Scott Hanselman

2007 African Music List

January 23, '07 Comments [8] Posted in Africa
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A reader wrote in to say that he liked the Afro-pop style of the Hanselminutes theme music, and wanted some African music pointers. I've been an Afrophile for as long as I can remember, studying Amharic while in college and now Zulu (and Bantu languages in general) and Mo and I have amassed a decent collection of contemporary African music. I can't say that my tastes are as broad and diverse as the continent, so be warned that this is a list of music I like, but not a list covering all cultures or current styles. I can virtually guarantee you'll enjoy this music though.

Note also that you'll very likely have to hunt for some of this music in your local town, unless you're living outside the states. I can typically find it at local African-specific record shops in larger towns. You can also buy most of it at the Afropop Shop.

Of course, "African Music" isn't a genre in itself, remember we're talking about 53 countries here, with literally hundreds (if not thousands) of different kinds of music. So I've narrowed the list to 20th and 21st century African music that I like.

  • Pitch Black Afro - Although he's South Africa's "ODB" in behavior, the music is pure Kwaito. Kwaito is a combination of reggae and house music.
    • If you want to experience PBA and a good general into to Kwaito and other South African hip-hop, get the soundtrack album to Tsotsi (a great movie). It's a little heavy with work from another Kwaito artist, Zola, who was in the movie, but it also has Vusi Mahlasela and Mafikizolo's fantastic track Munt'Omnyama (loosely translated to "black folks")
  • Brenda Fassie - known just as "Brenda." Her album "Memeza" is considered her best work.
  • Mafikizolo - Their 2005 album Kwela took Southern Africa by storm and is a very danceable collection.
  • Netsanet Mellesse - It's been a while since Netsanet's Spirit of Sheba album, so it sounds a little old-school with it's traditionally horn-heavy beats, but it's worth the listen as it's representative of a lot of contemporary Ethiopian pop.
    • Many prefer Aster Aweke, a slightly more flexible singer.
    • More recent is Gigi, a rising star to be sure, her album debut is a mix of traditional Amharic beats and Jazz.
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo - This is an excellent compilation that includes not just Ladysmith and their unique singing and dancing style - ingquzu - but other vocal greats.
  • Tuku (Oliver Mtukudzi) - A Zimbabwean Great who is usually mentioned second, after Thomas Mapfumo. The review of his Tuku Music albumn on Amazon is spot-on:
    • His music is more romantic and bluesy than Mapfumo's...He's Ray Charles and Otis Redding to Mapfumo's Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. The music that he creates to carry a song is often light as air, creating a beautiful tension between content and container.
  • Madarocka - Nigeria's Hip Hop queen, she's a little more intense that I usually like, but still a good listen if you like American-tinged hip-hop with an African flavor.
  • Ang√©lique Kidjo - Born in Benin, but currently in Paris, her music might be dismissed by the purist because not obscure and not purely "African," her take on Summertime is worth the album price alone.
  • Pulling from a music list I posted in 2005:
    • Khaled, Sahra - The King of Rai's "Aicha" is an internationally known anthem. Singing in Arabic and French, Rai is pop, reggae and funk.
    • Youssou N'Dour, Egypt - An unlikely title from a man hailing from Senegal, Youssou is the African continent's Paul Simon, pulling in beats from the whole hemisphere.
  • freshlyground - I nearly forgot this amazing group from RSA. Much of the album is in Xhosa but there's much in English. The group is racially mixed, very representative of the New South Africa.

And of course, subscribe to AfroPop, their weekly podcast is pure African gold. 

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007 12:03:01 PM UTC
Hi Scott,

Have you ever tried to listen to some Afrikaans music? I'm sure you will have some knowledge of Afrikaans and Afrikaners of your wife that comes from Zimbabwe.

I get sometimes disappointed when the view of African music only falls on the black culture of Africa, like you said we are a diverse continent, where I believe South Africa is the most diverse. For growing up in the apartheid era I was only used to my cultural music(Afrikaans). I am very happy that that era is past us, but the shifting and excepting everything is a difficult one. I now live in a country in Africa where my culture is so different to what other people see from the outside, and tend to feel a bit left in the dark, or feel like a immigrant in my own country.

