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12 Kinds of Music Popularly Played in Africa

12 Kinds of Music Popularly Played in Africa.

It’s easy to see what genres of music people are interested in most due to the increase in streaming and digital downloads.

The streaming service allows us to get an idea of what African people listen to most. The most popular genres are easy to guess.

Here’s a breakdown of the top African music genres. Although Africans still explore music using old-school methods like radio, it is clear that there has been an explosion of new styles worldwide.

1. Afrobeat 

One of the newest types of music on the market, Afrobeat is a combination of multiple styles that originated more than 50 years ago with Nigerian singer Fela Kuti.

It’s become the most popular genre of music in Africa, especially in Nigeria.

In the 1960s, Fela discovered Afrobeat and pushed the envelope, which helped to make the musical genre more popular worldwide.

Western music combines West African musical tradition with classic Fuji, highlife, American jazz, funk, rhythms, and soul.

Afrobeat Instruments

The instruments used in afrobeat music are congas, bass guitar, drums, horns, keyboard, guitar, and percussion.

Origin: the cultural beginning of Afrobeat is in Ghana and Nigeria in the 1960s.

African Popular Afrobeat Artists

The famous African Afrobeat artists include;

  • Fela Kuti
  • Wizkid
  • Davido
  • Tony Allen
  • Femi Kuti
  • Manu Dibango
  • Buna Boy, and
  • The Daktaris, among others.

2. Gospel

Gospel is a genre of music most often associated with Christians and the African American church. It’s deeply rooted in the rich traditions of these groups.

Southern US churches introduced different styles of music like hymns, spirituals, and sacred songs in the late 1800s.

It usually demands dominant vocals and vital harmony, which dates back to the 17th century.

Ghana and Nigeria have the best gospel music capability in Africa.

This type of genre assisted in the easy escape from slavery to freedom, which helped provide an outlet for worshiping.

Gospel music is another type that can vary in creative and artistic expression depending on the time and culture.

The gospel genre of music has no limiting definition and includes a wide range of musical styles. Whether for entertainment, lifestyle, or ceremonial purposes, musicians should take the gospel genre seriously in today’s society.

Origin: Gospel music started in the early 17th century Southern United States

Forms of gospel

Gospel music took form from rock and roll, soul, country, rhythm, and blues

Famous Gospel Artists in Africa

Famous African artists in the gospel music genre include;

  • Benjamin Dube 
  • Frank Edwards
  • Mercy Chinwo
  • Prosper Germoh
  • Joe Mettle
  • Victoria Orenze 
  • Deborah Lukalu 
  • Winnie Mashaba
  • Rebecca Malope
  • Osinachi Kalu Okoro Egbu (Sinach)

3. Highlife 

The highlife style of music first started in British West Africa, known today as Ghana, and afterward, it spread to western Nigeria.

It’s been popular in English-speaking countries of West Africa since the 1950s, as seen by looking at countries such as Ghana and Nigeria.

Highlife music was developed in colonial Africa and is a genre that gained its name after Ghana’s aristocracy, mostly played at rated clubs.

It is distinguishable by jazzy horns with multiple guitars that lead the band though it recently acquired an uptempo, synth-driven sound. 

Igbo highlife is a music style from Nigeria, specifically the Igbo people. Many traditional aspects of Igbo music combine imported highlife-inspired ideas from artists in Ghana to create an entirely different genre.

Popular African Highlife Artists

African most famous highlife artists include;

  • Fela Kuti
  • Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe
  • Baba Ken Okulolo
  • Prince Nico Mbarga
  • Oliver De Coque
  • Rex Lawson, etc. 

4. Mbalax 

Senegal, including the Gambia and Senegalese diaspora, has rich traditional music called Mbalax. It’s a fusion of sabar, the griot praise songs of West Africa, and infused with modern Western elements.

West African music is renowned for containing influences from jazz, funk, soul, and traditional Senegalese vocals. Combining these styles creates a distinctive sound with a wide range of effects.

Mbalax is a style of music that originated in Senegal and has been around since the 1970s. The traditional form of this genre was mainly drum-oriented and played during social gatherings.

