This Bamako, Mali native is not just a musician, she is also a business woman. When she’s not singing—her fifth studio album Mogoya was released in May 2017 after an eight-year hiatus—she’s running her numerous businesses in the hospitality, agriculture and manufacturing industries. But Sangaré doesn’t remember a time when music was not a part of her life. Stepping in to help after her father abandoned their family, she sold water and began performing at weddings and baptisms, even skipping school on Thursdays to take advantage of one of Mali’s traditional days of marriage. “I performed to more than 6,000 people for a singing competition at the Omnisport Stadium in Bamako when I was five,” she shares. “By 16, I was touring Europe as part of the percussion group Djoliba, [before] I returned home to record my debut album Moussolou at the age of 20.”
Music industry veteran Angélique Kidjo has been singing and writing songs since the age of six. Born in Cotonou, Benin, she was inspired by other African singers and activists like the South African Miriam Makeba and Togolese Bella Bellow in her formative years. Kidjo’s family was always open-minded and supportive of her music career. In fact, her mother, whom she also names as one of the top three mentors in her life, once gave her the valuable advice to become "naked spiritually" on stage. Admittedly at first Kidjo didn’t quite understand it, but eventually it clicked. Now, one of the great joys of her career, in addition to collaborating with other musical greats, is performing.
Simisola Bolatito Ogunleye, or simply Simi, knows sound. The Nigeria-born singer and songwriter is also a self-taught sound engineer who has mixed and mastered her own music. Simi’s self-sufficiency got her ahead of the curve and into a class by herself. But her artistry was never typical; she has always been thoughtful about developing her style. That experimentation can be heard on her first album, 2008’s gospel driven independent release Ogaju. The mixture of hip-hop, R&B and African inflections was one not heard before, but she continued to strive for the sound she has today.
Kasiva Mutua tours internationally, performing a combination of afrobeat, zouk, samba, reggae and soul, and she wants you to know that women play the drums too. For many, this is an unneeded declaration—sure there are women percussionists, Sheila E, Cindy Blackman and Alicia Warrington come to mind. But for Mutua, that statement was not always a given. "There's been a ton of problems I've faced as a female percussionist," she told CNN. “Drumming has been a subject of taboo to women in Africa and me rising as a percussionist and going publicly with it and making a living out of it is problematic to some people." But she persevered and it paid off, even leading to her appointment as a TED Fellow. Now she’s paying it forward.
The world has been hearing singer, songwriter and actress Tiwa Savage’s voice since the 90’s; her singing voice as background vocals for some of the all-time greats like George Michael, Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston, and her writing, via lyrics she’s penned for Monica, Fantasia Barrino and Kat Deluna. She solidified a 2009 publishing deal with Sony/ATV Music with that magical pen only a few short years after a disappointing exit from the UK version of The X Factor. Savage became a working musician, writing songs for many of the artists she admired. But she yearned to take center stage, singing her own songs.
Born Teca Miguel Garcia in Luanda, Angola, singer and dancer Titica is one of the leading voices of the vibrant Angolan dance music kuduro. When she dropped her debut song, “Chão,” six years ago, it became one of the most played tracks in Angola, earning her regular spots in the media, a performance at the Mangaung African Cultural Festival (MACUFE) Divas Concert and a feature in the Angola episode of Stocktown Swedish collective’s TV series Afripedia. Her rising popularity as a trans artist in a country with widely heteronormative views steeped in Catholicism, is a testament to her talent.
Kelela’s 2013 debut mixtape Cut 4 Me was everything we’d been waiting for and all we could have asked for. Distinct vocals and poignant lyrics over an ambient soundtrack. We couldn’t wait for a full length album from the Ethiopian-American, Chocolate City native, and were only marginally pacified by her 2015 Hallucinogen EP.
This Sudanese Brooklynite and leader of Alsarah & the Nubatones earned her BA in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University. So she can’t help but to look at music from a global standpoint. It’s also not surprising that she has been influenced by musicians across the Diaspora, like Tanzanian singer Bi Kidude, American blues singer Bessie Smith, and the iconic Jamaica-born Grace Jones, to name a few.
The daughter of two filmmakers, Efya Fara Fauzziea Awindor, known mononymously as Efya, has acting in her blood. If you ask the Ghanaian beauty what she does for a living she’ll tell you she’s an artist, a creative, and an actress. Still, it’s the sound she’s perfected as a singer and songwriter over the past eight years that have cemented her starpower. It has also garnered her awards like the City People Entertainment Award for Ghana Musician of the Year (Female) and Nollywood Movie Award for Best Music Soundtrack for “Flower Girl” in 2014, along with the Nigeria Entertainment Award for African Female Artist of the Year (Non Nigerian) in 2016.
Bongekile Simelane, the South African model, choreographer and songstress known as Babes Wodumo burst on the scene in 2016 with her hit single “Wololo” featuring Mampintsha, and broke the charts. “Wololo” quickly became the fourth most played local song on South African radio, and the subsequently released album Gqom Queen Vol. 1, beckoned the world back to the dance floor. That same year, she performed at the MTV Africa Music Awards where she was nominated for Best Breakthrough Artist and Song of the Year.