SOUND STRATEGIES: The Innovators Going Global With African Music

Published 8 months ago
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Photos by Katlego Mokubyane/Getty Images (Illustration by FORBES AFRICA)

The globalization of African sound has never been more exponentially evident than what we are witnessing now. The innovators behind this moment and momentum have proven that the popularity of the sound stems not only from the genre but from the authenticity of just being African. Meet the hit music- makers not just taking Africa to the global stage but also making Africa a stage for the world.

Words and Curation: Chanel Retief|Art Director: Lucy Nkosi | Photography: Katlego Mokubyane Photography Assistant: Sbusiso Sigidi Studio: NewKatz Studio, Johannesburg| Videographer: | CNBC Africa Videographer: Thabo Mathebula| Video Editor: Chanel Retief| Styling: Bontlefeela Mogoye and Wanda Baloyi | Outfits supplied by: Kworks Design; Imprint South Africa; House of Suitability; LSJ Designs| Hair & Makeup: Makole Made

IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO VIEW TIKTOK, INSTAGRAM Reels or YouTube shorts without glimpsing visuals of some form or another of a foot-tapping dance number gone viral, from the Yahyuppiyah (Uncle Waffles) or Unavailable dance challenges (Davido and Musa Keys) more recently, to the 2020 smash hit Jerusalema, which kept the world dancing to its energetic beats through the Covid-19 lockdown periods.


There is no other way to say this but simply – when it comes to music, Africa is firmly in the global spotlight.

When FORBES AFRICA looked at the star-studded entertainment industry and its leading protagonists in 2022, the focal point was the radical shift of the music sector from a continental perspective; the rise of Amapiano and Afrobeats, the use of social media to garner trends across Africa as well as the international uptake this could potentially herald. Evidently, the themes of the conversation this year are the same but have now shifted onto a wider and more prolific global paradigm. A significant reason behind the unprecedented growth of African music has to do with the power and gravitas of social media. The influx of fresh talent in the industry is evidence of that. Ten years ago, this would have seemed impossible for artists on the continent.

Davin Phillips, Executive Director at Celebrity Services Africa (CSA), an agency that specializes in brand marketing in the culture and entertainment space, says that social media is the reason the rest of the world has been able to reach African artists.

“I think social media, maybe more technology, has allowed us to actually go into other regions across the continent that previously didn’t have access to certain streaming or publishing. We’ve been able to identify the continent a lot more and bring it together. Also, another thing, as we know, in any emerging market, sometimes we only give our own artists the recognition, but we are seeing the international community recognize them,” he says.


“Social media has amplified the careers of so many artists on the continent, so its role cannot be understated,” adds Phiona Okumu, Head of Music for sub-Saharan Africa at Spotify. “Reaching a global audience, instantly, looked different a few years ago and required significant resources. But now on the back of social media, accessibility has taken a new form for artists.”

And where there is social media, there is a high chance (or risk, depending on who you talk to) of becoming an overnight sensation, which has opened the door for younger artists to thrive. Data shows that social media platform TikTok has over 1.677 billion users globally out of which 1.1 billion are its monthly active users as of 2023; South Africa alone makes up about 11.83 million of those users. Instagram’s data also shows there are 2.35 billion active users, and 14.9 million of those users are reportedly from Western Africa.

This has allowed young artists like eSwatini- born DJ, Uncle Waffles, Nigeria’s Rema, and even South Africa’s Musa Keys to take the world by storm in what feels like the blink of an eye. “The pool of artists is a lot younger,” concurs advocate Katlego Malatji, Head of Legal and Business Affairs at Sony Music Africa. “I think the internet has created quite an opportunity for a lot of young acts and a lot more diverse acts to come out with different interpretations and variations of various sounds.”

There is no denying the power of social media as a mechanism to take Africa’s artistry to a global level but Malatji argues that sustainability in the industry needs to be investigated; “Sustainability being obviously a different question altogether as to how sustainable are some of these careers because of the lack of depth that comes with being young; but at the very least, they’re getting their moment.”


“Some people are [made] to be viral music-makers, some people are made to be classic music-makers, [these] are most likely people [who] make music that sticks,” Amapiano artist, Musa Makamu (professionally known as Musa Keys) says.

“The challenge is that a lot of the songs that I see go viral are not really listenable songs, like we can’t just be chilling at home [and listening to it], you always have to hear that specific part of the song which is kind of dangerous for some songs, however, some people really need viral moments and some don’t.”

“The challenge I have in my career is how to get away from the stereotype of just being a viral act to being an actual performer, [because I do think] that even if I didn’t go viral, something would have eventually happened for me,” Lungelihle Zwane, known professionally as Uncle Waffles, says to FORBES AFRICA.

“We’ve gone from a place where your parents used to be like, ‘no one ever makes it in music’ to now having so many references, even younger ones. I just turned 23, my life changed at 21. Now we can go to our parents and be like, ‘I feel like I can do this’.”


The numbers do not lie if the predicted growth in Africa’s potential is one to go with. Research company Dataxis predicts that Africa’s annual music streaming revenues will grow (from $92.9 million in 2021) to $314.6 million by 2026. Furthermore, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) annual report, Africa’s Entertainment & Media Outlook 2022-2026 highlighted that in Nigeria, music streaming is set to be the fastest- rising revenue component across the country’s music market by 2026.

