The roles of music and dance are tightly woven together in African society, and music intersects with every aspect of life. By helping mark the important moments in life, music helps to underscore the divine and eternal value of human life. Evolutionary scientists believe that a musical culture would have helped prehistoric human species to survive because the music coordinates emotions, helps important messages to be communicated, motivates people to identify with a group, and motivates individuals to support other group members. We can agree that music is a universal language and has brought people together from all works of life.
Living Legend, Youssou N’dour
- Youssou N’dour
Senegalese singer, songwriter, composer, occasional actor, businessman, and politician. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine described him as, “perhaps the most famous singer alive” in Senegal and much of Africa. From April 2012 to September 2013, he was Senegal’s Minister of Tourism. Youssou started singing at age 14 and was touring The Gambia by age 17. He helped develop and popularize a Senegalese music style known in the Serer language as mbalax, which derives from the conservative Serer music tradition of “Njuup.” In 1979, he formed his own ensemble, the Étoile de Dakar. His early work with the group, in the Latin style, was popular all over Africa during that time. In the 1980s, he developed a unique sound with his ultimate group, Super Étoile de Dakar featuring Jimi Mbaye on guitar, bassist Habib Faye, and tama (talking drum) player Assane Thiam. By 1991, he had opened his own recording studio, and, by 1995, his own record label, Jololi. Folk Roots magazine described him as the African Artist of the Century. He toured internationally for thirty years. He won his first American Grammy Award (best contemporary world music album) for his CD Egypt in 2005. The New York Times described his voice as an “arresting tenor, a supple weapon deployed with prophetic authority.” What more can you add to that? Youssou is a living legend.
2. Hugh Masekela
A South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer and singer. He has been described as “the father of South African jazz.” Maleeka was known for his jazz compositions and for writing well-known anti-apartheid songs such as “Soweto Blues” and “Bring Him Back Home.” He also had a number one US pop hit in 1968 with his version of “Grazing in the Grass.” Hugh pass away on January 23rd 2018 at the time this website was about to be launched, we thought we still highlight him.
3. Salif Keita
An afro-pop singer–songwriter from Mali. He is notable not only because of his reputation as the “Golden Voice of Africa” but also because his has albinism. This unique musical feel is reinforced by soulful pitches in the track “Stamina.” Keita’s album La Difference was produced around the end of 2009. The work is dedicated to the struggle of the world albino community (victims of human sacrifice), for which Keita has been crusading all his life. In one of the album’s tracks, the singer calls others to understand that “difference” does not mean “bad” and to show love and compassion towards albinos like everyone else: “I am black/ my skin is white/ so I am white and my blood is black [albino]/…I love that because it is a difference that’s beautiful”, “some of us are beautiful some are not/some are black some are white/all that difference was on purpose…for us to complete each other/let everyone get his love and dignity/the world will be beautiful.”
For many years, Akon has featured among the world’s most acclaimed musicians. Significantly and through the influence of his blockbuster albums believed to have recorded more than 35 million sales, Akon’s fame continually swirls across and beyond Africa. Besides the mouthwatering returns he earns through endorsements and album sales, Akon has dignified his music gallery with a total of 45 Billboard Hot 100 songs and lots of awards. Furthermore, he has appeared in remarkable nominations –particularly his presence on the list of Grammy Award nominations for a total 5 times.
Khaled Hadj Ibrahim better known by his stage name Khaled, is an Algerian musician, singer and songwriter born in Oran, Algeria. He has become the most internationally famous Algerian singer in the Arab world and across many continents. His popularity has earned him the unofficial title “King of Raï.” His most famous songs are “Didi“, “Aïcha” and “C’est la vie” as well as “Alech Taadi”, which was prominently featured in the feature film The Fifth Element.
6. Sona Jobateh
A vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and composer from The Gambia and the UK. She was born into one of the five principal Kora-playing Griot families from West Africa – she is the first female professional kora player to come from a Griot family. She is the granddaughter of the Master Griot of his generation, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh.
7. Angélique Kidjo
A Grammy Award-winning Beninese singer-songwriter and activist, noted for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos. Time magazine has called her “Africa’s premier diva.” The BBC has included Kidjo in its list of the African continent’s 50 most iconic figures. her as one of its Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World.
