Africa has a rich history of producing talented musicians who have left an indelible mark on the music industry.
Sadly, many of these music legends are no longer with us, leaving a void that can never be filled.
Despite their passing, these music legends continue to be celebrated and remembered for their giant contribution to African music and culture.
Their music has not only inspired countless musicians across Africa but also shaped the global music industry.
In this article, we will reflect on the lives and legacies of five music legends, their impact on African music, and how they continue to inspire generations of musicians even after their death.
- FELA KUTI (October 15, 1938 – August 2, 1997)
When you think about Afrobeats, the first name that comes to your mind is Fela Kuti. He pioneered the genre, Afrobeats, and today the genre is spreading like wildfire all over the world.
Fela Kuti was the son of a famous Nigerian activist and clergyman and was educated in Nigeria and England.
He began his music career in the 1960s and formed his band, Koola Lobitos, which later became known as Africa ’70.
Fela was a Nigerian musician who used his voice to tear the flesh of corrupt politicians. That is why he was regarded as a political activist.
He was arrested several times and his compound, known as the Kalakuta Republic, was raided and destroyed by the Nigerian military in 1977.
Fela Kuti was severely beaten during the raid, which led to the death of his mother. These experiences inspired some of his most powerful and politically charged music, including the album “Zombie.”
Fela Kuti continued to produce music and speak out against political corruption and oppression throughout the 1980s and 1990s, despite ongoing harassment from the Nigerian government.
He died of complications from AIDS in 1997, leaving behind a legacy as one of the most influential and controversial musicians in African history.
His music continues to inspire generations and his activism has had a lasting impact on the fight for social justice and human rights in Nigeria and beyond.
His children have since stepped into his shoes speaking the truth about the ill situation in Nigeria.
- BRENDA FASSIE (November 3, 1964 – May 9, 2004)
Brenda Fassie was a South African singer and songwriter, and was regarded as the “Queen of African Pop.” She was born in Langa, South Africa, and passed away in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Fassie started singing at a young age and got recognition in the 1980s with her hit song “Weekend Special.”
She became one of the most sought-after South African musicians of her time, known for her powerful voice and energetic performances.
Her music blended elements of pop, disco, and traditional African rhythms, and she often sang in multiple languages, including English, Zulu, and Xhosa.
She was also known for always voicing out about social and political issues in South Africa, including apartheid and HIV/AIDS awareness.
Despite her success, Fassie was known for her controversial personal life, including battles with drug addiction and run-ins with the law.
In 2004, Fassie suffered a cardiac arrest and was in a coma for two weeks before passing away at the age of 39.
Her death was mourned across South Africa and beyond, and she is remembered as one of the most talented and powerful musicians in the country’s history.
- LUCKY DUBE (August 3, 1964 – October 18, 2007)
Lucky Dube was a South African reggae artiste and songwriter who was known for his socially conscious songs and meaningful lyrics.
Dube began his music career in the 1980s, blending elements of reggae, soul, and traditional African music.
He released his debut album in 1984, and his music quickly gained acceptance across Africa and beyond.
Dube’s music often addressed social and political issues in South Africa, including apartheid, poverty, and violence.
He was known for his powerful and emotional performances, and his music became a soundtrack for the fight against injustice and oppression in South Africa.
Throughout his career, Dube released more than 22 albums and won numerous awards for his music. He is also regarded as the biggest-selling reggae artist to date in Africa.
He was also involved in activism, using his music to promote social change and justice in South Africa and beyond.
Dube’s time on earth was cut short when he was tragically killed in 2007 during an attempted carjacking in Johannesburg.
His songs are still on the lips of Africans and beyond. Many still compare him to the great Bob Marley.
- SUNNY OKOSUN (September 1, 1947 – May 24, 2008)
Sunny Okosun was a Nigerian musician whose music career took off in the 1960s and formed a band called “The Postmen,” which later became “Ozziddi.”
His music was a combination of traditional Nigerian rhythms and Western influences such as funk, reggae, soul, and rock.
He released numerous albums during his singing career, including “Which Way Nigeria,” which was a call to action for Nigerians to fight against corruption and political oppression.
Okosun was also involved in activism, using his music to advocate for social justice, human rights, and environmental issues.
He was a vocal critic of the Nigerian government, and his music often addressed political corruption and human rights abuses in the country.
Okosun was also a key figure in the anti-apartheid movement and performed at the historic 1985 “Sun City” concert in South Africa, which raised awareness of apartheid and raised funds for the movement.
The “Sun City” concert also featured performances by many international musicians in the world.
Despite suffering from health problems in his later years, Okosun continued to perform and advocate for social justice.
He passed away in 2008 while undergoing treatment in the United States.
His music and activism continue to inspire musicians and activists in Nigeria and beyond, and he is remembered as one of the most important and influential figures in Nigerian music history.
- PAPA WEMBA (June 14, 1949 – April 24, 2016)
Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba popularly known as Papa Wemba was a Congolese musician and singer.
Papa Wemba’s music career started in the 1960s, and he was known for his exceptional style of Congolese rumba and soukous music.
He was a member of several prominent Congolese bands, including Zaiko Langa Langa and Viva La Musica.
He became a pioneer of the “world music” movement, blending African rhythms and melodies with Western influences such as rock, jazz, and funk.
Papa Wemba released several albums and collaborated with many other musicians, including Stevie Wonder.
He was a style icon in Congo and beyond, and his influence on African fashion is still felt today. His clothing line, Viva La Musica is a testament to his love for fashion and lifestyle.
Papa Wemba was also involved in activism, using his music to promote social justice and human rights in Congo and beyond.
Throughout his career, he criticized the government and the corruption that plagued the country. In 2004, he was arrested in France for his involvement in an illegal immigration ring, which he said was an attempt to raise awareness of the plight of African immigrants in Europe.