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Sounds of Africa

Africa is a diverse continent and equally, its music is as diverse. African music has played a major role in shaping some of the music genres we know today, such as Jazz and Blues as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. As we celebrate Black History Month in the UK, I wanted to learn a bit more about the worldwide influence of African music on modern day music.

Here's take a look at some of the sounds and musicians that have had some influence on the music that we listen to today.

Miriam Makeba aka Mama Africa

Miriam Makeba was a South African singer, songwriter and political activist. She is well known for drawing great attention to African music during the 60s and is known for being one of the most prominent African singers of the 20th century. She was also one of the first African artists to receive worldwide recognition. Her style of music was jazz and music that was popular in West Africa at the time.

African Blues

Blues is a music genre that is known to have originated in the Deep South of America during the late 1800s by African Americans, but did you know there is such a thing known as African Blues? Although its well-known that the African American Blues has roots from African musical traditions, e.g. the call and response style, no specific form of African music has been identified as the direct ancestor of the Blues sound. However, I did find it fascinating that there’s actually an African Blues genre, namely in countries such as Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. A notable pioneer of this sound is the Malian singer and instrumentalist Ali Farka Touré.


Highlife has played an influential role in African music for decades. Highlife music stems from West Africa, namely Ghana and is often associated with a pre-independence sound that incorporates the guitar styles of West Africa with elements of jazz, swing and Cuban rhythms. When Highlife was emerging, Ghanaian musicians at that time would often incorporate foreign influences like Calypso with the traditional Ghanaian rhythms. Highlife played a role in the emergence of the Afrobeat genre in the 1960s and 1970s. Notable Highlife musicians include E T Mensah and A B Crentsil.


Afrobeat (not to be confused with Afrobeats) is a music genre involving a combination of various music styles from West Africa such as Fuji music and Highlife, with some American jazz influences. The term Afrobeat was coined by Fela Kuti, who has also been credited with being the pioneer Afrobeat. Fela Kuti undeniably left an amazing musical legacy, as the Afrobeat genre he pioneered gave birth to many of the modern sounds we know today like Afrobeats, Afro Pop, Afro Swing and more.


In addition to the various influences that these sounds have, their popularity has often resulted in their songs being sampled by a range of artists.

Manu Dibango - Soul Makossa

Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango is a Cameroonian song that is one of the most sampled African tracks ever. Various parts of the song has been sampled by so many different artists, especially the vocals. It was famously used in Michael Jackson's 'Wanna Be Starting Something'. Soul Makossa earned Manu Dibango 2 Grammy nominations.

Golden Sounds - Zangelewa

Shakira’s Waka Waka (This time for Africa) heavily draws its inspiration from traditional African music whilst blending it with an African Colombian rhythm. The chorus samples a Cameroonian song called “Zangelewa” by Golden Sounds.

Fela Kuti and The Afrika 70 - Gentleman

Fela Kuti and The Afrika 70's Gentleman was sampled in J Cole's 2013 track Let Nas Down.

Hope you enjoyed this brief look at some of the sounds that have had an influence or direct links to some of the music we listen to today.

(Sources: Smore, Wikepedia, Samples Chief, Who Sampled)

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