African Music

  1. The 1970's Somali 'super band' getting a new lease of life

    Video content

    Video caption: 4 Mars, which was set up 'unify the country', counted Muammar Gaddafi amongst its fans

    4 Mars, which was set up 'unify the country', counted Muammar Gaddafi amongst its fans

  2. Malawians break Covid measures to mourn icon

    Peter Jegwa

    Lilongwe, Malawi

    Wambali Mkandawire

    Malawians set aside Covid-19 health protocols over the weekend to mourn music icon Wambali Mkandawire, who became the latest high-profile personality to succumb to the virus in the country.

    Crowds, including senior government officials, breached the 50-person limit to mourn Wambali in the capital, Lilongwe.

    The funeral event was broadcast live on local TV stations, with many peopl sending their condolences on social media.

    The 68-year-old singer lived a colourful life, starting out as a problem child who was often expelled from school but who later transformed into a statesman, a highly respected preacher and political activist.

    Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Malawian parents, Wambali arrived in Malawi at the age of eight and lived with his grandparents in the northern Rumphi district.

    As a teenager, he moved to the city of Mzuzu to improve his prospects of getting an education in an era when opportunities for education beyond primary school were limited.

    But it was in secondary school in the 1970s when he developed a reputation for delinquency and drinking alcohol which earned him several suspensions.

    Later in the decade his music career started in Malawi’s commercial hub, Blantyre, where he teamed up with friends to start a band called Sounds Pentagon.

    The band gained some popularity, but failed to raise funds to sustain itself.

    In a surprise turn of events, Wambali abandoned the band in 1978 and became a born-again Christian, changing his name from Greenwood to Wambali. He started singing gospel music, staging performances in schools around the country.

    On one visit to his former secondary school, he returned textbooks which he said he had stolen from schoolmates when he was a student.

    In the early 1990s, Wambali became involved in politics, calling for an end to dictatorship and was often at rallies where he demanded the unconditional release of political prisoners.

    It was at the turn of the century that his gospel music career really took off.

    In 2002 his song Zanimuone was nominated for the Kora Awards, given annually for musical achievement in sub-Saharan Africa.

    The following year, the album was recognised by the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization.

    His most recent international accolade was the Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts Awards where he received the Best African Legend Award.

    Wambali stopped performing to live audiences in 2011. He is survived by a wife and daughter.

  3. Life after P-Square: Mr P on going solo and Covid-19

    DJ Edu

    This Is Africa

    Peter Okoye
    Image caption: Mr P and his twin - who together were P-Square - split acrimoniously three years ago

    Popular, pivotal, prodigious, a pioneer: Peter Okoye is all of these things. You probably know him better as Mr P.

    Alongside his twin brother, he formed the hugely successful P-Square - the first afrobeats supergroup. They set the standard and blazed a trail for the explosion of musical talent we’ve seen in the last decade.

    Now, more than three years after the duo’s acrimonious split, Mr P is finally getting ready to release his debut solo album, The Prodigal.

    Quote Message: This is more like me trying to express myself, my creativity. I want to be in charge of myself, I want to get things done. Getting the opportunity for people to know my own sound. My music is not like every song you must play them in the club.”

    It should come as no surprise that such an influential figure has been able to dip into his ample contacts book.

    Teni, Simi, Tiwa Savage and Mohombi all make guest appearances. Wande Coal was the collaborator on lead-off single, Follow My Lead.

    Not that Mr P is too worried about the choice of promotional track.

    Quote Message: I’m never a fan of singles. I’m more a fan of projects, album. That’s the kind of person I am.”

    But production of the record didn’t always run smoothly because of the pandemic, political protests and personal tragedy.

    The recent passing of Mr P’s father-in-law follows a summer of upheaval when his entire family caught Covid-19.

    Quote Message: I had one of the worst moments with my family. I caught it, my wife caught it, my daughter… all my domestic staff. I’m in the guest room, I’m talking to my family on the phone. That’s how we communicated for three weeks.”

    The experience means he has little time for Nigeria’s coronavirus deniers.

    Quote Message: People said the government have paid me to claim that I have Covid. Somebody said a comment that really hurt me, [that] I should have died on this Covid so they would know truly, truly that I actually caught it. I was like, wow.
    Quote Message: It’s sad that over here people are still doubting Covid is real.”

    You can hear more from Mr P on This is Africa this Saturday, on BBC World Service radio and partner stations across Africa.