“Young Nigerians are a key driver of this sector, and according to 2021 data from Spotify, the most-popular musicians listened to by Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) in the country are Burna Boy, Asake, Davido, Drake and Wizkid,” the PwC report reads.

Spotify’s Okumu adds that in 2022, revenues generated by Nigerian artists from Spotify alone reached over NGN11 billion (approximately $14.3 million). While Nigerian music industry revenues overall have grown 63% from 2021 to 2022, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), revenues generated by Nigerian artists, from Spotify, grew 74% over this same time period. Similarly, in 2022, revenues generated by South African artists from Spotify reached nearly R200 million (approximately $10 million) which is three times what it was four years ago.

“These figures only represent a part of the picture. Spotify is one of many music-streaming services that generate revenue for the music industry, and streaming only makes up a portion of all industry revenues,” Okumu adds.


“I don’t know if it’s African artists versus African music in terms of streams,” award-winning composer, producer, and writer, Tatenda Terence Kamera, tells FORBES AFRICA. “Because you have specific artists that contribute to those streams but it is tricky to call it African music because there’s a lot more that people don’t stream about. However, in terms of the potential, it is there because the whole world is looking at African music right now.”

The potential of African music is more than just social media. The pool of talent coming out of Africa is not only in mainstream genres like Afrobeats, Amapiano, pop or hip hop. The artists profiled on these pages (unranked and following no particular order with social media stats from September 14) by FORBES AFRICA are individuals who are only a subset or representation of what the actual music industry is today. They come from different categories of entertainment and multiple branches of the industry, from classical music to composition and production, to even conducting.

“Africa has incredible creativity that people in Europe and the US marvel at once they get to know about it,” two-time Grammy- award winner Wouter Kellerman tells FORBES AFRICA. “I’m very upbeat about the future of African culture and music.” “I feel like the future of music, especially in the diaspora, looks like a re-imagination of the things we thought are not possible,” adds Ofentse Pitse, known as the first black South African woman to conduct and own an all-black orchestra. “My hope for Africa would be a lot of collaborations… there’s so much gold actually in Africa when it comes to the arts, especially in music.”

Lungelihle Zwane (Uncle Waffles)
eSwatini and South Africa | DJ and record producer

Photo by Katlego Mokubyane

Spotify Monthly Listeners:1.8 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 33 Million views


: 2 Million
Twitter: 390.K
Facebook: 236K
TikTok: 1.7 Million

ZWANE, ALSO known as Uncle Waffles, is a true depiction of Generation Z, the demographic cohort shaped by the digital age and shifting financial landscape. Speaking to FORBES AFRICA about her trending accomplishments, Zwane says becoming an artist was not her initial plan. Destiny ordained it. And how.

“During the Covid-19 lockdown, I was working for a broadcasting company. I was doing small interviews with creatives here and there,” Zwane says. “And then one day I interviewed a DJ.” Zwane asked the DJ if she too could learn the art.

“It went from just a conversation to a couple of sessions, to eight hours a day for nine months, to falling in love with something I didn’t think I could love. I took a risk; I put out a small post I edited on Picsart, [and here I am].”

Through the star power of social media, the eSwatini- born DJ was able to reach millions of viewers and that kick-started her career. Raised by a single mother who believed she could be whatever she wanted to be, gave her the added confidence.

Indeed, it is risky business becoming an artist.

“She encouraged me to just go for it,” Zwane says. “As much as she was always like ‘do it but have a backup plan’, she always believed that because I am creatively inclined, I should just go for it. So when I was packing my bags and going to find gigs, she always believed in me.”

Following the release of her debut single Tanzania, which reportedly took three months to perfect, Zwane’s creation was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as the eighth best Afropop song of 2022, with critics describing her as “a global ambassador for Amapiano”. From across the world, she has received praise from award-winning A-list artists such as Beyoncé, Ciara and Drake, who have described her as a “top DJ [with] top sound”, giving further impetus to her fame.

“There is this really cool DJ out right now, her name is Uncle Waffles,” American singer, actor, and television personality Kelly Rowland reportedly said in May.

. “…She is so cool. She just played at Coachella, but I have known about this girl for at least about a year now.”

However, as successful as she has been, it has not been without roadblocks.

Still young and entering the industry the way she did, staying relevant is crucial to Zwane.

“Being thrown into the industry, I had to learn while running. Because the typical stories [are] that you blow up, and then it falls away, you kind of disappear into the mix. So for me, I’ve blown up, [but] what do I do to make sure I stay relevant? I’ve been granted this beautiful blessing. How do I make it the rest of my life?”

For artists, it is not only about the music anymore. The stance taken by many entering the sector is that it’s also about positioning yourself as a brand. Beyoncé had athleisure brand Ivy Park, which was in collaboration with Adidas on several collections.

American rapper and singer-songwriter Travis Scott launched not only a burger with McDonald’s but also a sneaker with Nike.

Luckily for Zwane, it’s no different as she has gained several endorsement deals in this short span with some of the biggest brands in the business, including South African multinational mobile telecommunications company MTN, and supplements brand, Slow- Mag. Recently, the talk of the town in South Africa has been her collaboration with one of the world’s most popular fast-food brands, KFC.

