There is a reason why Africa is called “Mama Africa”. As the oldest inhabited continent on Earth, humans and our ancestors have lived in Africa for more than 5 million years. As one would suspect, at some point shortly after our arrival one thing led to another and soon came the life-changing arrival of music, which quickly evolved into one of the most fundamental constituents of human life to this day.
To name all of the legendary musicians to emerge from Africa over the years, would be to write a short encyclopedia. Completely diverse landscapes and cultures have conceived equally diverse artistic expression and innovation, and thanks to the likes of Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba and Salif Keita, entire generations all over the world have been empowered and inspired by African music.
Today, Africa is home to more countries than any other continent in the world, is the second-most populous continent and has the youngest population, perhaps explaining the sheer volume of musical treasures being created by African musicians. But as a result of the dark legacies of European colonies in the continent, the African diaspora has spread far and wide, with Europe being one of the primary destinations. For years, some of Africa’s best and brightest artists have found their new homes in Europe, helping to proliferate African rhythms through radio stations across the continent indefinitely, and presumably catalyzing the recent global obsession for all things Afro-Beat. Although it wasn’t easy – from continent to continent – here are eight of our favorite African expats slaying the European music scene.
Luanda born and Lisbon raised, Pongo grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood which made social alienation and discrimination a daily reality. Through a foot injury that required multiple doctors’ visits, Pongo discovered an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Lisbon where Kuduro thrived. The energetic and punchy dance music born in Luanda in the late 1980’s became a staple of Pongo’s sound ever since her musical debut at just 15 years old with Portugal’s favorite electronic crew, Buraka Som Sistema. Her sound has further evolved into its own unique blend of Electronic and Pop styles, layered with Portuguese and Kimbundu rap verses that largely reflect on the struggles Pongo has endured as a young African woman trying to make it in Portugal’s music scene.
A man with many titles, Gaël Faye is an author-composer-performer, rapper and writer who focuses his artistic expression on exploring his experiences growing up in Burundi during the civil war and trying to rebuild himself after immigrating to France during his adolescence. It was in the suburbs of Paris where he discovered his love for hip-hop, and after graduating with a business degree and completing a stint in the finance world, he decided to follow his passion full time. Gaël’s particular style of French hip-hop is anything but ordinary, fusing elements of Soul, Jazz, Semba, Congolese Rumba, and Sebene with an extraordinary amount of lyrical finesse. His writing skills don’t end with his rhymes, for Gaël’s autobiographical song “Petit Pays (Small Country)” formed the basis for his award-winning novel, and later, feature-film of the same name.
DjeuhDjoah & Lieutenant Nicholson
It’s hard not to smile when listing to DjeuhDjoah & Lieutenant Nicholson’s music – which is exactly their intent. The duo’s infectious blend of swinging futuristic synths, commanding Afro-beats and joyous French vocals might make them one of the best musical discoveries we have made all year. With their music being described as a funky Afropean masterpiece, each song seeks to reconcile French music with Jazz, Afro-Beat, Soul, Funk, Electro and Reggae providing the African diaspora in Europe with a much-needed refresh on the role African roots have in contemporary music today. Their critically acclaimed latest album Aimez Ces Airs is a clever tribute to Afro-Caribbean-French poet Aimé Césaire and the West Indies lifestyle, inventively mixing in Creole lyrics amongst the French and is a must-listen during these drab times.
Born in the region of Algeria that gave birth to Raï music, Sofiane Saidi is the inventor of oriental glam. He began his musical career at an early age and by 15 was singing in the mythical clubs of Oran, where many Algerian stars once played before him. At 17 Sofiane immigrated to Paris, allowing him to exercise his creativity through a number of musical projects including collaborations with Acid Arab and Kenzi Bourras. Sofiane’s evolved sound, mixing Raï with genres such as Jazz, Trip-Hop and Electro, soon put Raï music at the pulse of Parisian nights. For his latest album El Ndjoum, he collaborated with 7-piece band Mazalda to create an explosive mix of Raï and contemporary electronic music, taking listeners on an unexpected journey through the beauty and magic of the Algerian soul.
Adorned with his grandfather’s ancient voodoo mask and necklaces, representing his admiration of the earth deity, Togolese funk legend Peter Solo has chosen a uniform that makes him instantly recognizable – along with the incredible “Voodoo Funk” music he and six-piece ensemble create under the name Vaudou Game. Mixing Voodoo harmonies with Afro-Beat, Funk and Disco, the band aims to re-introduce the world to what Voodoo culture means and its relevance. Raised by his Voodoo priestess mother, Peter was taught about the inextricable role that music plays in Voodoo ceremonies and how living in harmony with nature and the elements is its central tenant, “Voodoo is love, Voodoo is peace, Voodoo is humble, humility, Voodoo is respect, Voodoo is music…[and] music is a weapon. We need to use it for something, for a purpose.”
Life-long fans and supporters of African music, German production duo Ancient Astronauts’ upcoming album ZIK ZAK – due for release in January 2021- gives a sincere shout-out to young and fresh talent from 10 different African nations, allowing their voices to be heard by an international audience. The first three singles released so far – “Ziinga Zanram” ft. Art Melody, “Tebamanyi” ft. MoRoots, and “Photoshop Reality” ft. BANTU – represent a who’s who of African artists to watch and demonstrate Ancient Astronauts’ continued commitment to carving out space in the European music scene for African musicians. “Africa is the birthplace of civilisation and rhythm and the music from the black continent has always had a huge impact on us and our music. So, it was more than time to put the spotlight on the black continent.”
Joining forces can be an incredible thing, so when Angola’s Ms. Gia and Poland’s Mentalcut paired up to form a futuristic electronic Afro-House duo, it caught people’s attention. Their powerful concoction of Kuduro, Afro-House, Gqom and other African rhythms with electronic music production is proving to be a winning recipe and is being eaten up by the likes of global bass Wizard, Branko, who remixed their song “Noemia” for his renowned compilation Enchufada Na Zona Vol 2, as well as the one and only Diplo who has played a number of tracks from their debut album Diaspora on his BBC Radio 1 show, Diplo and Friends.
With their music described as “The Elixir of Life,” Napalma creates unique, contemporary and energetic fusions between ancient and modern musical traditions spanning two continents. Led by Senegalese vocalist Abass Ndiaye and Brazilian percussionist and electronic programmer Cid Travaglia, the duo makes songs with a rich array of West African and Afro-Brazilian percussion and melodies juxtaposed with on-point electronic programming, resulting in a sound that truly transcends borders. The group’s latest release, “Sunu Warëf”, is a feel-good groove sensation that transports listeners into the depths of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, championing its conservation through beautiful sounds and imagery.