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Africa isn’t just about stunning safaris and delicious spices (although those are pretty awesome too!). Africa has been a source of inspiration for songwriters and singers throughout history. Its rich history and vibrant cultures have fueled countless anthems across genres. From the beating heart of the Sahara to the lush jungles of the Congo, African themes are woven into the lyrics of countless songs, covering subjects ranging from celebratory to political and everything in between.

People worldwide can relate to the narratives and social problems in Africa through music. The continent is full of culture and stories, which artists use to create their work. Whether you’re seeking inspiration or simply want to appreciate what Africa has to offer, these songs provide a window into the soul of the continent.

Many international stars, from Bod Dylan to Bob Marley, have turned their attention to Africa, taking it upon themselves to write and sing about the continent in one way or another.

Here are our 10 best songs about Africa by non-African musicians, that pay homage to the continent’s beauty, resilience, and power. These tracks showcase the vast influence of African music on various genres, spanning reggae, post-punk, pop-rock, and R&B.

 


10. “Mozambique” by Bob Dylan (1976)

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In 1976, when Bob Dylan’s “Mozambique” hit the airwaves, the country was fresh out of a decade-long war for independence from Portugal. Mozambique had just declared freedom on June 25, 1975, a mere month before recording began. While some fans hoped the song would celebrate the newly independent nation, it surprised them with a different approach. “Mozambique” appeared on Bob Dylan’s album “Desire”, a critically acclaimed work known for its collaborative spirit and loose, playful energy. This contrasted with his previous, more introspective albums, making “Mozambique” all the more unexpected.

 


9. “Marrakesh Express by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1969)

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A psychedelic folk-rock song by Graham Nash, “Marrakesh Express” became a hit for Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN). Rejected by The Hollies for lacking commercial appeal, the song found its home on CSN’s debut album.

Inspired by Nash’s Moroccan trip, the lyrics depict a train journey, contrasting the first-class boredom with the vibrant energy of lower-class passengers. The song’s Eastern influences and Stephen Stills’ unique guitar work contribute to its “buoyant” feel, mirroring the train ride itself.

Released in 1969, “Marrakesh Express” reached the Top 30 in the US and UK, establishing CSN’s early success. The song was notably performed at the legendary 1969′ Woodstock Festival, cementing its place in music history.

 


8. “Africa” by Toto (1982)

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Toto’s “Africa” is a song from their 1982 album “Toto IV.” Praised for its composition and gentle production, the song garnered critical acclaim, even earning a spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs list.

Its accompanying music video, directed by Steve Barron, showcases African culture. While popular in the ’80s and ’90s, it enjoyed a resurgence in the mid-2010s, spurred by internet memes. Originally inspired by a documentary, the song’s lyrics depict a love for Africa, crafted by David Paich in just ten minutes.

 


7. “Where You Gonna Go (Soweto)” by The Clash (1979)

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Based in Soweto, a township in South Africa, frontman Joe Strummer describes a series of trials in which doctors attempt to cure the sick, though nothing seems to work. The lyrics ponder the question of where one will go when faced with societal challenges and injustices, with Soweto representing a symbol of struggle.

“Where You Gonna Go (Soweto)” was Never officially released to the public in anything but its demo version. Recorded at Vanilla Studios the idea of it being on their iconic 1979 LP “London Calling” was rejected and it would ultimately never be a part of any singles or albums of The Clash’s.


6. “African Reggaeby Nina Hagen (1980)

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Nina Hagen’s sophomore album, “Unbehagen”, spawned the infectious single “African Reggae.” This multifaceted song weaves together social critique, drug references, and a deep appreciation for Black culture. It challenges societal hypocrisy while expressing a yearning to embrace reggae’s roots and fight for change.

Hagen’s lyrics hint at a desire to connect with Rastafari culture and Bob Marley’s influence, mentioning a desire to “go to Africa.” The line “I will do things like my black friends do it” suggests a longing to adopt the values and lifestyle associated with reggae and Rastafarianism.

“African Reggae” became a commercial success, propelling Unbehagen to gold certification in Germany (over 250,000 copies sold) in 1981.

 


5. “Under African Skies” by Paul Simon (1986)

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“Under African Skies” from Paul Simon’s 1986 album “Graceland” is a worldbeat gem featuring Linda Ronstadt’s vocals. Born from later recording sessions, the song incorporates South African musicians Paul Simon brought to New York. He paid them generously and offered songwriting credits, a move criticized for cultural appropriation at the time.

Despite the controversy, the song’s infectious rhythms and lyrics celebrating human connection under African skies became a global hit.