Youssou N’Dour’s super musical group was the frontier of the Mbalax genre of music, utilizing Tama drumming and sabar polyrhythm. 

Mbalax Top Artists in Africa

The mbalax music style features top artists in Africa, including;

  • Ismael Lo
  • Youssou N’Dour
  • Lemzo Diamono
  • Viviane N’Dour
  • Omar Pene
  • Etoile de Dakar, etc. 

Instruments for Mbalax music

Instruments for creating Mbalax music include sabar, talking drum, balafon, and xalam. 

5. Amapiano 

Amapiano, originating from Johannesburg, became popular in South Africa in 2012, combining deep house, lounge music, and jazz.

The genre has a distinct sound that includes airy pads, synthesizers, and broad percussive basslines.

Amapiano music style is unique with its Kwaito basslines, high-pitched piano melodies, percussions from Bacardi, and low-tempo rhythms.  

Breakthrough of Amapiano

The Amapiano genre experienced popularity around the African continent in 2019 as there was an increase in digital streams from countries beyond South Africa. 

Instruments for Amapiano Music: Amapiano music mainly relies on drums, piano, and synthesizer. 

African Famous Amapiano Musicians

Amapiano music has graced renowned African artists like; 

  • Amos
  • Dj Maphorisa
  • Mr. JazziQ
  • Focalistic
  • Sha Sha
  • Kabza De Small, etc. 

6. Afrobeats

Afrobeats, known as Afrofusion or Afropop, is a different music genre that came to the limelight between the 2000s and 2010s.

The Afrobeats first developed in Nigeria before gaining popularity in UK and Ghana in the latter years. 

It’s not just a genre like hiplife, hip hop, R&B, Soca, dancehall, or juju music anymore: they’re now touching other genres like British house music and palm wine music.

For a while, the purpose of Afrobeats’ creation was to make music accessible. Since then, it’s grown into a category of its thanks to the wide range of different sounds.

Afrobeats is known for its most used drum beat rhythms and instrumental, while Afrobeat has a special recognition for its complex jazzy, big bands and instrumental solos.

Difference between Afrobeat and Afrobeats

The music style in these two genres may seem similar, but their sounds are pretty distinctive.

Afrobeat, developed in the 1960s, takes influence from Fuji and highlife, coined by Fela Kuti, and is mixed with American jazz while Afrobeats pioneered in the 2000s.

While Afrobeat is a clearly defined genre, Afrobeats is more like contemporary pop music and takes influence from R&B, hip hop, ndombolo, highlife, soca, etc.  

African Top Afrobeats Musicians

Some of the top African Afrobeats musicians include;

  • Burna Boy
  • Emman Owoniyi
  • Buju
  • Wizkid
  • Diamond Platnumz
  • Davido, etc. 

7. Fuji

Fuji is a famous Nigerian musical style that rose from the wéré music, indigenous Yoruba music used to stir Islams to pray during Ramadan.

Alhaji Ayinde Sikiru Barrister pioneered Fuji music in the 1950s when the music conceived its style Fuji.  

Fuji, the philosophical and meditative music, gained a reputable fan base not just in western Nigeria but across Europe, Africa, and North America. 

Fuji has that gained global popularity with its style of music. They often incorporate the Sakara drum and the violin, which give an overall solemn sound you wouldn’t hear from many other musical instruments.

Categorization of Fuji music

The Fuji music genre combines highlife, juju, gudugudu, Aro, Apala, and Afrobeat.  

Top African Artists in Fuji Music

The fuji music type currently charts with African artists like;

  • Ejire Shadua
  • Wasiu Ajani
  • King Dr. Saheed Osupa
  • Sule Adio
  • Oyama Azeez
  • Karube Aloma, etc.  

8. Assiko

Assiko is a popular music style from the South of Cameroon. It means ground or earth and comes from the word “Koo,” which, in this case, means foot.

The basis of assiko, as initiated by LEDs Jean Bikoko Aladin, is to feature a singer accompanied by a guitar.

This music style usually has a percussionist playing the pulsating rhythm with metal forks and knives on an empty bottle.  

