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 nctwall@hotmail.com. 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.

lucky2.jpgAn 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.




50 Madala Kunene (SA) – Martha gotta free

49 Sekouba Bambino (Guinea) – Jolie Den

48 Nancy Ajram (Algeria) – Ol Tany Kedah

47 Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi (Zimbabwe) – Ndakuvara

46 King Mensah (Togo) – Mawuena

45 Penny penny (SA) – Makantja jive 

44 Binti Cumar Gacal (Somalia) – (title unknown)

43 Project Monkz feat Maulana (Ghana) – Once a slave

42 Brenda Fassie (SA) 1964-2004 Nomakhanjani

41 Issa Bagayogo (Mali) – Dambalou

40 Ayub Ogada (Kenya) – wa winjigo ero

39 Rachid Taha (Algeria) – Ya Rayah

38 Ismaël Lô (Senegal) – la femme sans haine

37 Lankandia Cissoko (Senegal) – (title unknown)

36 Boubacar Traoré (Mali) – KarKar

35 Souad Massi (Algeria) – Raoui

34 Tinariwen (Mali) – Chet Boghassa

33 Kanda Bongo Man (DR Congo) – monie

32 Juldeh Camara (Gambia) and Justin Adams – Soul Science

31 Lura (Cape Verde) – Ponciana

30 Angelique Kidjo (Benin) – Voodoo Child  

29 Shiyani Ngcobo (SA) – Izinyembezi

28 Oumou Sangare (Mali) – la voix du Mali

27 Alick Macheso (Zimbabwe) – madhawu

26 Orchestra Baobab (Senegal) – Ndéleng Ndéleng

25 Ba Cissoko (Guinea) – Yele

24 k’naan (Somalia) – soobax

23 Djelimady Tounkara (Mali) – Fanta Bourama

22 Saida Karoli (Tanzania) – Maria salome

21 Salif Keita (Mali) – Katolon

20 Mohamed Wardi (Sudan) – Faghon Wengi

19 Ali Farka Toure (Mali) 1939-2006 – Diaraby

18 Cesaria Evora (Cape Verde) – Angola

17 Waayaha Cusub (Somalia) – Somalaay Dirira

16 Miriam Makeba (SA) – Soweto Blues

15 Habib Koité (Mali) – Batoumambé  

14 Amadou & Mariam (Senegal) – Senegal Fast Food 

13 Mory Kante (Guinea) – Ye’ke’ ye’ke’

12 Sambou Suso (Gambia) – Kaira

11 Tilahun Gessesse (Ethiopia) – yehiwote hiwet

10 Prince Nico Mbarga (SA) 1950-1997 – Sweet Mother

9 Aster Aweke (Ethiopia) – mezez alew 

8 Rokia Traorè (Mali) – Mbifo

Thione Seck (Senegal) – Mathiou

6 Femi Kuti (Nigeria) – If them want to hear

5 Vieux Farka Toure (Mali) – Ana

4 Youssou N’Dour (Senegal) – Moor Ndaje

3 Fela Kuti (Nigeria) – Sorrow Tears & Blood

2 Toumani Diabate (Mali) – nene koita

1 Baaba Maal (Senegal) – Taara



  1. Very interesting and impressive list. Minor quibble: Nancy Ajram is Lebanese and so not really African. But you do hear her music everywhere in North Africa.

  2. nice list man, would love to link this to museke.com in some way.
    check it out, loads of African music there…. need to get some of these selections there as well

  3. i don’t think Aster Awokes “Mezez Alew”can be 9th.it’s one of her weak song.i thing you need to listen to all her albums

  4. sorry for the typing mistakes on the top.i think the truck shoud not be listed here.here in Ethiopia only educational radio programs play it because it talks about HIV aids but she got some other nice tunes.i don’t know how you measure it any way

  5. where African queen in this list. if there is no African queen, then this dumb.

    • African queen by 2face from Nigeria the is a cheat

      • Where African queen by 2 face,and slave by lucky Dube

  6. Hi, pliz if anyone can assist, m lookin for the title to mayweh’s(forgive the spelling) hit song

  7. dont forget sobngs like coupe bimbaba by awilo and also premier gaou by magic system

  8. Really, this is an interesting list but I think you need listen to the song ”AFRICAN QUEEN” by 2face

  9. send for me music best 50 songs

  10. No Johnny Clegg = List FAIL


    • you left leonard Dembo-chitekete which was played in Nambia at the Miss Universe

  12. letta mbulu noe yet uhuru was one of the finest songs of africa

  13. ena poy legete ye ye baleo?

  14. where is youssour ndou…best african musician

  15. Nancy Arjam is African by nation but Arabic by culture………

  16. nancy ajram is from lebanon and for black music from north africa listen “gnawa” from morroco a real african music

  17. where is ismael lo jammu africa

  18. waht u africans saying

  19. obed shit the fuck up man plz

    • where is east africa? you mean no good song has ever come out of Uganda, kenya or tanzania?

  20. Joe, Tanzania, Kenya and other east African countries are represented. But I admit I still have much to learn about east African music. I see that you’re from Uganda : can you recommend any traditional music from Uganda ?