8. Manu Dibango
A Cameroonian musician and song-writer who plays saxophone and vibraphone. He developed a musical style fusing jazz, funk, and traditional Cameroonian music. His father was a member of the Yabassi ethnic group, though his mother was a Duala. He is best known for his 1972 single, “Soul Makossa.” His song, “Reggae Makossa“, is featured on the soundtrack to the 2006 video game Scarface: The World Is Yours.
9. Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Ladysmith Black Mambazo are a South African male choral group singing in the vocal styles of isicathamiya and mbube. They rose to worldwide prominence as a result of singing with Paul Simon on his 1986 album Graceland, and have won multiple awards, including five Grammy Awards. They were formed by Joseph Shabalala in 1960 and later became one of South Africa’s most prolific recording artists, with their releases receiving gold and platinum disc honors. The group has since become a mobile academy, teaching people about South Africa and its culture. The first incarnation of Ladysmith Black Mambazo was “Ezimnyama” (“The Black Ones”), formed by Joseph Shabalala in December 1960. The members of the group were relatives (mostly brothers and cousins) of Shabalala, with many having sung with him while he was growing up on the farm where he was born.
10. Baaba Maal
Baaba Maal is a Senegalese singer and guitarist born in Podor, on the Senegal River. He is well known in Africa and internationally and is one of Senegal’s most famous musicians. In addition to acoustic guitar, he also plays percussion. He has released several albums, both for independent and major labels. In July 2003, he was made a UNDP Youth Emissary. Maal sings primarily in Pulaar and is the foremost promoter of the traditions of the Pulaar-speaking people, who live on either side of the Senegal River in the ancient Senegalese kingdom of Futa Tooro. Maal was expected to follow in his father’s profession and become a fisherman. However, under the influence of his lifelong friend and family gawlo, blind guitarist Mansour Seck, Maal devoted himself to learning music from his mother and his school’s headmaster. He went on to study music at the university in Dakar before leaving for postgraduate studies on a scholarship at Beaux-Arts in Paris.
11. Sade Adu
A Nigerian British singer-songwriter, composer,arranger and record producer. Her sultry jazz-tinged vocals have made her one of the most successful international stars. In 2012, Sade was listed at number 30 on VH1‘s “100 Greatest Women In Music.
12. Black Coffee (Nkosinathi Maphumulo)
Going by the birth name Nkosinathi Maphumulo, Black Coffee is not only a legendary South African musician but also one of the prestigious musicians Africa presently boasts of. Prior to his return to KwaZulu-Natal –his place of birth –in order to make music his course of study, Black Coffee spent years in the Eastern Cape where he apparently grew up. Within and beyond South Africa, Black Coffee has made music the main factor behind his immense fortune and great wealth. Owing to this, he is considered as South Africa’s richest musician.
13. Koffi Olomide
Antoine Christophe Agbepa Mumba, known professionally as Koffi Olomide, is a Congolese soukus singer, dancer, producer, and composer. He has had several gold records in his career. He is the founder of the Quartier Latin International orchestra with many notable artists, including Fally Ipupa and Ferré Gola. Koffi’s talent could be compared to the once king of African rhumba.
14. Don Jazzy (Michael Collins Ajereh)
Don Jazzy is well known as a singer and producer. Very impressively, he dominates Nigeria’s music industry as the country’s richest musician. Going by the birth name Michael Collins Ajereh, Don Jazzy has been making waves for long and prominently, he has featured with notable superstars within and outside Nigeria. Taking a look at his music career, Don Jazzy began music during his childhood and through his devotion towards music, he eventually relocated to Britain where he proceeded with his music career.
Tinashe Jorgensen Kachingwe, known mononymously as Tinashe, is an American singer-songwriter, dancer, record producer, actress, and model. Tinashe began her career as a child model by the age of three, made her first appearance in 2000 in the film Cora Unashamed and her voice starred in the cartoon feature film The Polar Express alongside Oscar winning actor, Tom Hanks. Her other notable appearances include being Wheeler on Out of Jimmy’s Head (2007–2008), and Celeste on Two and a Half Men (2008–2009). Her debut album, Aquarius, drew a tidal wave of acclaim especially with the #1 multi-platinum single 2 On featuring Schoolboy Q.