In September, Zwane launched a new campaign for the brand featuring a food item in her name, the Uncle Waffles Burger. Despite mixed reviews, the significance of this “one-of-a-kind” burger was highlighted by KFC as showcasing “her journey in music and life at a time when her international success is gaining momentum”.

“This is why we chose to create a campaign that shared real-life locations that have contributed to Uncle Waffle’s success,” Hloni Mohope, Marketing Director at KFC Africa tells FORBES AFRICA. “Social posts dropped clues daily so fans could physically discover and unlock the beautifully-designed custom QR code artworks at each location. This allowed them to tangibly experience and follow Uncle Waffles’ meteoric rise. This story-telling aspect has really resonated with fans and helped us spread the beauty of Amapiano and celebrate Uncle Waffles. We are so proud to have partnered with such a force. This campaign has seen two giants with great taste create magic and bring it [to] the people!”

“I want to become a holistic brand who dabbles in everything,” Zwane attests.

Part of this challenge – and something she has enjoyed doing – is the art of storytelling. Although there are those who downplay her DJing, especially as she is dancing, Zwane’s belief has always been to change the narrative.

“What you realize is that internationally, they don’t understand the music,” says the ‘Princess of Amapiano’ (as dubbed by Billboard). “But they can only understand it through you. You’re the one that tells the story. So they watch you, they understand that you’ve told the story, and you’ve gained a huge audience of people by doing so.”

Jocelyne Muhutu-Remy, Spotify’s sub-Saharan Africa Managing Director, wrote in August that in her opinion, young African artists are taking over the global stage and contributing to the growth of the African market, which could even rival markets like Korean pop (k-pop) in the international arena.

“This young population continues to grow rapidly while African talent across both spheres of music and sports is booming in abundance. This is demonstrated by the rise in popularity

and proliferation of African genres like Amapiano and Afrobeats internationally,” Muhutu-Remy wrote.

It’s Zwane’s time, from performances at the prestigious Coachella and the Met Gala (“fashion’s biggest night out”) after- party in May, attended by some of the world’s biggest names in the entertainment and music business, to having a BBC RADIO 1 Residency, Zwane wants to see more young women take center stage but hopes that they don’t feel the imminent pressure to always be viral or trending.

Her advice: “Your success can come at a rate that’s perfectly fine to you. The idea that you blow up and your life changes tomorrow is not as easy. You can literally be me with just a little more time.

But maybe you could even do better than me because you had more time. You have got to figure out who exactly you want to be.”

Ofentse Pitse
South Africa | Music conductor

Photo by Katlego Mokubyane

Instagram: 5.8K
Twitter: 5.3K
Facebook: 824
TikTok: 688

POWER. THAT IS THE WORD that comes to mind, as Pitse walks on to the set with her conducting baton for the photoshoot for this feature. Hailed the youngest African woman orchestra owner, conductor, classical music arranger, producer, musician, and curator of intimate musically inspired/influenced spaces and experiences, it’s not difficult to see why.

However, this has not come easy.

“You’ve seen me, I’m quite tiny,” Pitse laughs. “You get into this industry where you see all these groot manne (big men) and they’ve been in the industry and the business for so long. So the question you always get is ‘What are you doing here?’ There’s always that thing where I have to prove myself more than I should, and I always have to walk on stage or into spaces, or even at just rehearsals, being over-prepared.”

Serenade Magazine noted in a 2022 article that the average proportion of women in orchestras is still less than 50% while the number of female conductors is barely 10% of the total.

“Historically, in the orchestra space, you would find that not a lot of women have even the first seat. You won’t really have a female concertmaster, or even a female conductor,” Pitse adds. “It’s a very tough industry, because like I’m saying, you have to know more than what you are actually required to. So, there’s always someone who’s checking you and often it’s a guy who’s checking to see if [you] are who you say you are.”

“My grandparents were always at church and subsequently so was my mother. I had to learn something to just make sure that whenever she’s having a meeting, I’m doing something at the same time,” Pitse adds. “The trumpet became my first love in my introduction to music.”

From the Salvation Army straight to one of Netflix’s biggest shows, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.

Grammy award-winning artist Alicia Keys wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her song If I Ain’t Got You, so Netflix created a 74-piece global orchestra made up entirely of women of color to perform a rendition for the show. At the orchestra’s helm was Pitse.

“She [Keys] is the one who actually picked me. She had five options. So it wasn’t because I was a pretty look or whatever. She was like, ‘Listen, there is just something about you, and from what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard, you are so dynamic’.” Although it felt exciting to have Keys co-sign her, Pitse felt a lot of pressure to perfect this as it was a song the world had marveled over for 20 years

“We were recording the music video and in between a take, the camera guys were switching cameras. I was standing on a step in front and [Keys] was at the grand piano on my left. She then started playing the diary and when I looked to my left, she was intentionally looking at me as she was playing.

“And now she’s playing the diary and I’m looking at her and we are jamming to that diary. And it was such a special moment because I think at that moment, it meant so much to us that we were finally doing this. We were finally here [as an all-female orchestra]. When she stepped away from the piano and we were having our whispering chat, she said to me ‘Listen, we did this’… and that was amazing.”

Adam Howard, award-winning South African music composer and supervisor, describes Pitse as a visionary.