  4. Sun-El Musician on his afro-futurist music odyssey

    Taurai Maduna

    BBC Focus on Africa

    South African musician and music producer Sanele Sithole, known to his many fans as Sun-El Musician, has told the BBC that his new album To The World and Beyond seeks to tell African stories to the world.

    He says it is a continuation what he began with his successful debut Africa To The World.

    Quote Message: With the first album, I feel like it was the first chapter I was just telling South African stories to other African countries. Now I'm basically telling African stories to the rest of the world."

    It is accompanied by a 12-track video album, which he describes as an “afro-futurist odyssey”.

    Quote Message: I’ve always seen myself as sort of like an alien, bringing new sounds to earthlings.”

    Listen to the full interview:

    Video content

    Video caption: South African music producer Sun El Musician goes to the world and beyond with new album.
  5. Rwanda’s Meddy: Music can cancel hatred

    DJ Edu

    This Is Africa

    Meddy
    Image caption: Meddy says music played a role in healing Rwanda after the genocide

    People who are good with computers are sometimes characterised as “uncool” or “not good with the ladies” - bad stereotypes, I know, before anyone thinks of complaining!

    Rwanda’s Meddy is living proof those things aren’t true, singing some of Africa’s most popular love songs over the last few years, including hits like 2017’s Slowly and last year’s Dusuma with Kenya’s Otile Brown.

    But a decade ago, when he moved to the US for university, music wasn’t in the plan.

    Quote Message: It was something I was doing because I loved it but I didn’t have any long-term goal. I was trying to do computer engineering."

    Despite some success in his late teens in Rwanda, Meddy didn’t see music as a viable career.

    Quote Message: When I was growing up, even our own parents, they were not encouraging when it came to music. There was no hope in music. If you see your kid doing music it was more like, oh man, he is going to become like one of those guys."

    Fortunately, that’s no longer the case.

    Quote Message: As the music was growing, the mindset was changing. Now they start to really value music, now they start see how it affects the youth, really made a positive impact. So people started to really embrace it.”

    And it’s not just the success of artists like Meddy that helped alter that mindset.

    The 31-year-old says the whole country has witnessed the healing power of music first-hand in the years following the 1994 genocide, when around 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days.

    Quote Message: After the genocide everybody was just frustrated… there was a lot of insecurities, fear. People were just not as comfortable as they were supposed to be. But with the music and the entertainment growing, it kind of brought everybody together. I realised how much music can do. Music can literally cancel racism, can literally cancel hatred.”

    When Meddy released Ni Jyewe from his new base in the US in 2009, his first song in nearly two years, the “crazy feedback” helped persuade him that maybe there was a future in music after all.

    It did mean the computer engineering had to take a back seat - but that turned out to be a very cool decision.

    You can hear more from Meddy on This is Africa this Saturday, on BBC World Service radio and partner stations across Africa.

  6. 'For me, 2020 has been phenomenal' - KiDi

    DJ Edu

    This Is Africa

    KiDi

    KiDi is one of those new generation of artists like his countryman Kuami Eugene, or Joeboy and Rema from Nigeria, who have really hit the big time this year.

    He's had two hit songs, Excitement and Say Cheese, the second of which was remixed by the legendary US producer Teddy Riley, and his debut album, Sugar, scooped album of 2020 at the VGMAs – the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards. He told the BBC:

    Quote Message: 2020 for me has been phenomenal, amazing. I know it’s hard to say with everything going on around the world, but I keep saying that with every dark cloud there’s always silver linings."

    He added: "Enjoyment is so huge, Say Cheese is so huge. I’m just happy to have a lot of hit songs because it means I’m doing something right, people are listening, people appreciate, when I step on stage they’re vibing with me, so it’s a blessing for me."

    Say Cheese was released in lockdown but that didn’t hurt it. It became a sensation on social media with people all over the world posting their videos to it.

    It’s not surprising that it hit the spot with the Insta generation, given the lyrics of the chorus: "Say cheese, take a picture, say cheese take a picture…"

    KiDi got lucky earlier in his career, back in 2017, when Davido jumped on his song Odo:

    Quote Message: That was only my second hit, and to have a global superstar like Davido jump on it, it took me from being just a kid that was coming up from Ghana to being the kid to watch, because everyone was jamming to that song."

    But credit where credit is due, there’s a reason Davido wanted to collaborate: The kid did good. Odo is a very fine song.

