Over the years, the giant strides in the African music industry have been hinged on the continent’s cultural heritage and diversity. However, there have been some exceptional female musicians who have outshined the rest. Whether they are giving out an electric stage performance, or hitting the right notes, these divas are known for creating the most successful music Africa has ever produced.
From the ever elegant Onyeka Onwenu to the energetic Angelique Kidjo, here are some African female artistes who have evolved into a space of unforgettable music legends of all time.
Topping the list of African female divas is Benin-born superstar, Angelique Kidjo. Born to a Fon father and Yoruba mother, Kidjoe is popular for her powerful voice as well as her creative music videos. She started singing at the age of 6 in her mother’s dance troupe where she was also a dancer. Angelique rose to international fame in 1991 with the release of “Logozo”, her first chart topping album. Referred to as “Africa’s greatest living diva”, Kidjo’s music is a blend of jazz, pop, reggae, afrobeat, pop and African traditional music. The influential diva speaks Fon, Swahili, Yoruba, English fluently and this fluidity plays a huge role in the spread of her music. The 58-year old singer has over 50 awards to her credit which include honorary degrees, Grammy awards and several lifetime achievement awards. Some of her hit songs include “Agolo”, “Wombolombo”, and “Malaika”.
Onyeka Onwenu began her music career in 1981 with the release of the album, “For The Love of You”. Prior to her music career, she worked as a journalist in the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) where she wrote and presented a BBC sponsored documentary called “Nigeria; A Squandering of Riches”. Onyeka graduated with a BA in Industrial Relations and Communications from the prestigious Wellesley College of Massachusetts, USA, as well as a Masters degree in Media Studies from The New School for Social Research in New York. The music legend, who also is an actress, has many hit songs to her credit, One Love”, “Iyogogo”, “Wait For Me ft King Sunny Ade” and is labelled the “Elegant Stallion.” by many.
Crowned the “Queen of Waka music” by the Alafin of Oyo Kingdom, Salawa Abeni became the first ever female Yoruba artiste to sell over one million copies of an album. Her career began when she was only 10 years old, when hundreds of people lined up at a function in Epe, just to listen to her sing. She debuted with the album titled, Late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed, which later became a best-seller. Some other hits by the Waka queen includes “Gentle Lady”, “This is waka music” and lots more.
Born as Zensi Miriam Makeba on the 4th of March 1932, the South African superstar was named as one of the most prominent African performers in the 20th century. She began singing in the choir at an early age and became a professional vocalist in 1954. Her music career earned her tons of local and international awards, including the prestigious Grammy Award. Miriam, who sings in English, Xhosa and Zulu languages, had 30 successful albums, some of which went platinum. Till her death, she was one of the few African artistes who had a successful career at home and abroad. Her music style was a mixture of Jazz, traditional melodies and Western music and some of her hits include “Pata Pata”, “Lumumba”, “Soweto Blues” among others.
Popular for her hit song “Happy Birthday”, Evi-Edna Ogholi is a Nigerian female Reggae artist, and one of the pioneers of Reggae music in the country. Born on the 6th of July, 1965 in Isoko, Delta State, Evi released her first album, “My Kind of Music” in 1987. After this, she released three more albums which all went platinum. Her music was mainly sang in her native language, Isoko, however, it was loved across different countries in Africa. Asides “Happy Birthday,” which remains an anthem at birthday parties, her other hit songs include, “No place like home”, “On the move”, “Step by step”, among others.
Yvonne is a South-African born singer, songwriter and humanitarian. She started singing at the age of 19 and became the first black child singer to appear on television in South Africa. The 54-year old diva has numerous hits to her credit, including “Umqombothi”, “Motherland”, “Sangoma” and lots more. Till date, Yvonne remains a force to Reckon with on the African music scene as she has shared the stage with legends like Hugh Masekela, Bono, Johnny Clegg to mention a few.
Known as “Nigeria’s Lady of Songs”, the Akwa-Ibom born songstress sings in six different languages; Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio, Efik, Igbo and English. Most of her songs were centred around societal issues, especially issues pertaining to women and children. Throughout her career, Christy released many hit songs including “Seun rere”, “You can’t change a man”, “Rumours” and lots more. Before her death, the songstress was the first female president of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN). Among her several awards and accolades is the informal anthem, “Akwa-Ibom Mmi” which she sang for her state of origin, Akwa Ibom.
Born in Cape Town, Brenda Fassie was the South African “Queen of Pop”. Widely depicted as the “Madonna of Townships”, Brenda was an expressive singer, and her songs portrayed her disdain for apartheid. Brenda had a successful career in Africa and was also popular in different parts of the world. Most of her albums went platinum, adding her to the list of the most successful singers in the history of Africa. Some of her popular songs include “Vulindlela”, “Too Late For Mama” and “I’m so sorry”. Sadly, Brenda passed away at the age of 39.
African music of the old will not be complete without the mention of these great women, who arguably, were pioneers of many African music genres. They provided Africans beautiful tunes to dance to as well as the younger generation of music divas a platform to build on.
To listen to All music by these Legends and more, download Habari and enjoy thousands of great songs by African artistes.