Women Whose Music Helped Shape The African Music

Women Whose Music Helped Shape The African Music

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Women Whose Music Helped Shape The African Music

Over the years, African music (afrobeats) has made great strides in both sound and recognition; this evolution is often attributed to the greats like Fela. ET Mensah and 2face and more. While they deserve the recognition, there isn’t enough celebration of the female pioneers who have contributed to it; this attitude of levity has trickled down into the industry today, shaping it into one that men largely dominate and has very little regards for women.

Women in the African music industry are often relegated to the position of a second fiddle; they constantly face the battle of having their values and identities redefined to suit the male gaze; the battle of standing up for yourself and being an outcast or kowtowing and never fully being satisfied is one I have watched play out time and time again.

The result of this is that the women who have and are making strides are often overlooked or not given it’s proper due. But we must not forget that there have been exceptional women who have played significant parts in African music’s success. These women who often doubled as activists aren’t ‘just’ singers; they’re champions of truth and change.

In celebration of International Women’s Day #IWD, we’re shining a light on these women whose very existence made a difference to the world around them.

Angelique Kidjo

The four-time Grammy Award winner Angélique Kidjo is one of the greatest artists in international music today, a creative force with thirteen albums to her name. A Beninese-American singer-songwriter, actress, and activist noted for her diverse musical influences, and creative music videos have been dubbed “Africa’s premier diva” by Time magazine. She is the recipient of the prestigious 2015 Crystal Award given by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and the 2016 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award.

Kidjo has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002 and co-founded The Batonga Foundation, which empowers some of the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach young women and girls in Benin. Since March 2009, Kidjo has been campaigning for “Africa for women’s rights” launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

Miriam Makeba 

This South African superstar was named 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 artists 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.

Fatoumata Diawara

Hailed as one of the most vital standard-bearers of modern African music, Fatoumata Diawara has spent years touring the world. Those she has worked with include some of the biggest names in contemporary music. She recorded with Bobby Womack and Herbie Hancock, played the 2013 Glastonbury and other major festivals, and toured with the Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca. She assembled a West African super-group featuring Amadou and Mariam, Oumou Sangaré and Toumani Diabaté to record a song calling for peace in her troubled homeland; and climbed aboard Damon Albarn’s star-studded Africa Express, which culminated in her sharing a stage with Sir Paul McCartney. She has also worked courageously as a social activist, campaigning against the trafficking and sale of black migrants in Libyan slave markets.

Brenda Fassie 

Born in Cape Town, Brenda Fassie was labelled the South African “Queen of Pop”, she was an anti-apartheid Afropop singer, songwriter, dancer and activist.

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 Africa’s history. 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.

Onyeka Onwenu

Onyeka Onwenu began her music career in 1981 with the album “For The Love of You”. Before 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, as well as a Masters degree in Media Studies from The New School for Social Research in New York; has been very vocal about social issues, both in her music and in physical protests, in 2013 she was appointed the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the National Centre for Women Development in Nigeria. The music legend, who is also 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.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Yvonne is an internationally recognised South African singer, songwriter, actress, entrepreneur, humanitarian and teacher. Dubbed the “Princess of Africa”, Chaka Chaka has been at the forefront of South African popular music for 27 years and has been popular in all of Africa. She started singing at the age of 19 and became the first black child singer to appear on South Africa television. The 55-year old has numerous hits to her credit, including “Umqombothi”, “Motherland”, “Sangoma”, and more.

Chaka Chaka is a champion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and malaria, the United Nations MDG Envoy for Africa, and the Goodwill Ambassador for the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. She was chosen by Nelson Mandela as the first ambassador for his children’s fund and has also established her own charity, the Princess of Africa Foundation. To 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.

Salawa Abeni

Crowned the “Queen of Waka music” by the Alaafin 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 include “Gentle Lady”, “This is waka music”, and lots more.

Sasha P

Known as the First Lady of Nigerian Hip Hop, Sasha, who is also a lawyer and motivation speaker, is one of the first female contemporary Hip hop artists in Nigeria; her success helped pave the way for other female rappers and musicians in Nigerian hip hop. Sasha has remained one of the most prominent female artists in Nigeria since 2001, especially after the successful release of her debut album First Lady under her record label STORM. She has been nominated for various awards in Nigeria and abroad. She won the 2009 “Best Female Artist” award in the UK at the Women in Entertainment Awards for her first single titled “Adara”. She has consistently used her voice for activism, with campaigns for ending violence against women, “save a street child’ to help battle homelessness and “Maternal Mortality”, which aims to educate and help cater to the needs of young mothers who seek adequate medical care. In 2012, Sasha P was the Olympic torchbearer for Nigeria.


Asa is a Nigerian – French singer, songwriter whose smoky voice combines elements of soul, pop, folk, and reggae, amongst other influences, in her warm neo-soul songs. She came when many weren’t used to her style of music; it has been argued that she may have been the first in the alté movement, although there was no name for it then.

Her debut album Asha had the popular song ‘Fire on the mountain’ and ‘Jailer’, which swept the airwaves and saw her topping charts across Europe, Asia and Africa. She went on to win several awards, including the prestigious French Constantine Awards. In 2011, she was also nominated for “Female Artist of the Year” at the French Music Awards. Her single ‘360’ was used as a soundtrack in the movie ‘Alfie’ by British actor Jude Law. Asa still is one of the most revered artists in Africa.

Evi Edna Ogholi

Evi is a Nigerian female reggae musician popular for her song “Happy Birthday” and one of the country’s Reggae music pioneers. Ogholi earned recognition as Queen of Nigeria reggae from Majek Fashek; it later became synonymous with her acts. She was later dubbed as Africa’s Queen Of Reggae by her fans in west Africa after releasing her first album, “My Kind of Music”, and two other albums that went Platinum.=

Her music was mainly sung in her native language, Isoko; however, it was loved across different African countries. Besides “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.

Lastly, stay up to date with all you need to know about African music at SOA, right here.