    The full interview will be broadcast on This Is Africa this Saturday, on BBC World Service radio, and partner stations across Africa.

  7. 'I'm a hustler, a ghetto child' - Eddy Kenzo

    DJ Edu

    This Is Africa

    Eddy Kenzo

    For someone who spent most of his childhood on the street, Uganda's Eddy Kenzo has what could be considered a surprisingly upbeat attitude to life.

    Quote Message: Me, I’m here to promote the good vibe. I’m here to show people what kind of life we go through and the happy side of it, not only the sad story all the time."

    Kenzo’s mother passed away when he was just three years old. For the next 13 years he and his brother lived a hand-to-mouth existence.

    "The only thing I could do was look for something to eat. You go and you start washing dishes. From there you start lifting things from taxis, helping people in different ways. Then I became a porter on some buildings. Life was just like that."

    Like many youngsters, Kenzo dreamed of becoming a footballer. But a natural instinct to entertain led him in a different direction.

    Quote Message: I used to sing, dance for people – music was my thing during the street times. I would entertain people, always happy."

    Today, the 30-year-old has no such concerns. A bona fide superstar, his songs are known across the world. He recently appeared on a Times Square billboard in New York promoting his latest song.

    It's a reworking of the classic track Missounwa, with Ivorian legend Monique Séka that was recorded during an unintentional five-month lockdown in Ivory Coast caused by coronavirus travel restrictions.

    "I tried my level best to keep myself busy, trying to work out, keep in the house, keep social distancing, because in the beginning I was so scared about Covid."

    From life on the street to being confined indoors by coronavirus, things have certainly changed for Eddy Kenzo. But he says his tough upbringing will stay with him forever.

    "Me, I’m a hustler, I’m a ghetto child," he tells the BBC, adding:

    Quote Message: It is my dream that we can have more and more people from humble beginnings to make it big, even bigger than me. That's my prayer every day."

    You can hear the full interview on This Is Africa this Saturday, on BBC World Service radio, and partner stations across Africa.

  8. Video content

    Video caption: Ghana: AY Poyoo, the 'GOAT' hitmaker and the face of GH rap

    Ghanaian artist AY Poyoo is a comedian turn musician and a self-proclaimed face of Ghanaian hip-hop scene.

  9. Video content

    Video caption: Sauti Sol: How do celebrities deal with mental health issues?

    The term, dustbin, is popular among a group of celebrated male musicians in Kenya when they discuss mental health.

  10. DJ and producer Boddhi Satva: The gems in my bag

    Video content

    Video caption: Why a juju hat, incense and a razor brooch are important items for Boddhi Satva

    Why a juju hat, incense and a razor brooch are important items for Boddhi Satva

  11. The man who makes music for the smartphone era

    DJ Edu

    This Is Africa

    Brian Nadra
    Image caption: The Kenyan musician Brian Nadra broke through with the song Leo

    I’ve already tipped Brian Nadra for big things, having picked him as one of my five African music stars to look out for in 2020.

    He describes himself as “mellow-voiced” - and he’s not wrong.

    Able to switch easily between styles – R&B, reggae, pop, benga, rap, hip-hop – he says his adaptability is a reflection of Nairobi’s current position as a “cultural hotspot”.

    “Three years ago, all you would hear in the streets was Nigerian music or Western music, but young kids my age, I would say we’re the revolution. [Now] There’s styles from all over.”

    Brian calls this revolution the Nairobi New School, a scene fuelled by cultural diversity and the use of Sheng, an urban slang language that fuses English, Swahili and other local languages.

    “We use Sheng here. There’s music that is the face of that now, the culture that is bubbling underneath. I still think it is bubbling because it is not making as much noise in Africa as it should.”

    Brian and his labelmates, The Decimators, with whom he regularly records and performs, are determined to change that, writing tunes such as Drinx Na Myenx and latest track Entanglement that speak to a new generation who experience music - and life - in a different way.

    “I talk about my music being centred around the smartphone era because it’s meeting up, hook-ups, it’s see you on Friday, it’s going out, all of that. It’s a multimedia world right now. I use that as part of my inspiration.”

    Ever since his 2017 breakthrough song Leo – an upbeat, pop-tinged paean to the girl you just can’t pluck up the courage to talk to – the 24-year-old has been growing in stature as an ambassador for East African culture, and Kenya in particular.

