Africa has rightfully been a source of inspiration for songwriters and singers throughout history. African themes are in the lyrics of countless songs, with subjects ranging from celebratory to political and everything in between. Below, you can discover some of the best songs about Africa.
1. “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” by Shakira
Song year: 2010
If you watched the 2010 FIFA World Cup, you probably knew this song by heart. Colombian heartthrob and pop singer Shakira collaborated with South African band Freshlyground to release “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” as the official theme song of the World Cup in 2010, for which South Africa was the host country.
The lyrics are a fusion of English (or Spanish) hype speech with the chorus sung in Cameroonian Fang.
2. “Mama Africa” by Akron
Song year: 2007
Released in 2007 by the Senegalese-American singer and record producer Akon, “Mama Africa” is a love song to Akon’s African homeland. Instead of focusing on struggles and strife, Akron emphasizes Africa’s beauty.
His lighthearted and positive lyrics match the catchy reggae sound. Mama Africa reached the billboard charts in the UK and garnered even more popularity when rapper 50 Cent collaborated on a remix of the song.
3. “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” by Kanye West ft. Jay Z
Song year: 2005
Winner of the Grammy Award for Best Rap Song, “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” is a hip-hop song about wealth, status, and the dark side of the material luxuries he enjoys as a famous artist.
Kanye boasts about having diamonds and bling to show off his success while at the same time shedding light on the Sierra Leone civil war and the devastating illegal diamond trade. Still, the song veers more towards a celebration of West’s financial successes.
4. “Africa For Africa” by Femi Kuti
Song year: 2010
Son of the late Fela Kuti, the founder of Afrobeat, Femi Kuti follows in his father’s footsteps. His music blends Afrobeat with reggae. “Africa For Africa” is from the 2010 album of the same name. It is a call to Africans to unite as one people.
It calls for a united Africa, encouraging all Africans to band together as one people against the oppression and corruption throughout the continent. Femi Kuti’s lyrics in “Africa For Africa” carry on his activist father’s legacy.
5. “Africa Unite” by Bob Marley and the Wailers
Bob Marley needs little introduction as his fame knows no bounds. Not only is he single-handedly responsible for the popularization of reggae music around the world, but he’s also a beacon of peace.
He was also a proud Rastafarian, with many of his songs portraying Africa as the promised land to which all Rastafarians will return to live out their days in harmony. “Africa Unite” is the best example of this idea of an African Utopia.
6. “To Zion” by Lauryn Hill
Song year: 1998
“To Zion” is from the wildly popular neo-soul album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which made Hill the first female rapper to reach certified Diamond status.
“To Zion” is a song Hill wrote for her newborn son. She writes about going against all odds and the advice of her friends and managers by deciding to have a child while at the peak of her music career. It’s a beautiful expression of love along with the trials and tribulations of motherhood.
7. “Circle of Life” by Elton John and Tim Rice
Song year: 1994
Arguably the most famous Disney song of all time, “Circle of Life,” was composed by award-winning singer and songwriter Elton John in collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice for the movie The Lion King.
Singer Lebo M. and Carmen Twillie sing this iconic song as the film begins, depicting a stunning natural scene of the African animal kingdom saluting the newly born Simba. The opening of the song is in the South African Zulu language, narrating a Lion father’s rise to conquer.
8. “Africa” by D’Angelo
Song year: 2000
D’Angelo is most famous for his sensual R&B and soul songs, like “Africa,” which shows D’Angelo’s range as an artist. Released on the Certified Platinum album Voodoo in 2000, “Africa” is about fatherhood and identity.
D’Angelo expresses his connection with Africa as he feels out of place as a black man in America. The song then discusses his calling as a father to instill wisdom in his children and to provide all the love and dedication they need.
9. “Africa” by Toto
Song year: 1982
“Africa” is a hopeful and positive song by Rock band Toto that reached the top of Billboard charts in the US, UK, and Australia, to name a few. Writer and band member David Paich wrote the song after watching a heart-wrenching documentary about poverty and hunger in Africa.
