18 Of The Most Popular African Musicians With International Fan Bases

18 Of The Most Popular African Musicians With International Fan Bases

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Despite its huge influence on music repertoire across the globe, most countries in Africa have not historically been significant markets for the international music industry.

That’s changing, according to IFPI, self-described voice of the recording industry worldwide.

Digital technology is enabling the recording industry to reach massive numbers of consumers across Africa and international record companies are working to establish innovative services and invest in artists and repertoire.

The following are 18 of the most popular African musicians performing blues, rock, pop, jazz, Afrobeat, mbalax and traditional. Despite historic hurdles such as poor infrastructure, all have developed fan bases internationally.

greatest african musicians
Rokia Traoré (Thesupermat/Wikimedia Commons)

Rokia Traoré, Mali

Rokia Traoré is an award-winning Malian singer, songwriter and guitarist. A member of the Bambara ethnic group, her father was a diplomat and she traveled widely in her youth. As a result, her music melds traditional Malian rhythms with jazz, blues, pop and classical influences from around the world.

D' Banj  (Wikimedia Commons)
D’ Banj (Wikimedia Commons)

D’Banj, Nigeria

A big star on the Afrobeat scene, D’Banj performs in Yoruba, English and pidgin English and is best known for his 2012 hip hop/electronic hit, “Oliver Twist.” He has won Best African Artist at the MTV Europe Music Awards several times. His moniker is a clever combination of his first name, Dapo, and his surname, Oyebanjo.

Zahara (Raidarmax/Wikimedia Commons)
Zahara (Raidarmax/Wikimedia Commons)

Zahara, South Africa

This South African singer was just 23 when she started gaining a huge reputation in Africa and beyond. Her 2011 album “Loliwe” went platinum in 13 days, double platinum after 17 days, and sold more than 100,000 copies in South Africa. The music video for her debut single, “Loliwe” had more than 2.3 million views on YouTube.

Chameleone (Courtesy of redpepper.co.ug)

Chameleone, Uganda

Jose Chameleon, known as Chameleone, is a reggae musician from Uganda. His rise to fame is credited for bringing back popular local music in Uganda and several of his songs are popular on the radio and in clubs throughout Africa.

Gito Baloi
Gito Baloi (Courtesy of africasounds.com)






Gito Baloi – Mozambique

Known for his stunning command of the bass guitar and his foreboding voice, Baloi was a well-known musician from Mozambique in his short career. Originally, he got his start with trio Tananas in the 1990s, but later produced several solo albums. Baloi was shot dead in Johannesburg after a concert. A posthumous album, “Beyond,” was released in 2008.

K'Naan  (David Shankbone/Wikimedia)
K’Naan (David Shankbone/Wikimedia)

K’naan, Somalia

K’Naan, who rose to prominence with his 2009 album “Troubador,” creates music that is influenced by traditional Somali music, Ethio-jazz and world music. The artist describes his sound as “a sound that fuses Bob Marley, conscious American hip hop, and brilliant protest poetry.”

Nameless (Courtesy of www.afrisphere.com/)
Nameless (Courtesy of afrisphere.com)

Nameless, Kenya (David Mathenge)

This Kenyan superstar got his start in 1999 on a Kenyan star search with his track “Megarider.” In 2009, he won the MTV Africa Music Award for Artist of The Year, Best Male and Listener’s Choice. 

Fally Ipupa (Courtesy of www.afrisphere.com)
Fally Ipupa (Courtesy of afrisphere.com)

Fally Ipupa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Some of Africa’s most exciting music comes from DRC. Fally Ipupa was originally part of the group Koffi Olomidé before going solo. Fally won the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2010 for Best Video with the hit “Sexy Dance.”

salif keita
Wikimedia Commons

Salif Keita, Mali

Not only is Salif known as the “Golden Voice of Africa,” but he is also a direct descendant of the founder of the Mali Empire, Sundiata Keita. Combining traditional West African music styles with influences from Europe, Salif released more than a dozen albums since 1982. He has recorded all over the world from Paris to Los Angeles, and performed in many concerts such as Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday tribute concert that called for Mandela’s release from prison.

amar sundy
Courtesy of jazzabrignoles.net

Amar Sundy, Algeria

Known as the “Bluesman of the Desert,” Sundy hails from Algeria. His musical style combines traditional sounds of the Sahara mixed with French music and American blues. This unique sound didn’t come out of nowhere. Sundy moved to Paris when he was young and honed his craft in the subways of Paris, later moving to the U.S. to learn from influential blues men such as BB. King and James Cotton.

