Africa Day: 10 music masterpieces as continent marks 61st anniversary on May 25

Late Nigerian Musician, Fela Kuti. 

Photo credit: File | AFP

Africa Day, which is marked on May 25th is the anniversary of the formation of the Organisation of African Union, the precursor to the Africa Union, in 1963. Around Africa and its diaspora, people will celebrate the continent’s contribution to global culture through music, art, food and fashion.

The foundation to the success of contemporary African music genres like Afrobeats and Amapiano was laid by the titans of generations gone by. Here is a playlist of 10 African music masterpieces, to provide the soundtrack to your Africa Day.

Mbube by Solomon Linda

South African musician, Solomon Linda recorded the song in 1939 and the song became an international hit when it was renamed Wimoweh and recorded by American folk singer Pete Seeger in 1948. It has since been recorded by more than 150 artists and famously featured in the 1994 animated film The Lion King. Linda died poor in 1962 and it was only in 2006 that his estate reached a settlement with Disney Pictures for royalties.

Sunshine Day by Osibisa

The opening track on the 1975 album Welcome Home has a memorable chorus that invites you to sing along while the instrumentation, from the percussions to the horns, is irresistible. Osibisa, formed by Ghanaian saxophonist Teddy Osei, described their music as “crisscross rhythms that explode with happiness” mixing highlife with jazz, soul and rock.

My Lovely Elizabeth by S.E. Rogie

“I would love to be a real cowboy roaming with my guitar,” Rogie once said, influenced by Jimmie Rodgers, America’s “Father of Country Music”. Sooliman Ernest Rogers popularised palm wine music (also called maringa in his native Sierra Leone) with the gentle, finger-picking guitar melody. Working as a tailor by day and learning the guitar at night, Rogie became his country’s foremost musical ambassador. After a career of more than 50 years, he died in July 1994 at age 68.

Le Bucheron by Franklin Boukaka

“Oh Africa, where is your independence…. where is your liberty,” asks Franklin Boukaka in his unique timbre on this classic accompanied by the legendary Manu Dibango on piano and saxophone. The outspoken Congolese singer and guitarist died in unclear circumstances during a coup in the Republic of Congo in 1972 at the age of 32.

Pata Pata by Miriam Makeba

One historian described it as “quite probably the best-known song of African origin in the world” though Makeba herself said it was “one of my most insignificant songs.”

Originally recorded by her girl group, The Skylarks, in 1959, Makeba turned the song into a global hit with her solo version in 1967. The title of the song taken from the Xhosa phrase meaning “touch touch” was the name of a dance that was popular in the shebeens (drinking dens) of Johannesburg townships in the 1950s. Pata Pata was the last song Makeba performed just before she collapsed on stage during a concert in Italy in 2008 and later died in hospital.

Gentleman by Fela Kuti

The King of Afrobeat (a different genre from the now ubiquitous Afrobeats) was at the peak of his social and political radicalism when he recorded this 1973 album. The title track is a stinging 14-and-a-half-minute commentary on the colonial hangover manifested in African elites’ imitation of Western culture as Fela humorously sings about a man sweating in his suit and tie.

Grazing In the Grass by Hugh Masekela

An incredibly catchy percussive rhythm piece released in 1968 inspired by a song that Masekela heard in Zambia that started with a cowbell. Philemon Hou composed the melody and Masekela added his trumpet to produce what became the first-ever recording by an African artist to hit No. 1 on the US Billboard charts. The recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018.

Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango

This 1972 Afro-funk masterpiece is best known for the infectious chanted refrain playing on the word “makossa”, Dibango’s genre, famously adapted by superstars like Michael Jackson and Rihanna. The song opened the door for African music in the US thanks to its popularity with radio and club DJs and earned the towering Cameroonian saxophonist global acclaim.

Sweet Mother by Prince Nico Mbarga

EMI Records dismissed the demo as “childish” and it was only a Nigerian recording company Rogers All Stars that released the song in 1976. This son of a Nigerian mother and a Cameroonian father, recorded this song along with his band Rocafill Jazz, selling more than 13 million copies. This is guitar dance music at its finest and was voted Africa’s Favourite Song in a poll by the BBC in 2004.

Ngungi by Franco & Tabu ley

A rare collaboration between the giants of Congolese rumba in this gem from 1983 that compares gossip to mosquitoes (the Lingala lyrics say: mosquitoes have no friends; they bite even kings). Franco and Tabu Ley put aside their rivalry to produce this gem from the album Lisanga ya Banganga.

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