Pictures of African nature scenes in the song come from articles about the African savannah Paich read about in National Geographic. The irony of a white man writing about a place he has only read about is not lost on Paich, which almost caused him to nix the song altogether.
10. “Radio Africa” by Latin Quarter
Song year: 1985
Despite the name, Latin Quarter is a British 80s band that fuses rock with reggae, pop, and folk. They are known as a one-hit-wonder band. Coincidentally, their hit song is “Radio Africa,” a politically charged critique of foreign aid and imperialist interests.
Radio Africa is a metaphor for the news out of Africa, which according to the lyrics, is all bad. News of recession, repression, and corruption.
11. “Marrakesh Express” by Crosby Stills and Nash
Song year: 1969
The quintessential band of the ’60s and early ’70s, Crosby Stills Nash’s music is famous for being the overriding theme of 60s counterculture, Woodstock, and free love. “Marakesh Express” has the trio harmonizing in their characteristic sound over the gorgeous scenery in the North African country of Morocco.
The lyrics offer vivid descriptions of the markets, brightly painted buildings, and lively culture experienced by the narrator as he travels from town to town on a train with his lover.
12. “Africa Talks to You: The Asphalt Jungle” by Sly and the Family Stone
Song year: 1971
From Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth album, There’s a Riot Going On, “Africa Talks to You: The Asphalt Jungle is a long-lasting psychedelic funk song with high-pitched lyrics repeated over and over.
The Asphalt Jungle may refer more to urban lifestyles, while the lyrics themselves are more about uncertainty, the purpose of life, and living life for yourself instead of trying to live up to societal expectations.
13. “Africa Is Where My Heart Lies” by Miriam Makeba
Song year: 2000
Miriam Makeba is a beloved South African soul singer whose song Africa is Where My Heart Lies has been a theme song of South African Freedom Day since its release on Freedom Day back in 2000.
This patriotic and poignant song about feeling connected to your homeland will strike a chord with any listener who is proud of where they come from. In fact, the Grammy-nominated album that features this song is called Homeland.
14. “Mama Africa” by Peter Tosh
Song year: 1983
Mama Africa is the first song on the album of the same name from former Wailers member and famed solo reggae artist Peter Tosh. Like Bob Marley and many of the reggae artists of his generation, Tosh was a Rastafarian.
Thus, “Mama Africa” expresses the credence of Rastafarianism. Tosh self-identifies as a displaced African, idealizing and honoring his homeland, waiting excitedly for the day he’s reunited with his “Mama Africa.”
15. “Land Of Promise” by Nas and Damien Marley
Song year: 2010
Bob Marley fathered many children who in turn went on to become famous reggae artists in their own right. Damien Marley may be the most famous of the Marley children. He collaborates with rapper Nas on this Afrocentric song, written in the Rastafarian vernacular.
The Land of Promise refers to Africa as the promised land, a utopia here on earth for all African descendants. Marley goes on to compare different cities in Africa to the most iconic cities, states, and neighborhoods in the U.S. He romanticizes Africa as a land of plenty, with just as much high society, culture, and entertainment as New York or Las Vegas.
16. “African Mailman” by Nina Simone
Song year: 1959
Nina Simone is one of the most beloved jazz singers and Black activists of a generation; her voice and unapologetic presence are a source of inspiration for both Blacks and women everywhere.
“African Mailman” is an instrumental jazz song on Simone’s debut album Little Girl Blue, recorded live from a jazz club two years before it was released. “African Mailman” wasn’t on the original 1959 release, appearing years later after Simone had garnered national fame.
17. “Mama Africa” by Chico Cesar
Song year: 1995
Famous Brazilian singer, songwriter, and poet Chico Cesar wrote “Mama Africa” as an ode to single motherhood and the struggles of the oppressed African and black race.
Mama Africa is a metaphor for the African and black experience wherein a single mother has to endure the harsh conditions of day labor on top of her responsibilities as a mother.
