The Bubble Playlist No. 21: African Music Since 1980

Check out the playlist here!

The last thirty years have seen dramatic changes in Africa. And the incredible beauty, stark hardship, scars of despotism, and strains of infectious optimism reverberate in the music made throughout the continent. From the breathtakingly catchy, brass-infused ‘Jit’ music of Zimbabwe (made most famous by The Bhundu Boys), to the Western-influenced, chant-heavy sounds of Johnny Clegg and Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’, on to the politicised afrobeat of Nigeria, the music produced across Africa in the past three decades has been as gorgeously melodic and uplifting, as it has been thought-provoking and original. To choose ten songs to exemplify thishas been both a blessing and a chore:

Amaswazi Emvelo – Indoda Yejazi Elimnyana
Included on the groundbreaking 1985 South African compilation ‘The Indestructible Beat of Soweto’, the wonderful, lilting vocals, infectious drumline and upbeat melody on show makes this perhaps the highlight of a wonderful release, which was key in bringing South African music to the world.

The Bhundu Boys – Zvandinetsa
A perfect example of the joyously uplifting, immensely tuneful sound the Bhundu Boys (named in homage to the young men who fought the White minority government in the 1970s.) ‘Zvandinetsa’ is awash with gorgeous, harmonised vocals, and a wonderful, multi-instrumental melody.

Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Scatterlings of Africa
Perhaps best-known for being the first white South African musician to play alongside black artists, during the country’s apartheid period, Clegg’s second backing band, Savuka (his first was the talented Juluka), provided the catchy drum-beats, and infectious vocals, on this most accessible of pop songs. Features on the soundtrack to the film ‘Rain Man’, interestingly.

Fatoumata Diawara – Bakonoba
If the previous selections are almost overwhelming in their upbeat sound, Fatouamata Diawara’s music is beautifully understated: with the Malian guitarist, and spellbinding vocalist weaving her voice (singing here in her native French) amidst a percussion-heavy melody, which mixes the West African elements of her music with an apparent Flamenco influence.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 – African Soldier
The son of Nigerian music legend, and pioneer of ‘Afrobeat’, Fela Kuti; Seun Kuti’s music deserves high regard in its own right. ‘African Soldier’, like most of Seun’s output, has a political heart to its lyrics, but his commanding vocals, and the fast-paced, tuneful backing given him by the backing band of Africa 80, gives a strong musical backbone to a thought-provoking song.

Paul Simon (feat. The Boyoyo Boys) – Gumboots
Paul Simon claimed that hearing the Boyoyo Boys instrumental ‘Gumboots’ influenced him to record his staggeringly influential Graceland album. They provide the backing on Simon’s reinvention of their original song now replete with a set of likeable, if slightly corny, lyrics

The Four Brothers – Pasi Pano Pane Zviezdo
Championed by British DJ John Peel, this is the Four Brothers song he named his favourite. Similar to the Bhundu Boys in sound, though with slightly less sunny, and more intricate melodies, ‘Pasi Pano…’ perfectly evinces the band’s fast-paced melodies and ‘Jit’ sound. (The YouTube clip suggests that it is playing the version from John Peel’s sessions, when it is in fact a studio version).

Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Unomathemba
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a male-choral group, formed in 1973, are as wide-reaching in their influence and success in their native South Africa, as any African artist or band has been. ‘Unomathemba’ is a beautiful, hushed, hymn-like song, and, interestingly, entirely acapella.

Salif Keita – Koukou
The moniker of “the golden Voice of Africa” is a grand one indeed, but it is the title by which Malian vocalist Salif Keita is deservedly known. ‘Kokou’ provides a nice back-and-forth between Keita, and a set of female vocalists, amidst a subtle, but near-hypnotic melody, and a smattering of rhythmic drums.

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