Courtesy of worldmusic.net

Koudede, Niger

Koudede was widely known for the unique Tuareg sounds he played on his guitar. Born in Niger, he was part of one of the first waves of Tuareg artists to come out of the Sahara. He used the power of his music to defend Tuareg communities during political instability. He died in 2012 in a tragic car crash on his way home to visit his family in Niamey, Niger.

banky w
Courtesy of africanmuzikmag.com

Banky W, Nigeria

Olubankole Wellington, better known by his stage name, Banky W, was born in the U.S. to Nigerian parents but moved back to Lagos when he was 5. He mainly sings R&B and soul with a Nigerian twist, and has become popular throughout the world, with tours in North America and Europe. Not only is he successful at music, but he also created his own record label, Empire Mates Entertainment.

Wikimedia Commons

Chiwoniso, Zimbabwe

Chiwoniso Maraire is another great artist who died too young at the age of 37. Her main styles were influenced by Zimbabwean mbira music — she was the daughter of Zimbabwean mbira master, Dumisani Maraire. Over her career, she was part of several groups including Afro-fusion hip-hop trio A Peace of Ebony, and The Storm — one of Zimbabwe’s top bands.

hugh masekala
Wikimedia Commons

Hugh Masekela, South Africa

Hailing from Witbank, South Africa, Masekela began playing instruments and singing when he was a child. Although he is a master of the trumpet, he is also great on piano, flugelhorn, and cornet, plus he composes and sings. Over his long career, he has played with Western acts such as The Byrds, Paul Simon, and Dave Matthews Band.

youssou n'dour
Wikimedia Commons

Youssou N’dour, Senegal

In 2004, “Rolling Stone” called Youssou N’Dour “perhaps the most famous singer alive” in Senegal and much of Africa. He’s one of the most celebrated African musicians in history. Most of his music is in the mbalax style — a fusion of popular sounds such as jazz, soul and Latin. Over the course of his career, he collaborated with a high-profile Western artists such as Tracy Chapman, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Wyclef Jean, Peter Gabriel, Dido, Sting, and many more.

ice prince
Courtesy of bellanaija.com

Ice Prince, Nigeria

Panshak Zamani, better known as the Nigerian hip hop recording artist and actor Ice Prince, is one of Nigeria’s most popular artists. He began writing rap songs in high school, and his musical style was influenced by Talib Kweli, Common, Rakim, Jay-Z and more. Ice Prince won two Nigerian Entertainment awards, one Ghana Music award, three The Headies awards, and one BET award.

anselmo ralph
Courtesy of flagra.pt

Anselmo Ralph, Angola

Born in Luanda, Angola, Anselmo Ralph found international fame as a singer of R&B, soul, and kizomba — a popular dance music originating in Angola. He tried to make it a few times in New York, but returned to Angola to hone his craft by working on a Portuguese language album “Historias de Amor.” It was a big seller. He won the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards for Best African Artist. When he signed with Coca-Cola for an advertising campaign, it the company’s first ever contract with an Angolan artist.

koffi olomide
Courtesy of undeplus.net

Koffi Olomidé, DRC

Born in the DRC, Koffi Olomidé grew up without any music background, but he became a huge success. He specializes in soukous, a genre of dance music similar to the Cuban rumba that gained hold in the Congo in the 1940s. Over the decades, he built up a large international fan base in Africa and Europe, and received several Kora Awards, and an award for Best African Artist of the Decade.