammys.
Zimbabwe’s national treasure, Oliver Mtukudzi, got us all dancing to Todii in the 1990s and his haunting rendition of Neria will never be forgotten.
Khaled’s hit single, Didi, took him out of the Maghreb and on to European, African and Asian charts.
Even Bollywood has used it in its movies. Known as the King of Rai, Khaled (53) from Algeria has sold more than 46 million albums worldwide.
4 New Age kids: The future of Africanmusic is in safe hands with this crew.
Senegal’s Akon has worked with the best in the American popular music landscape, including Gwen Stefani, David Guetta and Whitney Houston.
The Nigerian squad is led by the charismatic D’Banj, 2Face Idibia and identical twins P-Square, who have raked in award nominations and wins, from the MTV Music Awards to the BETs.
Sarkodie from Ghana has captured the African-American market and was last year named Best International Act at the BET Awards.
With a well-thought-out business plan and strategy, Lira is also taking on the US market and things are looking up for our lass from Daveyton.
5 Activists: When Youssou N’Dour recorded Seven Seconds with Neneh Cherry he stepped out of the shadows of Senegal’s mbalax music scene and grabbed world attention.
The musician even ran for the highest office in his homeland.
He is currently minister of culture and tourism, and has been a goodwill ambassador for the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation.
He has been linked to several campaigns, from releasing Nelson Mandela to opening internet cafes in Africa.
As an activist, Salif Keïta is a champion for the rights of albinos who have to battle prejudice in Africa.
Yvonne Chaka Chaka conquered southern, West and East Africa with her 1984 hit, Umqombothi, and became known as the Princess of Africa.
Today, in between attending World Economic Forum meetings and rubbing shoulders with world political leaders such as UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, she is an anti-malaria and TB campaigner.
6 Dance kings and queens: The high energy with which Angélique Kidjo sets the stage alight makes her the undisputed queen of African dance.
The Grammy-winning Beninoise has been named Africa’s premier diva by Time magazine.
Kanda Bongo Man, the soukous superstar from the Democratic Republic of Congo, gave the world kwassa kwassa and still tours the US and Europe.
Koffi Olomide’s album Haut de Gamme: Koweït, Rive Gauche is listed in 1 001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Although not a fast mover, his gyrations are legendary in his soukous and tcha tcho songs.
It’s hard to believe Senegal’s Baaba Maal is all of 59 years old.
His slight frame and agility belies his age.
He is the second most famous musician from Senegal after Youssou N’Dour.
7 Diaspora: Cesária Évora, the barefoot diva of morna and coladeira, put Cape Verde on the world map with her amazing talent.
Her songs Bésame Mucho, Cabo Verde and Sodade made her one of the most successful Lusophone musicians of our time.
Helen Folasade Adu, or Sade, is a Yoruba who left Nigeria at age four to settle in the UK and become one of the most enchanting singers of her generation.
Goapele is well known in the Bay Area of San Francisco and across the US.
Her father, Douglas Mohlabane, who is from Soweto, raised her in the South African exile community in California.
Her album Closer caught the attention of music lovers.
Tinie Tempah is a proud Igbo from Nigeria despite being based in the UK, where he is blazing a trail.
8 Balladeers: The touchingly sweet and haunting Sambolera turned Khadja Nin into a musical ambassador for Burundi.
She dominated the charts in the 1990s with releases like Ya Pili . . . and Ya . . . , and she has UN goodwill ambassador on her CV.
Amity Meria from Burkina Faso has seen her ambient music gain her two Kora Awards.
Her soaring voice appeals for women’s rights and, among other things, addresses prostitution and
9 Couples: Amadou and Mariam Sabali are proof that a disability need not mean a disadvantage.
This duo from Mali opened for U2 at FNB Stadium two years ago, have performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in the US and supported Coldplay.
Their fusion of traditional Mali sound with rock guitars, Syrian violins, Cuban trumpets, Egyptian ney, Indian tablas and Dogon percussion has caught the attention of the world.
Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya are undoubtedly South Africa’s first couple of song.
Their time in exile saw them performing with other pioneers of jazz and world music, while here at home they are still a staple at festivals and concerts.
Their musical reputation is only surpassed by their enduring love story.
10 The nightingales: Pretty Yende’s recent Metropolitan Opera debut in New York was made all the more memorable when she stumbled down some steps and fell, right at the outset, but then continued unperturbed to give such a stunning show that she received a standing ovation.
The New York Times went on to say that she now has a legacy to keep.
Nigerian opera singer Abiodun Koya counts former presidents George W Bush, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Olusegun Obasanjo among her roll call of notables for whom she has performed. She also counts Bishop TD Jakes as a fan.
A poet, philanthropist and composer, Koya is also a comedic and theatre actress.