The lyrics are in Cesar’s native Brazilian language of Portuguese, and despite their profound and serious nature, the melody is a catchy reggae sound that’s garnered worldwide popularity.
18. “Africa Lando” by Novalima
Song year: 2009
Novalima is an Afro-Peruvian hip-hop and electronic group with a unique sound that uses traditional African drumming with electronic beats and a funky melody. The lead vocals come from a woman with a male voice chiming in and joining her in the chorus.
The unique blend of Latin salsa sound with African percussion, a funky bassline, and urban sounds make for a wonderful auditory experience.
19. “Under African Skies” by Paul Simon
Song year: 1986
Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel was the true poet of the duo, so when he launched a solo career, he garnered even more awards and acclaim. A case in point is the album Graceland, an eclectic album that runs the gamut of genres and famous guests.
From Graceland, “Under African Skies” is inspired by recordings Simon listened to from South African singers. The album was in solidarity with African activists in their fight to dismantle Apartheid.
20. “Nefertiti” by Miles Davis
Song year: 1968
Nefertiti is both the name of the album and the song from iconic jazz musician Miles Davis. Nefertiti, an Egyptian queen, was the muse for this acoustic album. Ironically, Miles Davis didn’t write any of the songs on this album. The composer who wrote “Nefertiti” is a famous saxophonist named Wayne Shorter.
21. “Liberian Girl” by Michael Jackson
Song year: 1987
From the King of Pop, “Liberian Girl” debuted on the album Bad even though Jackson had written it in 1983. The song honors the woman he loves and is an empowering song for Liberian women in particular. The Liberian population was especially proud to be on Jackson’s radar.
22. “Africans” by Nneka
Song year: 2007
Nneka is a Nigerian singer and songwriter who fuses genres like reggae, afrobeat, soul, hip hop, and R&B. Her songs combine languages, from English to Igbo, to Nigerian Pidgin.
“Africans” recounts the African history of colonialism, slavery, and a turbulent modern history of corruption, civil wars, and oppression. She pleads with her African people to quit repeating past mistakes.
23. “Africa Bamba” by Santana
Song year: 1999
From famed Mexican guitarist Carlos Santana, “Africa Bamba” is a cheerful, Afro-Latino song that embraces the musical culture of Afro-Latinos all over Latin America and the world.
Music and dance are a way to shed light in the face of sadness or oppression, a practice Santana attributes to Africa.
24. “It’s Nearly Africa” by XTC
Song year: 1982
“It’s Nearly Africa” is from British post-punk rock band XTC’s fifth album, English Settlement. Frontman Andy Partridge wrote “It’s Nearly Africa” about the discomfort he feels living in modern times. He views the modern society in which he lives on the brink of disaster.
25. “Mozambique” by Bob Dylan
Song year: 1976
Bob Dylan is as much a poet as he is a singer and songwriter. The 1976 classic, “Mozambique,” is a poetic depiction of the pristine beaches of its namesake African nation. While Dylan is known for his politically charged, progressive, and activist lyrics, “Mozambique” remains lighthearted and romantic.
26. “Out of Africa” by John Barry
Song year: 1985
John Barry wrote and composed the song for the 1985 movie Out of Africa, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. In keeping with the theme of the movie, the song is romantic and beautifully played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It won an Oscar at the Academy Awards for Best Original Score.
27. “Biko” by Peter Gabriel
Song year: 1980
English rock musician Peter Gabriel wrote Biko in solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement. It goes back and forth between English lyrics and native South African dialects. The song honors the late anti-apartheid activist Bantu Biko who died three years before the song was released as the result of police brutality.
Top Songs About Africa, Final Thoughts
Africa is a fascinating, beautiful, and complex continent that has inspired musical traditions around the world. Whether it’s a lighthearted ode to African paradise or an activist song against government oppression, the above list of songs about Africa expresses a variety of themes and sentiments.