This playlist features a wide range of African artists, including songwriters and musicians from Kenya, Tanzania, the Ivory coast, and many more African countries. Many hits like Miriam Makeba’s ‘Pata Pata’ experienced massive success in the states, standing for unity, peace, and joy during divisive and uncertain times.
From love songs to dance numbers and pop to traditional music, check out the best African songs below.
Jerusalema – Master KG
A gospel song at heart, Master KG’s ‘Jerusalema’ focuses on his relationship with the Lord, citing it as his refuge. Recorded in the Zulu language, the South African artist’s lyrics such as “Jerusalema ikhaya lami” translate to “Jerusalem is my home.”
Related: Check out our list of the top gospel songs.
Pookie – Aya Nakamura
Singer Aya Nakamura was born in Mali to a family known for their story-telling abilities. When they moved to France, she began pursuing a career in music. Her cheeky single, ‘Pookie,’ boasts a title short for “poukave,” which means “snitch” in French. As she talks about conducting business with her crew, she sings about keeping the “pookie” out of earshot.
On the Low – Burna Boy
Hailing from Nigeria, the singer-songwriter signed to US label Atlantic Records in 2012. He’s released several hits, and his album African Giant, which ‘On the Low’ is featured on, won Album of the Year at the All Africa Music Awards. The single is one of Burna Boy’s slower tracks, blending Afrofusion with hints of Jamaican music as he sings about a romance on his mind.
Fall – Davido
Nigerian artist Davido garnered praise from rap greats like Busta Rhymes after his release of ‘Fall.’ Due to the single’s popularity, the musician became the first African artist in America to be certified gold. While American audiences helped it become one of the most searched songs on Shazam, the hit also reached chart history by becoming the longest-charting track ever on Billboard for the Nigerian pop category.
Mad Over You – Runtown
Featuring a swinging rhythm, Nigerian vocalist Runtown wrote ‘Mad Over You’ during a recording session with fellow musicians. Despite stress from a dispute with his label, his romantic single came to light during the session, which celebrates the allure and charm of an African woman. Unique instruments like the flute were used to color the single’s instrumental layers.
7 Seconds – Youssou N’Dour ft. Neneh Cherry
Vocalist Youssou N’Dour is one of Africa’s most beloved and enduring artists. He’s been a key figure in African culture for many years regarding key musical movements and dances. He teams up with singer-songwriter Neneh Cherry for ‘7 Seconds,’ a stirring song about the special experience of a child’s first few breaths after birth.
Related: This song features on our playlist of great 90s songs.
Oliver Twist – D’banj
Born in Zaria, Nigeria, rapper and singer D’banj began his professional music career in 2004. His most popular release continues to be the creative track ‘Oliver Twist,’ which infuses with classic literature. For the lyrics, he compares his obsession with beautiful women to the classic English novel character, who famously asks for more porridge when he’s done eating.
Related: Listen to the best songs based on books.
Jeraha – Otile Brown
Reaching the top spot on several charts, popular Kenyan artist Otile Brown collaborated once more with Jovial for their popular single ‘Jeraha.’ Translated to “jealousy,” the song deals with a scorned lover dealing with a toxic relationship.
Related: Feeling envious of someone? Listen to our playlist of jealousy songs.
I Miss You – Rayvanny
Tanzanian native Rayvanny brought in singer-songwriter Zuchu to the studio to record their track ‘I Miss You,’ a contemplative single involving a heartbreaking romance. Due to everything the couple’s been through, they aren’t trying to work things out; they are seeking closure from one another.
Related: If you’re missing someone, see our list of songs for lost love.
Pata Pata – Miriam Makeba
One of pop music’s most revolutionary songs and one of Africa’s most recognizable hits, Miriam Makeba’s ‘Pata Pata’ is a historic accomplishment. The happy dance number was first released in the 1950s when Makeba was part of the all-girl group The Skylarks. When Makeba went solo, the single took off in the states and came to be an anti-apartheid symbol for Makeba’s home country of South Africa.
Related: Go back in time with our playlist of popular 50s songs.
Nakupenda – Jay Melody
From a young age, Tanzanian musician Jay Melody worked hard on his musical abilities, signing to Epic Records when he was still just a teen. For his single ‘Nakupenda,’ which translates to “I love you” in English, he takes listeners on a deeply romantic journey as he poetically sings to his lover, reassuring her of his dedication to their relationship.
Mamou (Tu Vois) – Franco Luambo
This early Franco Luambo number describes two accusatory ladies arguing with each other about their infidelities. ‘Mamou (Tu Vois)’ features Congalese artist Madilu System. The popular track helped Madilu reach wider audiences. The “tu vois” in the song’s title translates to “you see.”
