Mar 04 2010

The 21 best Living African musicians by region

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:56 AM

A good friend asked me to compile a list of my dozen favorite African musicians (and their groups) by country and region. The musicians must be living, he instructed, and for a reason: His dream is to produce a great African music festival. With the aid of digital music, the festival can occur every day, actually, by drawing on the music of these classic performers. Here’s my list, of 20 (I have large appetites). A few of the biggest names in African pop music are missing because, honestly, I’m not drawn to them. A few of my own West African favorites are from Ghana, and relatively unknown internatonally. The Nigerian band, Lagbaja, is the most political of the performers listed. The East African selections number only three, which reflects the overwhelming influence of hip-hop, Soukous and other “derivative” forms, especially on Kenyan music. Two of my choices for this sub-region are from Uganda, both groups whose leaders I personally know and admire (and whose work is most easily found on the sound track to the movie “Last King of Scotland). The best-known of my selections from the Francophone zone are Yousou N’Dour of Dakar and the incomparable Malian singer, Oumou Sangare. The Francophonie has other outstanding musicians of course, including the wonderful Cheick Tidiane Seck, whose album with the great jazz pianist Hank Jones represents the greatest colloboration ever between an American and African musician. And the lineup from Southern Africa, while diminished by the deaths of Brenda Fassie and Lucky Dube, remains extraordinary. Oliver Mtukudzi, from Zimbabwe, performs regularly in the U.S. and his “Tuku Music” is one of a handful of “essential” African albums by anyone, living or dead. Of South Africans, Pops Mohamed is perhaps the bandleader most deserving of wider recognition (his “Ancestral Healing” album is among the rarest and most affecting pieces of pop music ever created). The greatest living South African female singer, the diminutive Busi Mhlongo, remains shockingly little-known in the U.S. Sello Twala, meanwhile, was the musical genius behind Brenda’s rise to super-stardom in 2000 — and a terrific performer on his own.

I could go on … and on … but let the list speak. Listen, enjoy, and celebrate:

Southern Africa:

Thomas Mapfumo

Pops Mohamed

Oliver Mtukudzi

Busi Mlongo

Sello Twala

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

East Africa:

Afrigo Band

Percussion Discussion

Makame Faki and the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar

West Africa:


Daddy Lumba

Kojo Antwi

Rex Omar

Les Amazones de Guinee

Richard Bona

Congo and Francophone Africa:

Youssou N’Dour

Oumou Sangare

Lokua Kanza

Cheick Tidiane Seck

Baaba Maal

Dobet Gnahore

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