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Know Your Culture: Top Ten Contemporary African Music Styles

Know Your Culture: Top Ten Contemporary African Music Styles

Music is an art form that is relatively as old as mankind, and for the oldest race known to man, we can say Africans have been doing it longer than anyone else. I don’t mean to say that this is why African (which they are), but you catch my drift. Humans have been expressing their feelings, culture and telling their stories through music for ages. Today in the Know Your Culture series, we take a look at the top 10 contemporary African music styles.

There have been variant styles in African music that have undergone frequent and decisive changes throughout the centuries. And today, contemporary styles have emanated from classical African music.

Classic genres like blues, salsa, zouk, rumba, etc., have been adapted and transformed into newer genres. We have compiled a list of top trending music genres from Africa to the world below, and for every style, a worthy example follows.

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10. Arabic Pop

Arabic pop is a subgenre of pop and Arabic music originating in Northern Africa in places like Cairo, Egypt, where Arabic is predominantly spoken. The genre has been around since the 2000s in those locations. The primary style combines pop melodies with elements of different Arabic regional styles, called ughniyah  (أغنية), which translates to “Arabic song” in English.

It uses mainly Western instruments, including electric guitars or keyboards, and traditional middle eastern instruments such as oud or darbuka. Arabic pop has an overall tone and mood and lyrics tending to focus on longing, melancholy, strife, and love issues.

9. Mbalax

Mbalax is a popular music genre in Senegal and The Gambia. It emerged in the 1970s as a dance music and percussion. It developed from the religious music of the Serer people with jazz, rock, and Latin American genres. Mbalax sounds quite lyrical.

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This music is lyrical, often sung in drawn-out vocals with intricate rhythmic patterns.

8. Soukou

Soukous is another genre of dance music originating from Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville. This music style gained popularity in the 1980s in France. The music and dance of soukous are mostly mistakenly for rumba, whereas they differ, especially in tempo and dance sequences.

Some notable performers of the genre include African Fiesta, Papa Wemba, and Pépé Kallé.

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7. Dancehall

Dancehall is a genre of Jamaican pop music originating in the late 1970s. Initially, the style is a more sparse form of reggae with its essential elements, including extensive use of Jamaican Patois and a focus on the track instrumentals called “riddims”.

West Africans adopted the style and transformed it into a rising mainstream music genre. The famous Jamaican musician Bob Marley heavily influenced the world and Africa in particular, leading to the establishment of African reggae artists and producers.

Some notable artistes in this genre are Shatta Wale, Patoraking, etc.

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6. R&B/Soul

R&B/Soul music is a popular music genre that originated in the African American community throughout the United States in the 1950s, so it’s only natural that it will become adopted in the homeland as well. The style combines African-American gospel music, rhythm and blues, and jazz elements.

The genre is slow-paced, with well-written lyrics from experiences of pain, love, freedom, and joy. Some notable artistes here are CHIKE, Adekunle Gold, Joeboy, etc.

5. Kwaito

The number of performers from South Africa, Mali, Senegal, Congo, and other African countries at major European festivals increases every year. Some of them even enter the European and American charts.

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The music industry in Africa has received a significant boost in development thanks to the technology available. Previously, you needed a studio to record a track, which African musicians often did not have the money to rent.

It was impossible to get on the world stage without a local representation of a major label or at least a guest scout. Today a laptop and a couple of controllers are enough to record.

4. Makossa

Makossa is an urban dance and music style that originated in Cameroon. The style has a similar tone to the soukous style, with both originating in the same period in the 1960s, but they are not necessarily derived from each other.

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The real influence behind the makossa genre is the Douala dance, which is called “kossa”, hence the name of the music style. Notable singers of this genre are Awilo Longomba, BM, and many more.

3. Highlife

Highlife is a music genre that originated from the indigenous Ndigbo people of Nigeria. It began in the 1960s; the music has a jazzy horn vibe with multiple guitars playing but recently developed into having more up-tempo music and synth-driven sounds.

The genre has developed so much that the classic and contemporary eras are distinct. Classic highlife employs the accompaniment of jazzy instruments while the newer generation does not. Examples of artistes in the new trend are Flavour, The Cavemen, and many more.

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2. Amapiano

Amapiano is a Zulu word that literally translates to “the pianos”, a style of house music that emerged in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2012. The style is a hybrid of deep house, jazz, and lounge music characterized by synths, airy pads, and wide percussive basslines. 

The genre quickly gained popularity in Johannesburg, spreading all over Africa. Music in this form is made by DJs using a “log drum” and a steady repetition of vocals.

1. Afrobeats

Afrobeats is basically musical beats developed initially in Lagos, Nigeria, then Ghana, and in the diaspora in the early 2000s. The genre is seen as less of a style and more of an umbrella term to describe the fusion of genre sounds such as Fuji Music, Waka music, jùjú music, Afro-juju, and Yoruba music.

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However, looking at it in the present, afrobeats has made a name for itself through the outstanding laborious efforts of artistes doing this type of music. The genre uses beats created in the studio with an authentic African rhythm and sound. The style picked up in the late 90s and early-mid-2000s with artists like MI Abaga, Naeto C, Dbanj, P-square, etc.

Afrobeats is now one of the most popular international trends globally, particularly Nigerian beats, because it is unique. The artistes making Africa proud in this genre are Ckay, Wizkid, AG Baby, Burnaboy, Tuface etc.

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Ngozi Nwaubani

Ngozi Nwaubani

She's usually found writing Sci-Fi and fun articles on entertainment and lifestyle.

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