1er Gaou – Magic System
This breakthrough hit song for Magic System took a few years to catch on, but it ultimately became a popular track when indie circles in France discovered it. ‘1er Gaou’ translates to “First Fool” and is written in slang terminology of the Ivory Coast’s native West African language.
Kwikwi – Zuchu
“Love is a war.” Zuchu’s single ‘Kwikwi’ translates to “sobbing.” The singer takes the listener on one wild ride with the passionate track, which plays like a conversation with her significant other, who she’s trying to figure out. As she wonders if he’ll stay true to her no matter what, she reminds him, “Again, remember the promises, the ones you told me.”
Todii – Oliver Mtukudzi
One of Africa’s most celebrated musical figures, Oliver Mtukudzi, released ‘Todii’ on his Tuku Music album. The song was written to bring awareness about the hardships Africans faced due to the AIDS epidemic. The heartfelt, mournful track resonated with UNICEF, who worked closely with the artist after the song’s release.
Upo Nyonyo – Phina
Breakout Tanzanian star Phina is in the spotlight thanks to the power of social media and the people of Kenya who shared her single ‘Upo Nyonyi’ many times. The title features Swahili slang terminology often found in casual conversations. The overall theme of the viral single centers around Phina’s reflection on a recent breakup.
Related: Letting go of someone is tough. Here are some songs for breaking up.
Nitaubeba – Harmonize
“Be it in troubles or joy, or in plenty or hunger, yours is mine, my darling.” Harmonize declares his undying love for his “soulmate” with ‘Nitaubeba.’ The single is profoundly poetic, gently relating the ups and downs often found in growing relationships. He announces he “will carry like a man” whatever comes his way as a token of comfort for his partner.
Related: If you found the one, you’ll want to hear this soulmate music.
On God – Shatta Wale
Known in Ghana as “The King of African Dancehall,” artist Shatta Wale released ‘On God’ after a series of hardships he experienced after reaching stardom. With the single, Wale announces, “Nobody bigger than God.” The lyrics focus on his dogged ability to rise up no matter what happens to him.
Hadithi – Barnaba
Diamond Platnumz teams up with Barnaba for this hit track, with the two artists conversing about a girlfriend. Featured on Barnaba’s album Love Sounds Different, the song’s title ‘Hadithi’ is Swahili for “a story.”
Sinzia – The Nameless
A Swahili term meaning “falling asleep,” The Nameless gets up close and personal with ‘Sinzia’ as he relays to the listeners how he’s madly in love with his girl. The passionate ballad was a huge hit for the Kenyan artist, with the song getting a ton of airtime at universities and colleges.
One Side – Iyanya
Born in the Cross River State of Nigeria, Iyanya rose to fame after winning the popular competition show Project Fame West Africa. His most popular song, ‘Kukere,’ appears on his second album, Desire. For his top 20 hit, ‘One Side,’ Iyanya includes hints of hustle culture in his lyrics as he sings to a beautiful woman he sees on the street.
Desh Desh – Lava Lava
Tanzanian artist Lava Lava is on the roster of musician and producer Diamond Platnumz’ label, WCB Wasafi. Lava Lava became well-known internationally after American singer Alicia Keys shared his music on social media. Though his most popular release is his single ‘Tuachane,’ one of his top tracks continues to be ‘Desh Desh.’
Nomakanjani – Brenda Fassie
The title track on South African artist Brenda Fassie’s fourth album, ‘Nomakanjani,’ fuses African house music known as “kwaito” and Afropop stylings to create her unique style. The project experienced widespread success, earning her a Best Album award at the South African Music Awards show.
Maze – Tabu Ley Rochereau
Tabu Ley’s ’80s single ‘Maze’ was such a hit the song’s title was incorporated into slang terminology of Nairobi tribes, taking on the meaning of excitement. The release of the single happened at the same time the artist was set to tour Kenya. He experienced massive success with the single after wowing crowds with his live shows throughout the country.
African Queen – 2Baba
With a career spanning multiple decades, 2Baba is one of Africa’s best-known and celebrated performers. He has used the success of his music career to fund charity work, including donating music equipment to schools with arts and business programs. His song ‘African Queen’ is one of his most popular, and it scored him over 20 awards internationally. The romantic single celebrates the culture of Africa and the continent’s beautiful women.
