Neglected in favor of the big game and wild landscapes of East and Southern Africa, West Africa sits largely untouched. Most travelers will never meet the friendly people of Ghana or hear the mind altering melodies of Mali’s Wassoulou music. I am on a crusade to change this. My sales pitch comes in the form of 10 jaw-dropping videos and songs. Listen to the soulful melodies and explosive polyrhythms of an overlooked region. If these tunes don’t convince you to visit, I don’t know what will.
Amadou et Mariam (Mali) – “M’bifé”
This blind husband and wife couple from Mali produce some of the most gorgeous music on the planet. This song and accompanying images will hypnotize you.
Fela Kuti (Nigeria) – “Don’t Gag me”
Fela Kuti was the father of Afrobeat, a polyrhythmic, funky adaptation of highlife music from Ghana. This video is shot and narrated by Ginger Baker, the drummer from Cream who happened to collaborate with Fela in the 70’s. Screaming saxophones, pouring rain, off the hook dancing – this is raw.
Nana Boroo (Ghana) – “Ahayede”
While the song and video production are clearly influenced by aspects of Western hip-hop and rap culture, the music is decidedly African. This song combines elements of hiplife from Ghana with coupe-de-cale music from Cote D’Ivoire. Listen closely and you will hear lyrics in French, English, and Twi, the language of the Ashanti people in Ghana.
Tiken Jah Facoly (Cote D’Ivoire) – “Ouvrez les Frontières”
Reggae was born in Jamaica, but it’s roots are African. It is a genre that continues to make trips back and forth across the atlantic. Tiken Jah, produces some of the most politically charged music on the continent. A pan-Africanist, Tiken Jah sings about opening up foreign borders in this song.
Sir Victor Uwaifo (Nigeria) – “Ekassa 26”
Overshadowed by Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade, Sir Victor Uwaifo is not well known outside of Nigeria. Listen to this track and you’ll understand why this is a shame. If this song does not have you smiling, you may need medication.
Baaba Maal (Senegal) – “Allah Addu Jam”
Not much by way of imagery in this video, but the song itself is unreal. I dare you to listen to the whole thing. You will be rewarded with a drop of the beat and backing chorus that will send chills down your spine.
Ali Farka Toure (RIP) and Boubacar “KarKar” Traore (Mali) – “Diarabi”
Ali Farka was well known to prefer natural acoustic environments. This song and video will blow you away.
Wulomei (Ghana) – “Meridian”
Ghanaian highlife meets the more traditional music of the coastal Ga people. Elastic guitar, warm polyrhythms, and choral vocals. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a fishing village on the beach in Ghana.
Oumou Sangare (Mali) “Yala”
Oumou Sangare is a songstress from Wassoulou, an area south of Bamako. This is the region of traditional Malian hunter’s music. In the video, amazing photos of post-independence Mali taken by famous Malian photographer Malick Sidibe, and of course, Oumou Sangare’s soaring vocals.
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars
his one is not a song, but it does have a lot of music in it. It is the trailer for a documentary about the Refugee All Stars, a group of musicians that formed in refugee camps in Guinea during Sierra Leone’s Civil War. Their story and music are incredible.
You can support many of these artists on Itunes, Amazon, or MondoMix, a world music site. You can also travel to West Africa and really get to know this music, along with some of the friendliest people on earth. Ultimately, this is what I hope you’ll do.
Feel free to share any of your favorite music from West Africa or Africa in general in the comments below!