    • am not tabula, but am also from Uganda, i can do what u guys , Afro beat z wat most Ugandans do such as the likes of chameleon..

  21. I don’t think it’s possible to get a list like this right. Each country prefers it’s own musicians and genres?

    I’m a South African, let me correct your list. Only Marriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie, Lucky Dube, deserve to be on the list, but the songs featured are not their best. And where is Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Johnny Glegg?

    Please remove Penny Penny, Shiyani Ncobo, Prince Nico Mbarga, no one ever hear of this people, maybe they are popular in their villages.

    Just because a CD states ‘The best of SA musicians’, does not mean that every clown listed deserves to be there.


    • Let me educate u a bit modi, Prince Nico Mbarga’s ‘sweet mother’ was released in 1976 and it went on to become one of the most popular hits in Africa, selling over 13 million copies. Sometimes called Africa’s anthem, it was voted Africa’s favourite song by BBC readers and listeners in 2004, coming before Brenda Fassie’s “Vuli Ndlela”, Fela Kuti’s “Lady”, Franco’s “Mario” and Miriam Makeba’s version of “Malaika”. So my bro, I think now u will change ur view abour Prince Nico Mbarga coz he’s one of d most popular African Musicians. Am frm Nigeria though.

    • Pois estou de acordo. Olha que em alguma época estes que recusas que estejam na lista foram muito famosos e bem curtidas as suas músicas. Mas em todo o caso aceito a sua posição. Hugh Masekela entre outros deviam figurar na lista dos melhores sons antigos de África.

      Cumprimentos e parabens pela observação!

  22. Why not put Corneille Nyungura of Rwanda! He is the best ever !

  23. african queen by 2face should be on this list. if its not, then the list is not complete and those who created it do not know the worldwide african most popular songs.

    • African Queen is not an African Song…. It is a nursery Rhyme that pretends Nigeria have no traditional instruments… So it has the word African in it. So WHAT….. It is an english nursery Rhyme

  24. For those intrigued by all the plugs for African Queen by 2Face Idibia, here’s the song : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByRTMxl_DAU .

    Nothing wrong with the song, but it’s one for a different kind of list. it’s a Nigerian take on American r&b, and isn’t rooted in traditional African music.

  25. I´m looking for an African song of 90´s who was a it don´t know the name but the only thing or lyrics i remember was when the singer sings:
    Sophia yé Sophia yo…
    Does anybody could help me?

  26. Does anyone remember a song from the 90’s sung by a female in the desert about congo. i remember the chorus sounding something like ‘tipi, tipi congo..’

  27. where are the oriental brothers from ibo region in nigeria

  28. how to I find the lyrics to these songs? and chord sheets????

  29. legends in East Africa hv bn left out e.g Philly Bongole lutaaya $ Jose chamileo of mawoko na mawoko guys ua segregative towards east african stars

  30. No San Fan Thomas,No yvonne chakachaka,No franco etc! This list is a farce!

  31. If you’re naming bands, please post links if possible to youtube or somewhere we can listen to them. Brian, Franco would be top 10 if I was doing this list again. Abejo and others, I’m well aware that this list and my later efforts are dominated by West African artists. If any of you would like to put together a list of traditional music from your own country or region, I’d be more than happy to host this.

  32. The list does not reflect the memorable list of the best or most memorable African music.The compiler had insufficient knowledge of African music.None of the present set of musicians were included, including Dbanj that had the highest african album sales for 2006,2007,2008 and likely to retain it in 2011 and 2012 with his Oliver twist album and UK top ten chart breaker,first of it’s kind by an African artist among others.Tuface “African Queen”,Olu Maintain “Yahooze”that storm the world by suprize.P Square,Sarkodie,Whizkid,Darey,Osita Osadebey,Sunny Ade,lucky Dube,Yvone shaka shaka.Perhaps either of famous Makeba or Fela Kuti should have been number one.You can also visit youtube for the number of views.Your list contain names of artist that were unknown outside the soil of their countries.Your list is the only one that does not have at least ten Nigerians in the top 50.

  33. no malaika by fadhili wiliams(kenya)??? mhhh. even makeba did a rendition of that song. its among africa’s most famous songs. n i think “birima” by Youssou is a more deserving song than what use listed.

  34. african songbeat

  35. […] Kanda Bongo Man of DR Congo […]

  36. I might agree with u, if only u can convice me dat east africa is not part of africa! There’s adiference between publicity and talent, which the rest and east africans hold respectvely. “Shame upon the list” valu valu-camili & anita-matonya, where are they????

    • lame ass music

  37. Cool list, but Nancy Ajram is lebanese.

  38. Hey sir, good job. Though you listed the right best all time musicians, many of their songs you listed are not even known.

    Try this one: Iwasado by Nayanka Bell, played in many countries of africa for as many years as I can remember: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhSgajP4oMA

  39. Hello my fellow Africans. Does anyone remember the French song that went “Mama Jolie Oh…Danser avec moi”…it was an African French song played in the 90s

  40. Hello Africans i am a student from P.S.155Q. I am sending this message from New York. I am learning a lot of things from you. I love all the songs from you.