So what I am trying to say is: Hopefully our music will also standout as African Music because this is my continent where I live on. If that would never be the case, then for sure there are an "African Music" genre, and your list exactly points it out.

Regards,
Adriaan
Adriaan Putter
Tuesday, January 23, 2007 8:39:47 PM UTC
Briliant post!
10 years ago, I went to Zimbabwe as part of a music project between my college in Norway (Østfold) and Zeke Teacher College. We learned to play mbira, marimba and drums, and some dances. I met Dumisami Maraire, one of the most important musicians in Zimbabwe. It was great. I really like african music, but haven't really bought any albums. In December I bought a Zune, and more importantly got access to the Zune Marketplace.
After reading your post, I've downloaded about 10 new albums of african music. Mostly Angelique Kidjo and Ladysmith Black Mambo, but also a few other albums. The ones I'm most excited about are the collections where Dumisami Maraire plays a few songs. I'll have hours of musical fun now. Thanks for the inspiration!
Tuesday, January 23, 2007 9:27:31 PM UTC
Adriaan - You're 100% correct...it IS frustrating. Africa is a HUGE continent and Afrikaner culture is often forgotten in the shadow of Apartheid. What are some good contemporary albums you suggest?
Wednesday, January 24, 2007 3:32:18 AM UTC
On the topic I have got to give a plug for Ugandan Hip Hop. But for a nice broad variety, be _sure_ to check out Giles Peterson's collection of African artists. I used to listen to Giles when his show "Worldwide" was carried on my local public radio station, KCRW (Santa Monica). (On a side note his stuff from Brasil is excellent as well).

One thing I'm curious about Scott - no Fela/Femi Kuti?
Wednesday, January 24, 2007 7:23:55 AM UTC
Hi Scott, its great to see you supporting African music. Im a proud South African. The is a huge amount of talent in this country, and it seems we are going through a cultural revolution. So much great music coming out... keep listening :)
Thursday, January 25, 2007 2:15:40 PM UTC
I might add to your post by saying thatVusi Mahlasela) is one of our greats, a wonderful singer and gregarious person, who embraces a variety of languages and cultures within Southern Africa, not least of all Afrikaans, which , as Adrian points out is neglected at times, with musicians like the late Johannes Kerkorrel ( translated as John ChurchOrgan - Ralph John Rabie was his real name apparently ) - of the Gereformeerede blues Band coming to mind as well as the quirky but enjoyable Koos Kombuis.



What I will say about Afrikaans music however is that its definitely an acquired taste, and understanding the language is almost certain to be a requirement in enjoying the music - a lot of the music has "normal" rock as a base, so without understanding the lyrics, it becomes hard for foreigners to hook into it because its not "different enough" from normal western music apart from language - I'm not dissing it, but in my experience, its far easier to get people to listen to ethnic african music with its unique ryhthms , scale and syncopation, than afrikaans music ( and I have tried here in Australia ) with its humour and poetry.

I must also recommend Busi Mhlongo to anyone interested in SA music, I picked up a CD of hers at Johannesburg airport a year ago and loved her music and her stunning voice.


Worth a mention as well is Bayete, fronted by Jabu Khanyile, a musical genius who sadly passed away young, like a lot of our countrymen.
- do yourself a big favour and listen to the title track of the Mmalo-We album.

Great post Scott and proof that good programmers can be interested in more than geek stuff.
Ant Day
Tuesday, January 30, 2007 12:32:19 PM UTC
Anyone have an opinion of Orchestra Super Mazembe? I found their most recent compilation "Giants of East Africa" on eMusic a few months ago. I personally like it. Its not contemporary, really. Most of their albums are from the early 80s.
Tim Coker
Monday, February 19, 2007 8:58:39 AM UTC
African leaders should stop fighting down the power of

our home African built music Like Reggea
Victor Ototo General Conqueror
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.