“I think Ofentse’s view of what an orchestra is and can be is just what is needed in a sometimes stagnant and closed classical world. Her passion is palpable and her work ethic second to none. There is a powerful African saying, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which means a person is a person through our relationships with other people. Ofentse knows this. She knows where she has come from, and she certainly knows where she is heading – all the way to the stars,” says Howard.

When Pitse entered the industry, her main goal was always “to break barriers” so that classical music could be propelled into popular culture, something that became evident when she did the Netflix special.

“I’ve always tried to fuse the world of the very mainstream and sacred world of classical music with the mainstream world of pop,” Pitse adds. “That is also something I continuously want to do and create more access [to] so if people can see that orchestra is actually not so boring, they will want to be a part of this world.”

Wouter Kellerman
South Africa | Flutist, producer, and composer

Photo by Katlego Mokubyane

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 16.8K
YouTube Total Average Views: 13 Million

Instagram: 13.1K
Twitter: 14.7K
Facebook: 99K

Kellerman’s myriad stellar accolades apart, what draws you (besides the melodic notes of his flute) to his story is the long journey he had to embark on to get to where he is.

In this story, Kellerman had to always “wait” before doing what he loved most.

Growing up, Kellerman’s parents encouraged his love for music. After attending a symphony concert at the age of 10 with them, he was handed the option of playing an instrument.

He, of course, chose the flute. “I was very excited to start but then my teacher was sick for the first lesson,” Kellerman smiles as he recalls the memory. “And my mom was scared we were going to break the flute if we assembled it. So every day, I would just open the flute case, look at the flute, and wonder what it would sound like, and how it would feel to play it. I would close the case, and then an hour later, open the case again.”

Although a young Kellerman got to play the flute every day after that, the wait started all over again when he left school. Wanting to study music, Kellerman knew that there was no money for university so he had to obtain a bursary.

“My other talent is maths,” Kellerman says, surprising the entire studio where he has arrived for the photoshoot in Johannesburg. “Yes, maths and music often go together, they say. Well, in my case, that was very much the situation. So I was offered a bursary to study engineering by Anglo American at the University of Johannesburg.”

The wait continued as Kellerman had to work off his bursary after his studies. To afford him the time and freedom to play the flute, Kellerman then started his own engineering software company.

“After a while, I decided, no, I want to be a full-time musician. But I ran out of money within six months,” Kellerman laughs. “So I had to go back to engineering.”

Kellerman got married and had children which meant that playing the flute professionally would just have to wait. He jokes that “every time I tried to swap over to being a full-time musician, it didn’t work”.

“The money just wasn’t enough to do music. And so, I tried that every few years and basically had to wait 20 years before I could do this full time. In the meantime, every year, I’d allow myself to go overseas for three weeks and study new masterclasses with the best flute teachers.”

Kellerman remembers fondly the moments his children would ask him what his ultimate dream was.

“I would say to them ‘Oh, to one day, get a Grammy nomination; that would be fantastic’.”

From waiting to wanting to winning – Kellerman’s story may not be over, but for the accomplished two-time Grammy award-winning artist (in 2015 and early this year for Bayethe), it feels as though life has come full circle.

Despite all the accolades in his career, Kellerman’s true mission, he says, has always been sharing South African music with the world, which he continues to.

“Wouter makes beautiful music, building bridges across cultures and sharing his positive energy with the world,” South African singer Lerato Moipone Molapo, known professionally as Lira, says.

“He is a generous soul, who is always willing to help, and his invaluable contributions have left an indelible mark on the South African music industry.”

Antos Stella, CEO of The Music Arena, adds that “Wouter Kellerman’s exceptional musical talent has paved the way for extraordinary collaborations with artists from various genres and cultures, resulting in a well-deserved array of awards”.

When he is not playing music, Kellerman enjoys a good session of acro-yoga at sunrise on the beach. The next few months are action-packed for Kellerman, who most recently performed for the Presidents at the BRICS Summit in South Africa. Next up is a slew of high-profile overseas performances.

Kellerman continues to believe in the power of collaboration as he recently partnered with award-winning Tanzanian artist Naseeb Abdul Juma Issack, popularly known as Diamond Platnumz, for their Afropop hit Pounds & Dollars.

Yemi Alade
Nigeria | Singer, songwriter, actor and activist

(Photo by Hoda Davaine/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 1.8 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 734 Million

Instagram: 17.5 Million
Twitter: 2.1 Million
Facebook: 12 Million
TikTok: 2.1 Million

In 2019, Alade made history when she became the second Nigerian and Afrobeats artist and first female to hit 100 million views for a single video on YouTube, after Davido, for her single Johnny.

Her success continued as the following year, the award-winning singer featured in Beyoncé’s 2020 musical film and visual album Black is King, and the song Don’t Be Jealous in The Lion King: The Gift album (a film and album curated by Beyoncé for the film The Lion King).

The collaboration almost did not happen as Alade thought the email was a scam.

“So, you’re getting emails from ‘Parkwood’ about a collaboration with Beyoncé. My manager was telling me that he keeps getting these messages from Parkwood. He sounded very irritated and was thinking of maybe blocking the email… and I asked him ‘What did you say, did you say ‘Parkwood’? I said (screams) ‘That is Beyoncé’,” she told Vanguard News. Having grown up listening to the American singer,

Alade had never thought she would ever work with her. “I had no idea that I was ever going to jump on not one but two songs with her,” Alade said in an E!News interview. “We went to her office in Los Angeles, and recorded the music; it got released. Then eventually, the thing that really touched me was when she privately invited me and just four other people to the movie premiere of The Lion King in London.”

