50 favourite African songs
The list below was published in January 2008. I still feel it’s an excellent introduction to African music, but for more recent (and better informed) selections, please see my African music playlists. This one published in October 2010 features some of the best new releases from 2009 and 2010, while this one from 2012 covers releases from February 2011 to April 2012.
If you are knowledgeable about the traditional music of a particular region or country and would be happy to answer a few questions about it, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is for a new project which will bring together traditional music from every country in the world.
African music is an incredibly rich and fertile ground. The different regions produce their own distinctive musical styles (west, east, central and southern Africa), with the music of the Arabic countries in north Africa so different again that it’s more commonly classified as Middle Eastern rather than African music. But also within any one country there are usually several different musical traditions, often reflecting the varied tribal origins of the inhabitants. On top of that, each country’s music is imbued with a complex patchwork of influences from Europe and the Americas.
This is not a definitive list. It reflects not just my own ignorance and prejudices, but also the fact that no videos have yet been created for many classic African recordings. I have tended to select tracks which are at least partly grounded in African musical traditions, because I like them, but also because I want to highlight what is unique and valuable in African music. My usual rule applies of only one song per artist.
An honorary mention goes to Lucky Dube, the much loved South African reggae artist, who was shot dead on 18th October 2007 in the streets of Johannesburg as part of a random carjacking. Peace be with him.
45 Penny penny (SA) – Makantja jive
44 Binti Cumar Gacal (Somalia) – (title unknown)
13 Mory Kante (Guinea) – Ye’ke’ ye’ke’