SEATTLE, Washington — African popular music, sometimes called Afro-pop, began in the 1960’s, when popular American music of the 1920’s and 30’s crossed airwaves and settled in the radios of African homes. African musicians were soon using similar ideas, rhythms, and sounds. As colonialism crumbled, songs were modified to reflect traditional, regional music. French-speaking nations were later influenced by Cuban music. It has only been recently, though, that artists have had the resources to hit mainstream status.
Sampling African music is a lot like sampling European music. People sing in more languages and more styles than can be counted. Here are a few of many talented African musicians:
Nhlanhla Nciza, Theo Kgosinkwe and Tebogo Madingoane founded South-African based Mafikizolo in the 1990s. The road to success was a long one; it was not until the release of their third, Gate Crashers, that they were launched into the spotlight.
Professional and personal troubles alike plagued the group. In 2001, all three were involved in an almost deadly car accident. In 2004, Madingoane confronted a road-rage driver and was fatally shot. Instead of disbanding the group entirely, Nciza and Kgosinkwe mourned their friend and continued to make music in his memory.
Nciza describes their style as Afro-pop, kwela, (a jazzy, pennywhistle music,) and marabi, (a South-African style of keyboarding.) Their latest album, Six Mabone, embodies these styles. Among their most popular songs are Khona, Happiness and Marabi.
Identical twins Peter and Paul Okoye were born in Jos, Nigeria. Despite their greatest fear –living in poverty – they pursued music from a young age. In high school, they mimicked the songs and dancing of Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, and MC Hammer. As university students at Nigeria’s University of Abuja, they formed P-Square.
After the twins won an industry showcase competition, tobacco company Benson & Hedges sponsored their first album, Last Nite. Since the 2003 debut, the Okoyes have become national and international superstars. The brothers have toured the United Kingdom, the United States, and across Africa. Their songs have made multiple appearances on MTV’s Naija top 10 charts. Like Mafikizolo, the duo has been awarded several African Music Awards. In 2006, they won the Hop-Hop World awards.
P-Square’s songs are most often described as R&B, though songs their songs range from hip-hop, to reggae. Alingo, Personally and Beautiful Onyinye are some of their most beloved numbers.
Aminata Wassidje Traore:
Traore grew up in Dire, Mali. Born to a Songhai family, an ethnic minority, she has always been aware of the ethnic violence faced by North Malians.
Her music reflects that awareness; she hopes to spread a message of unity and peace. Every one of her songs has a message – some narrative, others prescriptive. “Tamala” is the story of two families of different ethnicities who reconcile to become ‘cousins.’ “Tamaquesh” encourages young people to settle in the relatively tolerant, prosperous Dire. “Takamba,” meanwhile, acknowledges the problems of the north, and labels underdevelopment and poverty as the causes.
Traore started in a position many African musicians find themselves today: she didn’t have the backing of a production company. But she pulled together the funds, and with the help of artist Mamadou Kelly, self-produced her album. She is now a featured artist with Akwaaba music.
All three bands are extremely talented. All three have a following. Their music is rich and diverse; a unique blend of modern influence and their cultural heritage.
– Olivia Kostreva
Sources: Akwaaba, Mafikizolo, MyPSquare, MTV Base, MTV Base 2
Photo: Keneto Magazine