    It is why I named him as one of my artists to look out for this year and why I’ve been playing his songs on the show.

    “DJ Edu putting me on This Is Africa really made me feel like I had what it takes, but it also comes with a lot of pressure to perform. All the eyes are on you. I know I’m up to the task so I’m going to do my country proud, all my fans as well.”

    You can hear more from Brian Nadra on This is Africa this Saturday, on BBC World Service radio and partner stations across Africa.

  12. 'My greatest happiness is building my own family'

    DJ Edu

    This Is Africa

    Almok
    Image caption: Almok's career break helped her see things differently

    She's been called Togo's Queen of Afropop and last year made a successful comeback with hits Mawu Bé Sekrétèr and Saka Saka, but for Almok it is her new side-project away from music that gives her most joy.

    "Coming home in the evening and embracing someone with lots of love, sharing meals with my children, I can’t explain... I just get a huge smile when I talk about it!"

    After getting married in 2017, Almok took time out to settle into family life, giving birth to a son in January 2019. She says the career break has helped her see things differently.

    "It's a really good time for me because success isn't my career and my popularity. For me, my greatest happiness is building my own family. I was blessed with a child, just one for the moment [but] I dream of having many."

    It is a change in priorities that seems fitting for an artist who broke onto the scene a decade ago with Le Mariage, a track written about love, perseverance and the sanctity of the marriage contract.

    “There are some marriages ending for such trivial reasons. I think when you choose someone and say 'yes' it is not by chance.

    "It’s true that during my break there were lots of rumours about how I wouldn't come back because my husband is a pastor and he wouldn't let me be back on stage – but I never said I was leaving and I was still performing at six-months pregnant."

    Almok's new roles as both a wife and mother mean she is more determined than ever to act as a role model.

    "I grew up in a Christian family and for me it is impossible to go near some topics in my songs. People look up to me and I hold on to the values I got from my parents.

    "With Saka Saka I have about 200,000 hits on YouTube, almost 100,000 on Instagram and in the video I am wearing a jacket and a tie, I am covered up to the neck. My popularity is increasing.

    "There is this loyal audience and when I came out with Mawu Bé Sekrétèr and Saka Saka it was a crazy success - I give thanks to that public for that.”

    Family life has inspired Almok in new ways – and for that her fans can also be thankful.

    The full interview will be broadcast on This Is Africa this Saturday, on BBC World Service radio, and partner stations across Africa.

  13. Libya's Bahjat chases pop stardom in Sweden

    DJ Edu

    This Is Africa

    Bahjat
    Image caption: Bahjat Alturjman is just known as Bahjat to his fans

    It’s a long way from Libya to Sweden but that is the journey wannabe pop star Bahjat has been on.

    “I went from being a Mediterranean boy, warm temperatures, to -30C."

    For Bahjat, Sweden is a “pop wonderland”.

    “I’ve always been such a big fan of the Swedish pop sound.”

    How did this happen? Nearly a decade ago, the 25-year-old’s family was forced to flee Libya when the war broke out, moving to a new home in Malta.

    It was a challenging situation but Bahjat’s fierce determination and drive has seen him prove the doubters wrong, evolving into an independent artist who last year had some of the most-streamed songs in the Arabic world, writing hits including Halba and Istanbul.

    Quote Message: Being where I’m from and all the circumstances that were around me there were a lot of people who thought it was impossible to achieve anything but I had such a strong vision and I really saw, and I still see, the future so vividly.”

    His move to Sweden was thanks to the hours he spent on Facebook.

    Quote Message: I spent a lot of time in my bedroom writing and recording - but I also spent as much time adding a lot of random Swedish producers on Facebook!
    Quote Message: You come across a few things that everyone shares and one of these things was that Max Martin - the famous Swedish mega-producer who has worked with the likes of Britney Spears and Taylor Swift - visited a music academy up in the north of Sweden.
    Quote Message: And then a few months later they accepted me. I actually got to meet Max Martin, the person who has created my teenage and childhood soundtracks, and he was such a humble guy, gave great advice.
    Quote Message: From spending that much time in the academy, I felt that Sweden was the place I wanted to be to keep on developing my craft.”

    A permanent move to Stockholm, the Swedish capital, is the plan, although coronavirus means it is on hold temporarily.

    Bahjat with a bling guitar
    Image caption: Bahjat believes his ambition will grant him success

    But Libya has certainly not been forgotten by a young man who considers himself a “global citizen” and sings in both Arabic and English.

