Monday, January 21, 2019

7 African Musicians and Bands You Need to Know

What is the message that is given to students when a Social Studies course on World Geography has textbooks for Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and North America but not for Africa or Latin America?  That was the situation I found myself in when I had to teach that subject at my former school. 
(This post was originally published on February 1, 2016 and has been updated with more links.)

I was able to draw on my Peace Corps Volunteer work in Sierra Leone and create lessons based on my experience there.  But what was a teacher who’d never been to Africa supposed to do?  Nowadays, you can just Google “Africa” and get 3,570,000,000 hits.  But before that?  You were kind of stuck.  Maybe there were some books that weren’t too out-of-date in the library that you could use.

Going Back to My Roots for Black History Month--7 Musicians & Bands from Africa | The ESL Nexus
Pan-African flag -- for more info about its history, click HERE; source: Wikimedia Commons
I’ve always enjoyed listening to music from other countries and when I was in Sierra Leone — way before Ebola and long before the civil war — I got tape cassettes made of my favorite music.  So one thing I did in my 6th and 7th grade World Geography classes was play music as an activator when students were coming into my classroom.  I also played songs in the background when they were working on class assignments during our Africa unit.  Even though the kids didn’t particularly like the music — because it wasn’t what they were used to hearing — I wanted to expose them to it.

Interestingly but ironically, much of the music I heard in Sierra Leone was not actually by Sierra Leonean musicians or bands.  One of the songs I liked was Going Back to My Roots by Odyssey, which I found out later was an American group.  Music from England, Jamaica, Australia, and the U.S. as well as other African countries was very popular.

The most famous band nowadays from Sierra Leone is Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars, whose most well-known song is Living Like a Refugee.  They have performed in the U.S. and you can watch a video of them playing a few of their songs for NPR here.  In addition, a documentary about how they got together in a refugee camp during the Sierra Leonean civil war in the 1990s is available at Amazon and on Netflix (DVD only, though) which I highly recommend.  The video could even be shown to students if you provide some background information beforehand.  You can find their music on iTunes and Spotify(The Amazon link is an affiliate link, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase but it's at no additional cost to you -- thanks for your support!)

Another Sierra Leonean musician is Sorie Kondi.  Actually, kondi is the name of the instrument he plays -- a thumb piano.  Sorie Kondi is blind and self-taught.  He has toured in the U.S. and you can hear one of his songs here.  You can find more of his music on iTunes and Spotify.  His music is more traditional than Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars.

Going Back to My Roots for Black History Month--7 Musicians & Bands from Africa | The ESL Nexus
African continent carved out of a coconut husk by a Sierra Leonean craftsman; source: The ESL Nexus
Below is a list of 5 other famous African musicians and bands whose music you can play in your own classes during Black History Month or whenever you are teaching about Africa.  All of them have music for sale in the iTunes music store and some are also available on other music streaming sites as well as on YouTube.  Click on their names to go to websites to hear some of their music.  Click on the Spotify links if you'd like to hear more music by these musicians.

Youssou N'Dour, from Senegal: Singing Wake Up (It's Africa Calling), performed with Nenah Cherry as a benefit for a health organization.  Find more of his music on Spotify.

Fela Kuti, from Nigeria: Songs and videos on his official website but some of the content may not be suitable for younger students.  Find more of his music on Spotify.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, from South Africa: Selections of some of their songs on their official website; they are 4-time Grammy award winners.  Find more of their music on Spotify

Sonny Okosun, from Nigeria: Singing Fire in Soweto, a big hit in 1977.  Find more of his music on Spotify.

Johnny Clegg, from South Africa: Song selections on his official website; he was the leader of a multi-racial band in the 1970s and 1980s.  Find more music by him and his band on Spotify.

You can use these artists' music to jump start teaching about Africa in your own classes.  Just play some of the songs and, if you have the time, show some of the videos as well.  The more students learn about what Africa is really like the better, and music is a great way to do that!