Cesária Évora singing Sodade

Cesária was a Cape Verdean singer. Nicknamed the “Barefoot Diva” for performing without shoes. She helped bring the amazing musical legacy of her homeland to the world’s attention. ‘Sodade’ means longing, longing for this land of mine.


Yvonne Chaka Chaka singing Umqombothi

Yvonne Chaka Chaka is a South African musician, whose music was the fabric of our youth. Growing up we danced to Umqombothi and thanked Mr DJ and Burnt up. Remove Chaka Chaka from our childhood and the landscape is irredeemably altered. Umqombothi is a Xhosa beer. The song reminds us of the gathering of people, of community and the joy to be found in the gathering.


Angélique Kidjo singing Wombo Lombo

Angélique Kidjo is a Beninese mega diva and a slightly latter in time performer than the others in this list. We danced to her music in secondary school. Her powerful vocals are the envy of many a singer. The Yoruba influences in her songs remind us how pervasive the Yoruba culture is.

Onyeka Onwenu singing Bia nulu

Onyeka Onwenu is a Nigerian diva. She is also a politician, actress and journalist. One of her highest profile film appearances was her turn as Mama in Half of A Yellow SunThere are two lines in the song that can be translated thus:

‘There is not a time when man’s strength, will surpass God’s strength,

There is not a time when Satan’s strength, will surpass God’s strength’


Miriam Makeba singing Malaika (Malaika is one of my favourite love songs)

Zenzile Miriam Makeba was a South African musician and anti-apartheid campiagner. In 1963, after she testified against apartheid before the United Nations, her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked. She returned home on 10 June 1990, on her French passport, after 27 years in exile. Malaika is a Swahili love song. The song is sung by a poor young man who wishes to marry his beloved ″Angel″ or ″Little bird″ but is defeated by the bride price. It is of course open to other meanings.


Letta Mbulu singing Many Rains Ago

Letta Mbulu is a South African singer who went to live in the US in the 1960s.  Quincy Jones has said of her: “Mbulu is the roots lady, projecting a sophistication and warmth which stirs hope for attaining pure love, beauty, and unity in the world.” Many Rains Ago produced by Quincy Jones is part of the soundtrack to Roots. It is sung in Yoruba and English and contains the lines

‘Sacred, Baobab tree, lost your children to the sea

Taken from the land, many rains ago’

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African woman, lawyer, teacher, poet and researcher. Singer of songs, writer of words, very occasional dancer of dances. I seek new ways of interpreting the African experience within our consciousness to challenge static ideology.

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