 


4. “Africa Unite” by Bob Marley (1979)

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Released in 1979 on the politically charged “Survival” album, Bob Marley’s “Africa Unite” transcends catchy reggae rhythms with a powerful message of Pan-African solidarity. A continent grappling with post-colonial struggles and ongoing oppression, Africa craved unity according to Bob Marley.

The song criticizes manipulation by external forces and urges Africans to “forget the division” and fight for their rights. “Africa Unite” became an anthem for liberation movements, inspiring Africans and people of African descent worldwide to embrace their heritage and fight for a stronger, unified future.

 


3. “Radio Ethiopia” by Patti Smith (1976)

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“Radio Ethiopia” isn’t directly about Ethiopia but draws inspiration from its rich cultural heritage and revolutionary spirit. Released in 1976, the song’s spoken-word verses and driving rock energy create a sense of urgency.

Patti Smith references figures like poet Arthur Rimbaud and historical events like the Adwa Victory (Ethiopia’s defeat of Italy in 1896), weaving them into a powerful call for freedom and artistic expression.

 


2. “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” by Kanye West (2005)

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“Diamonds from Sierra Leone” isn’t just a rap anthem. Originally about Roc-A-Fella Records, the song morphed into a social commentary after Kanye West learned about blood diamonds. West samples Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever” but uses it to connect his wealth to the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone fueled by the diamond trade.

The song grapples with guilt and responsibility, questioning the cost of his success while still boasting about his talent and demanding recognition. This complexity made “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” a critical and commercial hit, winning a Grammy and sparking conversations about consumerism and conflict.

 


1. “Biko” by Peter Gabriel (1980)

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“Biko” is a powerful anti-apartheid anthem lamenting the death of activist Steve Biko. Inspired by news reports, Peter Gabriel infused the song with African rhythms and lyrics in Xhosa. Criticizing the violence of apartheid, “Biko” became a global hit and a symbol of resistance, banned in South Africa but inspiring artists like those behind “Sun City.” It remains a landmark song for human rights and Peter Gabriel’s career.

 


Honorable Mention

Tracy Chapman – Freedom Now

 

Soon must come the day/ When the righteous have their way/ Unjustly tried are free/And people live in peace I say/ Give the man release/ Go on and set your conscience free/ Right the wrongs you made/ Even a fool can have his day”.

Tracy Chapman’s “Freedom Now,” released in 1989, is a powerful anthem demanding liberation and justice. The song paints a vivid picture of oppression’s darkness and the deep yearning for change. Through lyrics that speak of “chains that bind us” and “darkness all around us,” Tracy Chapman evokes a powerful sense of struggle.

The chorus explodes into a rallying cry, chanting “Freedom Now!” This demand transcends personal liberty, urging for a world where justice prevails and “people live in peace.” “Freedom Now” also highlights the unwavering spirit in the fight for justice, acknowledging that new generations are “born every day” to challenge the status quo.

Notably, Tracy Chapman performed the song in tribute to Nelson Mandela at his 70th birthday concert, further solidifying its connection to the fight for freedom.

 

FAQS

Which Other International Artists Have Been Influenced by African Music?

Vampire Weekend: the American indie rock band, is celebrated for their fusion of African rhythms and melodies into their music, showcased prominently in albums like “Vampire Weekend” and “Contra.” Hits like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Horchata” exemplify their distinctive sound, blending indie rock with elements of Afrobeat and world music.

Talking Heads, led by David Byrne, was an American rock band that embraced African influences in their music. Known for their eclectic sound and innovative approach, Talking Heads incorporated elements of Afrobeat, funk, and world music into their compositions. Tracks like “Once in a Lifetime” and “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” showcase their fusion of African rhythms with new wave and punk sensibilities, contributing to their distinctive and influential sound.

TV on the Radio, a Brooklyn-based band, infuses their indie rock sound with elements of African music, creating a unique sonic landscape. Their eclectic style incorporates rhythmic patterns, vocal harmonies, and instrumentation reminiscent of traditional African music, alongside contemporary rock sensibilities. Songs like “Wolf Like Me” and “Golden Age” showcase their ability to seamlessly blend these influences, resulting in a dynamic and captivating listening experience that sets them apart in the indie music scene.

 

What is Afrobeat?

Afrobeat, born in 1970s Nigeria under the guidance of the iconic Fela Kuti, melds traditional African music with jazz, funk, and soul. Recognized for its mesmerizing rhythms and elaborate drumming, it spotlights social and political commentary, condemning corruption and injustice.

In the context of the latest music trends, Afrobeat continues to influence artists worldwide, inspiring songs that celebrate its fusion of culture and activism. The genre’s hallmark includes intricate polyrhythms and call-and-response vocals, creating a dynamic and engaging musical experience.

 



 

Is just a guy who got tired of bothering his friends talking about music, and decided to create a blog to write about what he loves the most.
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