Zakhele Madida (Zakes Bantwini)
South Africa | Singer, record producer and businessman

Image Supplied

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 577K
YouTube Total Average Views: 28 Million


Instagram: 921K
Twitter: 298K
Facebook: 1.1 Million
TikTok: 240.5K

Early this year, South Africa, along with the rest of the continent, celebrated as Zakhele Madida, with Wouter Kellerman and Nomcebo Zikode, won the Best Global Music Performance award for their collaboration Bayethe at the 65th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

Madida, professionally known as Zakes Bantwini, says that he knew they were going to win. “I’m really honest when I say this – I had a feeling we were going to win and I kept saying we’re going to win this thing,” Madida says to FORBES AFRICA. “There was no song in that whole category that [had] a sound like ours. No one has a voice like Nomcebo’s… she has the best voice in Africa. Then there

were flutes and everything added to the sound to surround the music. You can only get this in South Africa. I thought if this category is a part of global performance, this [Bayethe] is a global sound. And there was nobody who sounded like us so I felt like we are the best when it comes to global sound.”

“The second time I won a Grammy… I decided last year to collaborate with South African artists, because I’ve done a lot of collaboration overseas and some local, but I thought let me do something really big locally,” Kellerman adds about the win. “The category was based on global music performance, which is an incredibly competitive category. The brief to the Grammy voting community was not to vote on hype or popularity, but just to listen to the music and decide solely on the musical quality.”

Oyinkansola Sarah Aderibigbe(Ayra Starr)
Benin | Singer

(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for MTV)

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 10.7 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 404 Million


Instagram: 3.9 Million
Twitter: 1.1 Million
Facebook: 288K
TikTok: 4.8 Million

Amongst the young West Africans who have had a global impact in the music scene is 21-year-old Aderibigbe, who rose to fame on social media when she covered other artists songs.

Described by Variety as the “fast-rising Afropop singer”, her debut single Away shot her to stardom quickly followed by her hit single Rush, which surpassed 100 million streams on both Spotify and YouTube.

“[When] I posted a video — it was the first original song I posted online,” she told Variety, “and the next day my executive producer [from Marvin Records] called me and invited me to the studio. Literally three days later, I was signed.”

Aderibigbe has now worked with some of the biggest names in music, like Kelly Rowland and Tiwa Savage, both of whom she grew up listening to. “With Tiwa, whenever she calls me, I start singing her songs before I can even say hello. She’ll say, ‘Ayra, calm down’, and I’m like, ‘No, I actually have your number and you’re calling me!’ I’m very proud of where I am right now, and I’m grateful they love and believe in me,” she added, according to Variety.

Nomcebo Zikode
South Africa | Singer and songwriter

Archive Image: FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 2.9 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 373K

Instagram: 589K
Twitter: 141K
Facebook: 5.2 Million
TikTok: 630.4K

Described as having the “best voice in Africa” by Zakes Bantwini, Zikode has always managed to light up a stage with her performances. The multi- platinum-selling South African singer-songwriter told BellaNaija that she has always thanked God for all her blessings, significantly, for winning the Grammy with Kellerman and Madida, and the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Entertainer of the Year award earlier this year.

“Both the Grammy and Forbes’ awards are very prestigious and a reflection of the high standards you need to excel at to be able to say you stand a chance to win them, so these awards will always have a special place in my heart,” she said.

To FORBES AFRICA after the 2023 win, she said: “You know, people have read everywhere about my struggles. But I did not focus on my struggles – I kept on pushing. That is why today, [I am] the woman who is a Grammy winner, because I didn’t give up. I kept on pushing. I am so happy as an African woman.”

In 2020, when Covid-19 descended and forced people into the confines of their homes, TikTok kept everyone closer and calmer, and a big part of that was thanks to South African artist Kgaogelo Moagi, popularly known as Master KG, with his global hit, Jerusalema. Zikode worked with Moagi on the hit single, which debuted at Number 1 on Billboard Music Charts.

“That was a testament to the fact that music has a healing and spiritual power that we may not fully comprehend, so why not try as much as we can to use it to create a better world,” added Zikode.

Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu (Burna Boy)
Nigeria | Singer, songwriter and record producer

(Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 20.2 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 2.3 Billion


Instagram: 15 Million
Twitter: 8.7 Million
Facebook: 7.8 Million
TikTok: 5 Million

In September, Grammy award-winning Nigerian artist Ogulu became the first international Afrobeats artist to obtain the number one spot on the official weekly UK album chart.

His latest album, I Told Them… is the fourth album to actually make the UK charts.

“This album is very close to my heart, and to see it reach the number one spot is a testament to the power of music and the unbreakable connection I have with my fans,” Ogulu told CNN.

Apart from being nominated again for a Grammy, the artist has also become the first African artist to headline and sell out the 80,000-capacity London Stadium in June and then did the same the following month in the US for the 41,800-seated Citi Field in New York. He also took home Best International Act at the 2023 BET Awards, for the third time.

