Initially I intended to write and publish this article on International Women’s Day but since I am a student, I was overloaded with homework and was only able to do so today.
The African music industry is booming, and to celebrate International Women’s Day, I decided to pay tribute to the women effortlessly engaged in the development and success of our music industry. Before we enter the ranking I’d like to say that while carrying out researches for the purpose of this article, I came to realise that African music is still very masculine. Only few women standout to become as successful as their male peers. This I believe, is unfortunate as it implies that even in the music industry, there are barriers that prevent women from being treated on equal grounds as men, no matter how talented they are. Thus, to establish this list of powerful women in the African music industry, I looked at the impact of their work on the music industry, as well as their influence on the people who follow them and their work out of the music spectrum.
Here is the list of the 8 most powerful African female artists I have been able to come up with :
1) Angélique Kidjo (Benin)
Today, nobody can talk of the queens of African music without mentioning the Beninese female voice Angélique Kidjo. At the age of 56, Angélique Kidjo is the author of 11 albums and recipient of 3 Grammy Awards in the category Best Contemporary World Music Album. Her understanding of music is unique as well as her style and influences which are incomparable to that of other artists. Her voice is powerful, in 5 seconds only she can transports you into her world. Judge on “l’Afrique a un incroyable Talent” (French-speaking Africa’s version of Britain’s Got Talent), Kidjo is still active and is considered as one of the world’s living music monuments. Aside from music, she is based in New York City and is actively engaged in advocating for women’s rights across the world. She is a UNICEF ambassador and sang at the Women’s March last January in Washington D.C.
2) Yemi Alade (Nigeria)
Author of the 63 million-timed viewed music video “Johnny”, for three years now Yemi Alade has been blossoming. Her masterpiece “Johnny” propelled her to stage lights, thus making her become one of the most influential woman in African music. More than a lucky artist, Yemi Alade’s talent is undeniable and she has been able to capitalise on the success of Johnny to launch a steady career. Na Gode, Africa, Tumbum , Ferrari, Tangerine, today we stopped counting the number of hits Yemi Alade released as almost everything she touches turn into gold. BET awards nominee and twice in a row winner of the Best Female award at the MTV Africa Music Awards (2015, 2016), at only 27 years old, artiste Yemi Alade is still rising even though she already has a tremendous success.
3) Tiwa Savage (Nigeria)
Nigerian artist Tiwa Savage is one of these female voices in Africa that wonderfully incarnates the Afrobeats music genre. At 37, Producer Don Jazzy’s protégé is considered as one of the biggest female pop star in Africa. Alongside other outstanding African artists, her generation greatly contributed in making African music more profitable and marketable. Before engaging in a solo career, Tiwatopena Savage (her real name) was a backup vocal for famous American artists like George Michael, Akon, Babyface, Kat Deluna and since 2011, she has been rising. Winning multiple awards such as the MTV Africa Music Awards (Best Female 2014) as well as other Pan-african awards. In 2012, Tiwa Savage became the first African female artist to be associated with the Pepsi brand after signing an endorsement deal. She is currently signed under the label Mavin Records — one of the biggest Nigerian music labels— and last year she signed a deal with Jay Z’s label Roc Nation. In my opinion, the best is yet to come with Tiwa Savage as she still has a lot of untapped resources.
4) Charlotte Dipanda (Cameroon)
At the age of 31, Charlotte Dipanda is one of the most recognised artist of her generation in Cameroon. Based in France, whenever she holds a concert in Cameroon, her tickets sellout in a matter of couple of days. Her music transcends borders and makes her one of the freshest face of music in french-speaking Africa. Her music is listened and praised in countries like Ivory Coast and Gabon. Charlotte Dipanda is one of the rare francophone African artists who have been able to fill the French legendary music hall l’Olympia. With three albums released, in less than ten years of her solo career, Dipanda has imposed herself as one of the princesses of Cameroonian music, singing in Duala with her hoarsely and sweet voice. Still rising, she became judge on the first edition of The Voice Afrique Francophone last year.
On social media, you can find Charlotte Dipanda on Facebook where she has 900 thousand fans.
5) Vanessa Mdee (Tanzania)
Singer-songwritter, rapper, Tv and radio host, at only 28 years old, artist Vanessa Mdee is one of the most influential artist in East Africa. Her success is undeniable as she is able to drop two songs in the laps of 10 days and still get hundred thousands of views in a less than a week. Recipient of All Africa Music Awards as well as Tanzanian Music Awards, Vanessa Mdee’s success has crossed East Africa and makes her one of the most marketable African female artist. Nigerian music gurus will not hesitate to tell you that more than a money maker, trendsetter and change maker, she is a powerful artist.
6) Efya (Ghana)
29 years old Ghanaian artist Efya is one of the only female artist to standout on the Ghanaian music scene. To be honest, the first time I came across her music was on Mr Eazi’s song Skintight. Given that Skintight is one of his most known song, you can guess that she played a role in his success. Her jazz, afro-soul and pop influences are largely visible on her last album Janesis. Whilst doing my research for the article, I listened to the whole album and the songs I will strongly advice you to listen to are : Can I, Boy Bi Beh Gye, as well as her song Jorley featuring the Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie. In Ghana she won numerous amount awards at the Ghana Music Music Awards, in 2016 she won the African Female Artist of the Year (Non Nigerian) at the Nigerian Music Awards and has been nominated for Africa Best Female at the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2014.
7) Nhlanhla Nciza (South Africa)
Lead female singer in the renown South African band Makifizolo, Nhlanhla Nciza is one of the most influential and powerful female artist in South Africa, as well as in Southern Africa as a whole. Her voice is transcending and her parts are always remarkable. Who can forget that female voice in Davido’s song Tchelete? No one! She uses the attention she gains through her work in music and capitalises it by marketing herself. More than a music artist, she has also become a fashion icon in South Africa, leading her to create her own clothing line NN Vintage.
8) Josey (Ivory Coast)
The 8th most powerful African woman in music comes from Ivory Coast. Although she has released only three songs on her own, the Ivorian artist Josey is one of the only female artist to be visible on the Ivorian music scene. The three songs she released are hits, cumulating about 20 million views on Youtube, a milestone for an African artist. A week ago, I attended a cultural event and it fascinated me to see how one of the girls singing on stage was influenced my Josey’s vocals and stage presence. This proves how in a little time she as been able to impact Ivorian music, as well as the people. Josey today is more than an Ivorian artist, she is very adulated in French-speaking Africa.
I’d like to make it clear that this is not a scientific ranking but rather a ranking based on my own perception of music taking into account variables like the number of albums, number of awards and nominations, number of hits, level of visibility, marketability etc in order to establish this list.
These women listed on this article are in my opinion the 8 most powerful of women in African music but not the only ones. You also have artists like Asa (Nigeria), Oumou Sangaré (Mali), Simi (Nigeria), Chidinma (Nigeria), Dobet Gnahoré (Ivory Coast), MvZee (Ghana), Nadia Nakai (South Africa) , Reniss (Cameroon), Gasha (Cameroon) who create great music and play an important role in the development of our African music industry.
I hope you enjoyed this article!