Instruments for creating Assiko music style

When creating Assiko music, instruments like metal forks and knives, improvised percussion, empty bottle, guitar, drums, double bass, and brass accompany the singer.

African Artists with Assiko Prowess include, but are not limited to;

  • Jean Bikoko
  • Samson Chaud Gars
  • Nikon Mbogol
  • Kalyan Edoume (the producer of all-time songs like Une man, Sai Mag, Bolo cellular, and Petit papa.  

9. Bongo Flava  

Bongoflava or Bongo Flava is a music genre in Tanzania, with its derivatives from traditional Tanzanian style and American hip hop.

Bongo Flava is a style of music that started in Tanzania over 20 years ago and has continued to increase in popularity among Tanzanian youth.

Bongo Flava style established itself by mixing African music types such as afrobeats, R&B, reggae, taarab, hip hop, and dance.

Bongo Flava music is no longer on the shores of Tanzania but in Kenya, Uganda, and western markets. 

People who like this genre say it naturally discusses life elements, focusing on struggles and emotional experiences a person goes through.

African Bongo Flava Artists

African artists with a never-ending career in Bongo Flava music include; 

  • Mbosso
  • Zuchu
  • Ali Kiba
  • Diamond Platnumz
  • Rayvanny
  • Awilo Longomba
  • Harmonize, etc.  

10. Apala

Apala music first appeared in the Yoruba area of Nigeria but was influenced by Cuban music.

After centuries of complex, religious music in Nigeria, Apala music grew. It had less complexity and was more popular than its spiritual predecessors.

Haruna Ishola, the pioneer and a notable performer of the Apala style of music, popularized the distinct genre. 

Top Apala Artists in Africa

African top artists in the apala music style are; 

  • Solid Star
  • Terry Apala
  • Afro Nation
  • Haruna Ishola and his group
  • Lijadu sisters
  • Raphael Ajide and Group
  • Adebukonla Ajao, etc. 

Apala Instruments

The instruments for ‘apala’ music include a thumb piano (agidigbo), rattle (sekere), talking drums, and a bell (agogo)

11. Benga

Bangle is a type of music that emerged in Nairobi, Kenya, and took its shape between the 1940s and the 1960s.

The emergence of the Congolese fingerstyle guitar grew in popularity in the 1950s and later on, led by players like Franco Luambo “iluta” Mayambala and Malu Diabate. The sound became popularized through African music, including Cuban music, which was emerging then.

There is a growing trend of Kenyan hit music that seamlessly crosses borders among African countries. One cannot conclude whether it originated in Kenya or elsewhere.

African Top Benga Artists 

African benga artists include; 

  • Sauti Sol
  • Daniel Owino
  • Joseph Kamaru
  • Akothee
  • Lady Wanja
  • Bahati
  • Diary of an Afro Warrior
  • Chapter II, etc. 

Benga Instruments

Instruments for playing benga music include drum kits, electric bass, electric guitars, and traditional Luo instruments.  

12. Kwaito 

Kwaito is a type of music that features African sounds and samples and has its emergence in Soweto, South Africa.  

With the emergence of Kwaito in the 1990s, it deals in deep basslines, melodic samples, vocals, and percussive loops.

Though the Kwaito style of music has vast similarities with hip hop, Kwaito has a unique manner the lyrics are rapped, sung, and shouted. 

Kwaito Musical Instruments 

Using instruments like house music beats and kick drums in a four-on-the-floor signature makes Kwaito music easy to recognize.

Popular African Kwaito Artists

Kwaito music can boast of top African artists like;

  • TKZee
  • Mandoza
  • Trompies
  • Zola
  • Mandla Mofokeng
  • Big Nuz
  • Kay-Bee
  • Boom Shaka
  • Snotkop, etc. 

What type of music is popular in Africa?

Music in Africa has a lot of variety. They have Afrobeat, Rhumba, Benga, Bongo, Kwaito, and Ndombolo.


No matter where you are in Africa, you will find music across cultures and centuries. There has been an evolution from ancient to modern times, with several unique African sounds emerging along the way.

People have diverse opinions on African music, and the many streaming platforms have shown us that. There is a lot of motivation to list different genres in Africa because they aren’t available elsewhere.


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