  41. Those two words automatically make women suspicious, jealous.
    More aptly, the lack of our ability to converse in Spanish.
    see something you desire for yourself bless it and also
    bless its owner.

  42. All of you have smoked weed. Authentic artistry is predominantly from South Africa.

    • South Africa – A country of cowards – Independence in the 90s – South Africa still has to develop an African personality. No music from South Africa can be called African…. 1990s independence, what a joke?

  43. Where is West Madiko from Cameroon

  44. Prince Nico Mbagra si not from S/A, he’s from Nigeria

  45. Wow ,i grew up on these!

  46. No Yvonne Chaka Chaka…really?? :-/

  47. SU NYC

  48. Definitely need to put Oliver Mtukudzi there, Neria is a wonderful song and people deserve to hear it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhXGyer-cIg

  49. Johnny Clegg has to be on this list, how can he not be?! Magumede, Asimbonanga ?

  50. Amadou et Mariam are from Mali not Senegal, though technically speaking it’s the same thing. Great list helped me find Brenda Fassie. I had the song in mind but couldn’t remember her name. Cheers!!!

  51. why dont u rank even chameloen

  52. i think fela should top the list cuz he has so many good african songs, and he also made a comment that african songs can not be sang with proper english

  53. No Khadja Niin!!!! really

  54. Im looking for a song sang in half english half an african tribal! I heard it in 2007 the girl was just starting to come out all i can member is it souned like she said beeba day something or nother help its driving me crazy


  56. dis list is fake cuz wizkid is not present………

  57. Whay you cann’t put any Namibian Artist? Pleas stop coleption we are all Africa.

  58. You list “Soul Science” as a song by Juldeh Camara and Justin Adams, when that is actually the name of their album. Which song from that album did you mean?

  59. This list need to be updated because this artists are no longer on top

  60. This list need to be updated since this songs are no longer on top

    • Chinaman rapping to HipHop does not make Hiphop Chinese Music. This list is a joke

  61. […] 50 favourite African songs | Music to die for. […]

  62. you have left Madzibaba Senior Lecturer of Zimbabwe , Chicco Twala & Mbongeni Ngema both of South Africa

  63. what happened to sunny okosun of Africa from Nigeria?

  64. Can I just say that no.48 isn’t an Algerian song because Nancy Ajram is a Lebanese singer that sings here with an Egyptian accent so I guarantee you it has nothing to do with Algeria

  65. Well done! Can u plz try get some details a bout a soukouss music group called soukouss stars? (Yondo sister,lokasa,lucien Bokilo,Ngouma Lokito,Saladin….)

  66. Hi does anyone know the artist or name of a song that goes “Jolie Jolie oh, Jolie Jolie eh, Jolie derrière Jolie dervan

  67. my fellow africans, I only have 3 things to say. wali watu, sambolera, khadja nin. hw abwt mam miriam’s gauteng, bra hugh’s stimela jst to mention a few @bili man of God(prophetic justice SA)

  68. Any music that has no African Instrument is not African. Chinaman rapping to HipHop does not make Hiphop Chinese Music.

    No song can be called a great African Song if it has at least 1 European instrument.

    African Music is music that came before the other ethnic groups became civilised. Why dilute it?

  69. anyone know a song from the 90’s, can’t remember lyrics, all i remember is a lady singing “eh kilimanjaro eh kilimanjaro”. It was a great dance song. Anyone know it?

  70. nat just at all…I don’t agree with your list pal…

  71. Alpha Blondy!!!!

  72. Prince Nico Mbarga is a Nigerian from Ogoja, Cross Rivers State and not a South African.

  73. What about these three songs?
    1.Shwi NoMntekhala(SA)-Ngafa
    2.Salif Keita(Mali)-Afrika
    3.Ismael Lo(Senegal)-L’amour A Tous Les Droits

  74. This list is a joke without OK jazz, Franco, Osadebe, Oriental brothers, Warrior, Oliver de Coque

  75. This list is a joke without Koffi Olomide, Papa Wemba. This post have opened my eyes to the rich music heritage we’ve all abandoned in exchange for western music.

  76. I’ve noticed this list is so deficient. Infact, I’m annoyed. You cannot talk about African songs in Benin republic without a mention of Gnonnas Pedro. And no mention of Africando too?. Here in Benin republic what you hear playing everywhere is the music of Gnonnas Pedro not Angelique Kidjo.

  77. This independent artiste is on a mission to ressurect African music. Listen on youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AD_YC1a44Y

  78. Where the heck is Africa by ToTo?

  79. your decieving, what about ugandans, the likes of prince job poul kafero, jose chameleon, bobi wine.

  80. where is Jeremias Nguenha ,Wizzy Massuke,FRANCO,Fally IpupA

  81. And whats your fav reggae songs i want to no mine lucky dube iv got you babe!

  82. What about African china(nigeria)

  83. I would like to listen to some of the songs from Nigeria and so on.

  84. MAKE YOUR TOP 50! All of you! PROBLEM SOLVED. Don’t like what you see, post your own list and quit bickering…it’s just that simple!

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