The most popular African music artists have a few things in common – they’ve remained authentic and have managed to carve out lengthy, sustainable careers for themselves through the years.
Before the Princes and Beyonces of this world made being mononymous retro, there was Fela. Mention of this name anywhere on this continent often evokes excitement and reverence. This Nigerian pioneer of Afrobeat music was just as well known for his musical genius just as much as his political activism and highly colourful personal life. A multi-instrumentalist, Fela Kuti was known for his high-octane performances. His music is still widely sampled in new generations of musicians on the continent.
“Mama Africa” is a name that has come to be associated with Miriam Makeba, of “Pata Pata” fame. Her socio-political laden music earned her success globally, as well as a number of awards. For decades her sound symbolised African pride and the will to fight oppression through art.
While exiled Mama Africa changed lives through her music worldwide, back in her home country of South Africa another star was born in Langa township in Cape Town. Brenda Fassie, legendary pop singer and multi-platinum selling artist was loved by millions and remains one of the most popular African music artists.
Youssou n Dour, the Dakar-born Senegalese singer and percussionist is one of the pioneers of Mbalax music. His sound also fuses Cuban, Latin, pop and hip hop elements. These diverse musical influences also feature in the music of Angelique Kidjo, a two-time Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter and activist from Benin. Her creative music videos and unique sound have led to her being one of the most popular African music artists.
Other names that feature on this list include Baaba Maal, Salif Keita, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lucky Dube and Hugh Masekela. These artists have a legacy that has transcended borders and reached nations the world over.