Sauti Sol
Kenya | Music band

Image Supplied

In the world of music, it’s not uncommon for successful music bands to break up. From Spice Girls to One Direction to Nsync and Fifth Harmony, break-ups are always a surprise when it happens, but never unexpected.

This is why for Sauti Sol, their greatest success has been their unity, for almost 20 years.

“Us being together has been our greatest achievement,” Savara Mudigi, band member, vocalist and record producer who also plays the drums and bass guitar, says to FORBES AFRICA.

“When you’re in a group, it’s very difficult for you to also know yourself as an individual but we have taken strides to know ourselves as individuals, which has been amazing and is what makes the group prosper,” Bien-Aimé Baraza, vocalist, guitarist and pianist, adds. Sauti Sol was formed in Nairobi in 2005 when high-school friends Baraza, Mudigi and Willis Austin Chimano started an ‘a cappella’ group before introducing guitarist Polycarp Otieno to the mix.

“I remember, I could only spend maybe, I don’t know 40% of my time in school,” Otieno says. “And the other time was with the music. We missed a lot of classes. I had one of my best friends covering up for me the whole time. We used to go on tour as well in between semesters.”

Not only are the band members musicians but also businessmen as they have a record label based in Nairobi that aims to uplift other artists in Kenya; through it, they also have an understanding of what business management looks like in the music industry.

“There’s a lot of opportunity there for all kinds of businesses to prosper and flourish. And we’ve been able to just build a proper structure around the business of music, and put structures in place in the business game [in] Africa,” Baraza says.

“We also have an e-commerce platform where creators can come and sell their products,” Otieno adds. “[They can] put up their shows for people to come and watch.

This is where they can be independent, and they can curate it in a way that fits [them].”

The group has also founded SolFest 2023 (which takes place in November), an event that will celebrate the journey of the group ahead of their temporary hiatus.

“What we have built over the years is such a beautiful thing, the process of getting to the moment has been beautiful…” Baraza says.

“Look at the kind of interview we’re doing, man!” Mudigi laughs, in conclusion.

Pretty Yende

(Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images for Graff Diamonds)

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 27.4K
YouTube Total Average Views: 470K views

Instagram: 74K
Twitter: 10.6K

When Queen Elizabeth II passed away in 2022, plans immediately began for coronation in May this year. As a lover of the arts, there was a big focus on the music aspect of the celebration – a process the King himself was a part of.

And so it was that the King personally invited Yende, a South African operatic soprano, to perform at the ceremony, making her the first African soloist to be invited to a British Coronation.

She performed Sacred Fire at Westminster Abbey.

“I did not even second-guess the choice of saying yes or no,” Yende says to FORBES AFRICA. “Because I have this incredible understanding of what my gift is for. It is able to do what I’m unable to do, it is able to voice what I’m not able to voice with my vocabulary or my comprehension, and it is able to be a place of love, peace, reconciliation, and hope and healing.”

For Yende, it felt like that moment was destined to happen from the time she was 16 years old in Piet Retief, now officially named eMkhondo, in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, when she was exposed to a 10-second clip of a British Airways TV advertisement that featured the Flower Duet from the opera, Lakmé.

“A highlight for me was the very first instinct I had when I heard those 10 seconds. That was a highlight, and everything that has led up to where I am now,” she says.

An opera singer in Africa may not enjoy the same star popularity as a viral performer or an Amapiano or Afrobeats artist.

Yende believes there is not enough exposure of her craft.

“The cliché is that it belongs to a certain type of person, top-class and elite. But I think we are all elite in our own right. And this [my voice] is a gift to humanity, not just to some. And the reason why it is maybe not so popular is because it’s not mainstream like it used to be. So young people are not exposed, they don’t see it that way.”

Musa Makamu (Musa Keys)
South Africa | Amapiano singer and record producer

Image Supplied

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 641.6K
YouTube Total Average Views: 23 Million

Instagram: 1.1 Million
Twitter: 128K
Facebook: 309K
TikTok: 587 K

Just over a year ago, FORBES AFRICA met with Makamu when he described his sound as “different”.

“My sound is different, the sound in my music is different, I personally sound different. Crazy. Not a lot of people know that sometimes sing on my own music.”

Today, he still believes he is different, but also describes his sound as “delicious”.

“A lot has changed since you last spoke with me,” says Makamu, popularly known across the world as Musa Keys.

“My mind space is different which has also shown in my musical creations. More than anything, I’m just in a way better place and I’m ready to give off the new music that I have, which is a great balance of every style of music you can ever think of. It’s the most delicious project you’ve ever indulged in.”

The young Amapiano artist rose to fame with his breakout song Samarian Boy and grew further in popularity with his single, Vula Mlomo. And now, Makamu has the “biggest song of the summer”, Unavailable, with Nigerian Afrobeats artist, Davido.

The song reportedly peaked at number 1 on the UK Afrobeats Singles Chart for five weeks after its release in May and has reached number 8 on the Billboard US Afrobeats Songs chart.

“I am overwhelmed [by the reception]. It’s something I never really expected. But I think it’s a feature that nobody really expected to happen. And trust me it has played a huge role in my career as well.” A big factor in the success of the song was the fusion between Afrobeats and Amapiano.

This collaboration has already seen over 78 million streams on Spotify and over 57 million views on YouTube. “I just hope and believe that other people will really see that we [as Africa] can become bigger and grow each other through ways like collaboration instead of trying to fight,” Makamu adds.

