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Bless the tunes down in Africa

Around the world in 31 days is an initiative by Activate UTS and in true music spirit, we're bringing you our picks - artists from 31 countries around the world!

Here are 7 African musicians who have some cultural significance or are just people we think you should know.

South Africa: Die Antwoord

“It’s associated with people who soup their cars up and rock gold and shit. Zef is, you’re poor but you’re fancy. You’re poor but you’re sexy, you’ve got style.” Yolandi

The infamous South African duo are…..well, let’s just say they’re hard to forget. Their music represents the Zef counter-culture in South Africa, something that arose post-apartheid as an expression of the distaste white South Africans felt.

Their music is lively, loud and although it contains controversial lyrics and imagery that represents the reality of life in South Africa and the Zef movement, it’s actually really good.

Our events director, Oscar, had this to say about the duo:

“I first found out about male/female duo led by “Ninja”, and “Yolandi” Die Antwoord when I tuned into the 2012 broadcast of Big Day Out on Channel V (rest in peace). I was a fairly innocent 13 years old and could never have prepared for what I was about to witness. Immediately I was entranced by the duos South African slang and ‘Zef’ attitude. To me, they looked like two characters from a futuristic dystopian horror movie, and I loved it. “

If you’ve never heard Die Antwoord’s music before, do yourself a favour and wrap your ears around their South African, ‘Zef’ blend of pulsating hip hop/electronic tunes. You won’t regret it.

Ethiopia: Mahmoud Ahmed

A vigorous lover of music his whole life, Mahmoud was quickly noticed in Ethiopia after he started recording. His performances started at the Arizona club where he filled in for the band that didn’t show and he didn’t stop after that night.

In 1978 when the censorship laws prevented him from selling vinyls, he recorded to cassettes, still recording for other bands such as the Ibex band and Kiafa. International labels noticed these bands and his recordings, leading to tours across Europe and America, introducing the work to Ethiopian music.

His groovy music eventually won him a BBC World Music Award in 2007.

Mali: Toumani Diabate

We think we found our new favourite instrumental music. Toumani Diabate is from a family of Kora players from Mali – 77 generations of family.

His music is so incredibly soothing and the many records he’s created are all very true to his Mali roots and has been featured in various films over the years, even a PS3 game, LittleBigPlanet. He’s taken his music all over the world performing at numerous festivals across the world, sharing his traditional Mali music.

Side note – a kora is a traditional instrument in western Africa and looks like a lute and a harp had a love child.

Algeria: Khaled

Khaled, not to be confused with DJ Khaled, is an Algerian musical mastermind that introduced the western world to raï-a form, a type of Algerian folk music. He’s known to exude happiness while performing and his joy is evident in all his songs.

He eventually started to combine the traditional vocal style with drum machines, synths and other electronic music elements helping him be noticed across the world. He was invited to perform at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and has become one of the highest selling Algerian musicians.

His music now has international acclaim and is sometimes said to be the “embodiment of the spirit of youth, pleasure, and sexual freedom.”

Congo: Konono no 1

What do you think of when you hear the words junkyard and electronic to describe a musical group? Well this is not what we were expecting but we’re living for it!

L’orchestre folklorique T.P. Konono Nº1 de Mingiedi as they’re fully named, keep their African traditions alive in their music by creating instruments out of junk and combining electronic music elements and the result is spectacular. Their album Congotronics got international recognition and helped boost their fame. They’ve performed all over the world and even been nominated for a Grammy!

We highly recommend getting around their music. It’s energetic, fun, makes us feel happy and ready to get up and move. You never know, it could make for a  fun African ISO dance party.

Egypt: Wegz

There isn’t much information about Wegz but WOW has he made an impact in the Egyptian trap scene.

Having held a #3 spot in the charts and staying in the charts for 16 weeks, this emerging Egyptian rapper has created bangers that are well worth the listen.

Uganda: Michael Kiwanuka

While Michael wasn’t born in Uganda, both of his parents were and moved to England, escaping the Amin regime. He struggled somewhat with his ethnicity, especially when he visited his parent’s home and despite his style being largely influenced by western greats, it definitely influenced him. He didn’t identify with the black culture or with the white english culture and found that listening to artists in the same in-between, such as Hendrix and Isaac Hayes were a massive help in him becoming an artist. He also studied subjects in college, writing an essay in which he blurred the lines between “black” and “white” music styles and genres.

In one interview he states “the fact that no black people were coming to my gigs made me realise we’re more segregated than we think. Even in the kinds of music we listen to”.  Despite this, he’s been noticed by MASSIVE artists internationally, supporting Adele, recoding with Kanye.

No matter how much struggle he had with his culture, he kept his Ugandan surname for his professional work as a musician and he has all of our respect for that.