Don’t sleep on the West African music scene. If you do, you’ll be missing out on some of the best music in recent years. From established names to astounding newcomers, West Africa is full of unique and talented artists. Not sure where to start? Here are 10 names you need to know.
Since bursting onto the scene with her 2019 single “Try Me,” Tems has definitely become someone to watch. And there’s a reason that song has 5.6 million views on YouTube alone: the Nigerian singer-songwriter not only has a powerful voice that speaks right to your soul, but she also combines soul, hip-hop, and R&B seamlessly in her music.
Tems easily could have rested on her laurels since the popularity of “Try Me,” but she has continued to grow and challenge herself as an artist. In 2020, she released For Broken Ears, her debut EP, and “Essence,” a collaboration with Wizkid, reached number one on BBC 1Xtra Airplay Chart.
Among her supporters is American singer Khalid who invited Tems to join him and Davido, a fellow Nigerian artist, on an Afrobeats remix of “Know Your Worth.”
This Ghanaian high-life and afrobeats singer-songwriter got his start in music while studying economics, of all things. As a student at the University of Ghana, KiDi decided to pursue his love of music by performing and recording covers of popular songs, eventually joining the MTN Hitmaker competition, which he won.
2017 solidified KiDi’s status as a major player in the music scene with the release of “Say You Love Me,” a track on which he proved himself a triple threat: he composed, arranged, and produced the song.
Despite the wild year that was 2020, KiDi further proved himself, first with “Say Cheese” and then with a feature on Wyclef Jean’s show “Run That Back.” He also won Album of the Year at the Ghana Music Awards for his work Sugar.
The daughter of Nana Acheampong, a Ghanian Highlife musician, it’s no surprise that Gyakie is one to watch. The 22-year-old has been releasing music since 2019 when her first single “Love Is Pretty” debuted.
Her five-track EP Seed followed in August 2020, gaining quite an amount of airplay in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s Top Triller Global and Shazams Top 200 charts.
The pandemic certainly hasn’t slowed Gyakie down. In March 2021, she collaborated with Nigerian singer Omah Lay in March 2021, and she’s even signed an international record deal with Sony music entertainment, RCA Records UK and Sony Music Africa.
Singer. Songwriter. Producer. Is there anything Omah Lay can’t do? The singer began his foray into music as a teenager when he took the rapping on the streets of Nigeria. Eventually, he found his calling in producing, a role that earned him plenty of radio play on local stations in his hometown.
In 2019, he was inspired to pick up the mic again and moved to Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria. This is when things started to change for the Afrofusion musician. By the end of 2020, he had released “Bad Influence,” “You,” and his debut EP Get Layed, garnering critical acclaim and millions of streams.
His enchanting vocals and unique brand of Afrofusion, it’s no wonder Omah Lay was named Apple Music’s Favourite New Artiste of the Month in Africa.
Singer. Songwriter. Actress. Activist. Nigerian-born Yemi Alade is a quadruple threat. After winning Peak Talent Show in 2009, Alade has been a force to be reckoned with.
In 2014, she released her hit single “Johnny,” the most-watched African Female music video of all time on YouTube, and, by 2019, she became the first African female artist to reach one million subscribers on YouTube. That same year, she collaborated with Beyoncé, being featured on “Don’t Jealous Me,” a track from The Lion King: The Gift.
Outside of her music, the singer has made a name for herself as an advocate, most recently with her work to help poor people across Africa who have been affected by COVID-19.
Emmerson isn’t new to the music scene, but he’s definitely someone you need to know. Born in Sierra Leone, he’s been creating Afropop music since 2002 with the release of Bodyguard Compilation, Volume One, his first mixtape.
How does Emmerson stand out from his peers? Not only does he criticize the corruption in his home country’s government, but he’s also become pretty well-known for speaking out. In fact, his lyrics frequently promote social change. One of these protest songs is “Borbor Bele,” a track that emphasizes the frustration and disillusionment that he and his fellow citizens feel towards Sierra Leone’s leaders.
Emmerson isn’t afraid to talk about tough topics in his music, and with his popularity, his songs are helping to spark a change in his country.
From Afrobeats to Hip-hop to Highlife, Freda Rhymz’s music is unique to say the least. The Ghanian rapper/songwriter has been making waves since 2017, when she won Season 6 of MTN Hitmaker.
Inspired by Sarkodie, Jayso, Manifest, and Nicki Minaj, to name a few, Freda Rhymz had a big year in 2020. Her single “Saucy,” a collaboration with Sista Afia, is a certified bop, and she’s proving herself to be one of the top rappers in the game.
Freda Rhymz is also atypical in that her music doesn’t cater to just one language. Instead, she impresses listeners further by making music in English, Twi, and Pidgin.
Beauty Underneath Just Understood. That’s the inspiration behind Daniel Benson’s artist name, Buju. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Buju rose to prominence in 2019 with “Spiritual,” a collaboration with Zlatan.
Since the success of “Spiritual,” the Afro-Fusion artist has gone on to create other smash hits, such as “Ohema,” “Energy,” “L’Enu,” and “So Lovely.” Buju is a part of a growing group of Nigerian artists who are really putting the West African country on the map, music-wise
On Instagram, Buju claims to be “one of the few that’s really singing,” and with over four million total streams, it’s clear that listeners really respect that.
A self-taught musician, Dobet Gnahoré has been releasing music since 2004 when she released her debut album Ano Neko. In 2010, she gained industry recognition when she shared the Grammy for Best Urban/Alternative Performance with India.Arie for the song “Pearls.”
Born in the Ivory Coast, Gnahoré is the daughter of Boni Gnahoré, a percussionist. Though she moved to France in 1999 due to civil unrest in her native country, she is not afraid to add elements of African music, such as Cameroonian bikutsi, Congolese, and East African rumba.
Like Emmerson, her music often deals with social issues, which are discussed over a variety of music styles, from “delicate ballads to upbeat African grooves.”
Though born in Atlanta, Georgia, Davido’s music began to take off after returning to Nigeria. Named one of the op 100 most influential Africans by New African magazine in 2019, the singer, songwriter, and record producer dropped out of Oakwood University so he could pursue music full-time, even relocating to London to jumpstart his career.
Back in Nigeria, he released his debut album Omo Baba Olowo in 2012, although it didn’t receive instant critical acclaim. However, Davido has grown as an artist, going on to release several more albums over the years and increasing his worldwide popularity in the process.
2020 was arguably Davido’s biggest year yet, with the release of his album A Better Time, featuring Lil Baby, Nicki Minaj, Nas, Chris Brown, Young Thug, and more, and his performance on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.