Spotify’s Phiona Okumu tells FORBES AFRICA that this cross-border collaboration both within and outside the continent is going to get bigger than it already is.

“The main reason is that collaboration drives exportation and helps artists get new fan bases. So an artist with a fan base mostly in Nigeria will get a South African fan base when they collaborate, and vice versa. A bigger fan base means more streams and more streams result in increased revenue,” she says.

David Adedeji Adeleke (Davido)
Nigeria | Singer, songwriter and record producer

Photo by Ilan Godfrey for Forbes

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 8.4 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 1.4 Billion

Instagram: 27.7 Million
Twitter: 14.1 Million
Facebook: 8.4 Million
TikTok: 3.8 Million

David Adedeji Adeleke, popularly known as Davido, has had a big role in the growth of African music globally.

“I can remember when it wasn’t cool to be from Africa – people would lie and say they were Jamaican,” Adeleke said to Forbes for a cover story featuring him in April.

According to Davin Phillips, Executive Director at Celebrity Services Africa, although Adeleke is primarily an Afrobeats artist, he has been a great advocate for Amapiano, having been one of the first artists to collaborate with Amapiano artists Lethabo Sebetso, professionally known as Focalistic, and Musa Keys, placing them in the “international spotlight”.

“They [Adeleke, Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, and Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu] are kings of the continent,” Phillips says. “What they stand and represent for the continent – they’ve been able to recruit a much bigger international audience.”

As someone who entered the industry young, Adeleke wants to see young African artists thrive in this business.

“I would be lying to you if I told you I knew the business end of music early on in my career,” Adeleke told FORBES AFRICA in an exclusive interview

in April. “But it is something I had to learn over time. I don’t think it is something that you already know when you get into the industry but I think it is

something you really do need to take seriously, that is very important.”

His new album Timeless received praise and digital plays within the first 10 days of its release. The album, which he calls “his miracle album”, debuted with 3.61 million streams and hit number 2 on Billboard’s World Album chart.

Divine Ikubor (Rema)
Nigeria | Singer and rapper

(Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 32 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 1.3 Billion

Instagram: 5.9 Million
Twitter: 4.8 Million
Facebook: 515K
TikTok: 4.7 Million

In 2021, a 21-year-old Ikubor made the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list for his achievements since posting his viral freestyle on Instagram to Nigerian Afropop artist Charles Enebeli’s (popularly known as D’Prince) track Gucci Gang.

A lot has happened with the young artist since but, most significantly, his hit single Calm Down, also featuring global pop artist Selena Gomez reached one billion streams on Spotify in September. Reportedly, Ikubor’s is the first African artist-led track to join the Billions Club on Spotify.

“It is a blessing. It is not just a big win for me, my team and family, it is also a big one for the culture,” Ikubor said in a statement released by Spotify. “I feel really happy, and I’m really proud of the fans as well for going back to the song and putting people on to the song. Shout-out to the DJs and everyone who made this possible.”

“This milestone is absolutely remarkable for Rema, marking a pivotal moment for this talented artist and the entire Afrobeats community. It’s clear that the genre is making a significant impact and gaining substantial influence on the global music stage, and we are excited to continue supporting it at Spotify,” added Victor Okpala, Spotify’s Artist and Label Partnerships Manager for West Africa.

According to Spotify, this highlights a big moment for Afrobeats music and proves how the genre continues to evolve and grow.

When the song was first released, Gomez took to social media stating: “This man has changed my life forever. Rema, thank you for choosing me to be a part of one of the biggest songs in the world. Love you forever.”

Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun (Wizkid)
Nigeria | Singer and songwriter

(Photo by Rune Hellestad – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 10.2 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 1.7 Billion

Instagram: 17.5 Million
Twitter: 12.2 Million
Facebook: 7.5 Million
TikTok: 512.4K

Critics have regarded him as one of the most prominent figures in the “modern-day Afrobeats music scene” as well as considered him as “one of the biggest and most influential African artists of all time”.

Balogun’s contributions to the Nigerian music scene have earned him several accolades, most notably the Grammy Award for Best Music Video as a lead artist on Beyoncé’s Brown Skin Girl, making that his first Grammy gong.

Balogun, known as Wizkid, has continued to make history by becoming the first African recipient to take home the BRIT Billion Award after he surpassed one billion digital streams. This is a special award given by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) to artists who have achieved over a billion streams in the UK.

Artists who have previously received this award include ABBA, Coldplay, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Rita Ora and Sam Smith.

“For a recording artist, there can be few greater sources of pride than having a platinum or gold disc on their wall,” BPI Chief Strategy Officer and interim Chief Executive Sophie Jones told Music In Africa. “But in an era when success is measured in the hundreds of millions and indeed billions of streams, it was clear that we needed a new and additional way to recognize and celebrate outstanding achievement in recorded music, and I feel certain that having a BRIT Billion Award will become equally prized.”

Ahmed Ololade (Asake)
Nigeria | Singer and songwriter

(Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images)

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 5.7 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 350 Million

Instagram: 3.8 Million
Twitter: 645K
Facebook: 752K
TikTok: 175.5K

Although Ololade began releasing music in 2017, his career as an artist really took off in 2022 with his hit single, Mr Money. A lot can change in a short time. A year on, Ololade made history in September when he became the first African artist to headline and sell out a show at the 19,000-seated Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Proving that music is a universal language, Ololade predominantly sings in Yoruba and Pidgin, blending Fuji and Amapiano to achieve his style of Afro-fusion.