    Quote Message: I think stepping out and looking at it from far away made me realise how rich and deep the culture of our country is and how much potential it has.
    Quote Message: I’m really, really ambitious as a person and I really believe that if you have a dream, and if you have a story to tell, if you want to do good in the world then there is space for everyone.”

    You can hear more of Bahjat’s story on This Is Africa on the BBC World Service.

  14. 'The world needs beautiful music in the pandemic'

    This is Africa speaks to C4 Pedro

    DJ Edu

    This Is Africa

    C4 Pedro

    Lockdown in Angola's capital, Luanda, has been amazingly productive for one of Angola’s biggest stars.

    C4 Pedro has produced two full albums of seven songs each in just two months. They were released on Tuesday, which also happened to be C4 Pedro’s 37th birthday:

    Quote Message: With the tours that we all have sometimes, it’s impossible for us to create this way, so I’m thankful because I was able to create two albums by myself, because I’m also a producer. I’ve never done something like that before, it’s incredible, I’m like: 'Woah, I did something special'.”

    The two albums are very different.

    The darker one, Dragon, is C4 Pedro’s first hip-hop album. He used to rap before kizomba took over his professional life, and he uses those skills to settle a few scores:

    Quote Message: My rap name is Dragon. This Dragon comes to protect myself and my name. Not everybody loves to see someone succeed, you have people hating you just because you are too good.
    Quote Message: Now with this pandemic I was home thinking about everything that I heard about me, and I say, OK, maybe this is just time to clarify some little things!”

    But not all of the songs in the first album are addressed to C4 Pedro’s haters:

    Quote Message: Seven songs for haters? No, I don’t believe they deserve it, that’s too much. No, no, no, there’s more important things in life than doing songs for your haters. With this hip-hop album people will understand that I am a human person who has feelings.”

    The second album is more typical and designed to be reassuring for C4 Pedro’s many fans:

    Quote Message: I don’t want them thinking what is wrong with him? I’m good, this is the same C4. Lagrimas (meaning Tears) is an album full of love, with titles like Felicidade (Happiness), Pele Negra (Black Skin), and Africa Esta Viva (Africa Is Alive).”

    Judging by the acapella taster C4 Pedro gave me, this second album is achingly beautiful.

    “This is what I believe the world needs but the hip-hop album is what I need now,” he chuckles.

    You can listen to DJ Edu’s full interview with C4 Pedro on This Is Africa once it's uploaded on Saturday at 12:00 GMT.

  15. 'I wanted to take my culture and make it represent me now'

    DJ Edu

    This Is Africa

    Sho Madjozi
    Image caption: Sho Madjozi is making a documentary and has just been signed to Epic Records

    South African star Sho Madjozi is as famous for her colourful style as she is for her high-energy songs. But as she told me, there is more to her pompoms and full skirts than fun.

    She grew up in rural Limpopo amongst Tsonga women who would wear longer versions of the xibelani skirts she has made famous, and she decided she wanted to bring her culture into the 21st Century:

    Quote Message: When I came out I was wearing the xibelani but in my way - of someone who lives in Johannesburg. I’m a young, urban South African. I'm not living in the rural areas any more, so I wanted to take my culture and make it represent me now.
    Quote Message: I don't blame young people for sometimes running away from tradition… Why would I dress like my grandmother? I think we've been so traumatised by colonialism that we just tried to preserve culture almost at the point where colonialism started, forgetting that it was evolving.
    Quote Message: My granny was not dressing like her mother. I think the threat of us losing our culture to Western influences has made it that we just protect it. We just hold onto the way it was then, instead of letting young people also evolve it and change it.
    Quote Message: I got a lot of backlash, [with people saying]: 'Is she allowed to wear it like this?
    Quote Message: But I think the only way culture will survive is if we are allowed to make it our own, and make it current. We must change culture, it’s the only way."

    Sho Madjozi is making a documentary about the xibelani. She's also just been signed by Epic Records from the US.

    We hope that she is not asked to change her very African, very contemporary style.

    The full interview with Sho Madjozi will be broadcast on This Is Africa this Saturday, on BBC World Service radio, and partner stations across Africa.

    Sho Madjozi, South African rapper, singer, songwriter, actress and poet performed at The Homecoming Africa Festival on Saturday 28 Oct 2019.
    Image caption: Sho Madjozi wearing her version of a xibelani skirt on stage