Before there were hip-hop movement’s sprouting in the suburbs of Dakar, Senegal or charities launched by Nigerian rap stars, there were African musicians whose songs told stories of a different Africa.
From the 1960s into the early 1990s, it was Fela Kuti who called music ‘a weapon’ and Nigeria‘s military a troop of ‘zombies’ as he encouraged the country’s people to speak out against their corrupt government. Within the same time period, Miriam Makeba and Salif Keita used their platforms to bring awareness to cultural injustices in South Africa and Mali, respectively. They addressed issues plaguing the continent, and the impact of their lyrics can still be heard and felt today. As they continue to inspire younger musicians to use their platform for greater good, we look back at how some of Africa’s most socially conscious artists have positively impacted the continent and the world:
Fela Anikulapo Ransom Kuti is arguably Africa’s most globally recognized musician. Kuti was the self-named “black president” and creator of Afrobeat music. He believed in using music as a weapon, producing politically charged songs like “Zombie”—a compilation of controversial lyrics addressing corruption in Nigeria’s government laid over attractive saxophone and drum arrangements. His wild personal life, fleet of wives and privately owned village, named the Kalakuta republic, made him a legend. Unfortunately, this same lifestyle led to his death from AIDS in 1997. In the years following his untimely passing, Kuti’s music and activism continue to influence the continent’s socially conscious artists.