“Yoruba is so important to me and there are a lot of people that understand it. And to me, the way I understand music is like it’s a feeling. Sometimes you don’t even need to understand it,” he told ABC News. “Everybody is there for the same reason, to feel good music.”

Temilade Openiyi (Tems)
Nigeria | Singer and songwriter

(Photo by Dave Benett/Getty Images for ELLE Style Awards 2023)

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 13.6 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 260 Million

Instagram: 4.8 Million
Twitter: 1.8 Million
Facebook: 1.1 Million
TikTok: 426.7K

The global recognition that this Grammy award- winning artist has received since 2022 has been exhilarating but she feels it is all happening too fast.

“There’s just so many things that have happened and I have tried to take some time to just like, take it all in and just like, be grateful for all this grace and all the blessings,” Openiyi told Apple Music last year.

Since winning the Grammy in the Best Melodic Rap Performance category for her contribution to the hit song Wait for U – a collaboration with musicians Future and Drake – as well as the Best International Act at the 2022 BET Awards, she has been celebrated for her artistic expression in the Nigerian music scene known as Alté, meaning alternative, reportedly a fusion of Afrobeats, dancehall, reggae, hip hop, and alternative R&B.

After gaining worldwide recognition for her hit singles Mr. Rebel and Try Me, Essence’s success, further ignited by Canadian singer Justin Bieber jumping on the remix, has made Tems a household name.

“I had no idea my life was about to change when I did that song,” Openiyi said in an exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA in 2022 after her feature on Balogun’s 2020 single Essence. “Every day since then is like a dream and I am super thankful for the opportunity I have for people to hear my work on a global scale.”

Tumelo Manyoni (MrJazziQ)
South Africa | Amapiano DJ and record producer

Image Supplied

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 477K
YouTube Total Average Views: 66 Million

Instagram: 1.8 Million
Twitter: 362K
Facebook: 2.5 Million
TikTok: 1.7 Million

Another name pioneering Amapiano on the global stage is Tumelo Manyoni. Hailing from one of South Africa’s biggest townships, Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, and having struggled in high school

because “he was lazy but intelligent” (per an article in GQ), in an interview with FORBES AFRICA in 2021, Manyoni said that it was those moments growing up that led him to where he is now. A big highlight of his career has been being able to travel the world and take Amapiano music with him.

“Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who had traveled as far as I have,” Manyoni says. “Who knew that making beats with my childhood friends would lead me here. We literally used to walk to Sandton and watch local celebrities and daydream about Diamond Walk (upscale shopping space in Johannesburg’s Sandton City mall) and smelling as nice as they did when they did their shopping.”

Manyoni had never anticipated how big the genre of Amapiano would be, especially considering his success as a South African artist. His song Halala is still a major hit. However, a big part of the dream for him is seeing an increased focus on the business aspect of the music industry.

“My family is big on entrepreneurship and even though they went to school and have MBAs, I am learning from them to reinvest the money we are making in music back into our communities. My passion lies in helping those around me with their startup companies. “I see the music industry reinvesting in its communities.

Amapiano was birthed by people who come from previously- disadvantaged families and my dream is for the money we make in music to help change the narrative for those that will come after us.”

Adedamola Oyinlola Adefolahan (Fireboy DML)
Nigeria | Singer

(Photo by Christopher Polk/Variety via Getty Images)

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 9.6 Million
YouTube Total Average Views: 763 Million

Instagram: 4.7 Million
Twitter: 4.5 Million
Facebook: 3.8 Million
TikTok: 225.9K

“I would not call myself an Afrobeats artist,” Adefolahan said in a CNN interview. “I am just an artist from Africa.” Known as Fireboy DML, he rose to fame in 2019 with the release of his hit song Jealous that received positive reviews and gained widespread popularity in mainstream music. The artist uses R&B, soul, and pop in his music. He does not focus on the genre but rather on his feelings.

His hit single Peru featuring Ed Sheeran was number one on the UK Official Singles Chart and on the US Afrobeats Songs last year. “Music is freedom, I just explore,” he said.

Tatenda Terence Kamera (Mr Kamera)
Zimbabwe | Music composer, producer and writer

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Spotify Monthly Listeners: 4.3K

Instagram: 17.4 K
Twitter: 3K
Facebook: 5.2K

As an award-winning South African-based music composer, producer, and writer from Zimbabwe, Kamera’s journey in music began at a young age, which led to him recording and producing his own music. His experience has since put him in rooms with some of the world’s biggest artists such as Davido, Ciara and Chris Brown. Kamera produced the latter’s new hit single, How We Roll.

“I feel like when the Chris Brown and Ciara thing happened,” he says to FORBES AFRICA, “then that really blew the ceiling off. So now I feel like I can really do this. It’s really possible. Anything is possible, but you still have that little bit of doubt. But when this song happened, it was a stamp for me to say ‘Look, buddy, your dreams are valid’.”

Beyond doing music for artists, Kamera has also produced scores for Netflix’s original movie, Glamour Girls as well as the original television series, Blood and Water.