Tarihinda – Cécile Kayirebwa
Known for her music celebrating her home country of Rwanda, Cecile Kayirebwa’s ‘Tarihinda’ invites listeners to celebrate life with her. The Rwandan artist began focusing on her craft at a young age, inspired by her parents, who were also singers. Aside from her musical releases, she has also released a book of poetry.
TiLiko – Yo Maps ft. T Sean
Performing artist Yo Maps collaborated with T Sean for their popular party single, ‘TiLiko.’ The inspirational song’s title translates to “we are there.” Yo Maps’ most popular song so far has been ‘Nalema,’ which focuses on the musician trying to move on from a toxic relationship.
Related: Learn how to look ahead with the best songs about moving on from someone.
Umqombothi – Yvonne Chaka Chaka
Featured in the poignant film Hotel Rwanda, the song’s title, ‘Umqombothi,’ refers to a popular African beer. The title comes from the Xhosa language, which is the second most popular, behind Zulu, in South Africa. Other popular African artists like Miriam Makeba popularized the Xhosa language with famous songs like ‘The Click Song,’ which features the language’s percussive sounds.
Related: Drink up the best songs about liquor.
Wombo Lombo – Angélique Kidjo
“Do you think anyone else can do it?” In a popular dance song from the ’90s, West African singer Angelique Kidjo asks this introductory question with her hit ‘Wombo Lombo.’ The infectious track had everyone trying to master the moves.
Adulthood Anthem (Mixed) – Ladé
This heartfelt, introspective track by Nigerian artist Lade finds her trying to relate to others who might also feel unprepared for striking out on their own when they reach adulthood. The anthemic track began trending on social media after its release due to the authentic and moving lyrics, which young adults found comforting and reassuring.
Related: “Adulting” isn’t fun, but here’s our playlist of coming of age songs.
Zangalewa – Zangalewa
Hailing from Cameroon, the Golden Sounds changed their name to ‘Zangalewa’ after they experienced massive success with their hit single by the same name in ’86. The members were all soldiers who served during World War II, and the song is, in part, a tribute to that. The song is still popular among African soldiers today. Originating from the Ewondo language present in parts of Cameroon, ‘Zangalewa’ translates to “who called you?”
Related: Find similar songs on our soldier songs playlist.
Balance It – D Jay
A popular song that made the rounds on social media, D Jay’s song ‘Balance It’ features the young artist with love on the brain, confessing his feelings to his girlfriend. He was inspired to write the single after his mother made music one day and the melody she was playing stuck with him. He ended up using it as the foundation for this song.
There is an Answer – PJ Powers
The South African singer’s ’86 single ‘There is an Answer’ can be considered peaceful protest music as it calls for love during times of hate and received widespread attention when it resonated with the anti-apartheid movement after its release. PJ Powers has long celebrated African culture via her artistic work and philanthropic endeavors. She is one of the country’s most popular performers.
Related: Here are the best songs about coming together.
Mario – Franco Luambo and TPOK Jazz
During the ’80s, there was perhaps no artist more popular than Congolese guitarist Franco Luambo. For his hit ‘Mario’ featuring his group TPOK Jazz, the song delves into courtship between men and women while dating. Heavy on instrumentation, the danceable number is in the beat of the rumba.
Coupé Bibamba – Awilo Longomba
African music often accentuates the regional culture of the artist performing the song. For Awilo Longomba, his song ‘Coupe Bibamba,’ a rumba Lingala song, is popular across multiple regions. It’s a go-to track for parties and get-togethers across Africa, making it one of the continent’s “most-played songs.”
Mama – Khadja Nin
Originally from Burundi, a historical kingdom in central Africa, Khadja Nin sings about the importance of all mothers with her song ‘Mama.’ The lyrics focus on a mother’s dedication to her children and everything she sacrifices to improve their lives. The touching track appears on her ’98 album, Ya….
Related: Celebrate your sweet mother with the best mom songs.
God Bless the Women – Lucky Dube
“The women of this world. They don’t run from anything. They stand and fight for what’s right.” African musician Lucky Dube is one of the reggae movement’s key pioneering figures. With a career spanning the ’80s into the early 2000s before his passing, Lucky Dube released a celebrated body of work, including ‘God Bless the Women,’ which focuses on him acknowledging the important role women’s strength and endurance plays in society.
Related: You won’t want to miss our playlist of women empowerment songs.
Alone – Philly Lutaaya
One of the Ugandan singer’s most memorable releases, ‘Alone’ finds Philly Lutaaya looking for a kindred spirit as he battles a war within himself. Lutaaya became instrumental in the fight against the AIDS epidemic when he revealed he was HIV positive in the late ’80s.