Afro-Folk is the name we give to a type of ethnic Folk originating in Africa. The African-rooted singer-songwriters include the so-called Griots. Although amalgamated in one phrase, Afro-Folk encompasses many musical styles that varies from tribe to tribe across African regions.
In ancient African cultures, notably the Mali Empire, the griots were professional and hereditary musician and storytellers who manipulated the tribe(s) language(s) and their instrument with great skill. They acted as ambassadors across tribes to share news, culture and music. At home, they were the historians and poets of the village who spoke to the old and the young about their traditions with the aid, for example, of a Kora (African string instrument) or a Djembe (African drum).
Today, those traditional, hereditary griots can still be found. However, a lot of those that are considered so today have not gained the title by blood but by the evidence of their musical work across cultures and in their own country or tribe, inspired by their predecessors in the musical rather than the blood line. The extremely socio-linguistically fragmented culture in Africa presents a real challenge to these artists and few make it across countries in the continent that do not speak the same language. Although languages of the African diaspora are most used and seen as having the most impact in communicating issues and feelings pertaining arguably only to Africa, Western languages and their broken versions (pidgin, creole…) are increasingly used to broaden the impact of a (world-)widely spread Diaspora. As a result of this, many African griots tend to be multilingual if this aspect is not actually considered essential in the ‘genre’.
Some known Artists in the Afro-Folk genre (from different generations too!)
Born in the 1920s, Francis Bebey is a Cameroonian singer-songwriter, storyteller, musician (guitarist and sanza player) and musicologist, broadcaster, the author of three books, and filmmaker. Educated at the Sorbonne and the USA, he played a variety of musical styles including classic guitar, traditional music including Cameroonian Makossa and pigmy vocalisations, Jazz, fused Western and African music, singing in his native Douala, in French and English.
Miriam Makeba, also known as Mama Africa is a South African music artist and civil rights activist (particularly against apartheid). A lady of the 1930s, she was the first ambassador of African music around the world with numbers such as the song “Pata Pata”. She has performed around the world and has collaborated with many artists internationally, including Harry Belafonte (Malaika), Paul Simon, and Hugh Masekela.
The Malian music artist Rokia Traoré comes to us from the 70s. She is a Victoires de la Musique award-winning singer and songwriter and winner of Radio France Internationale’s “African Discovery” prize.Her multi-cultural influences and her homeland’s music traditions fuse to form her style, performed and distributed worldwide via multiple records and tours. For her performances and records, she accompanies her singing with guitar, ngoni or balafon and makes use of vocal harmonies.
Emile Soki is a talented singer-songwriter from the Democratic Republic of Congo who emerged in the late 1960s / early 1970s when he was 16 (and thereby a child of the 1950s) as part of the popular “Smooth Soukous” band Bella-Bella also known as Orchestre Bella-Bella or Frères Soki (Brothers Soki) since it was formed with his brother Maxim Soki. Although most of what can be found is hi work as part of the band, Emile Soki has always been recognised as a highly talented songwriter from a very young age, even taking the first prize at a music competition and winning the heart of his nation with his lyrical expression.
A child of the 1940s, Cameroonian Eboa Lotin releases his first oeuvre at 20 years old and continues until he passes away. Winner of the first prize Concours Vick’s Vedette with Duke Ellington presiding the jury and Myriam Makeba a member of it. He is one of the rare artists to have been called to perform around his birth continent by several governments. eboalotin.com
Of the 1940s, Pierre Akendengué is a Gabonese musician and composer. With his country’s “Prix d’excellence” for his body of work and privileged position as the government’s cultural advisor, the Gabon and France educated artist carries out his musicianship with integrity. He studied psychology and also music (solfeggio and plainchant) and received a doctorate from the University of Paris for his study of religion and education among the Nkomi. He has recorded 20 albums including self-penned songs andpoems by P. E. Mondjegou that he set to music. This champion of traditional Gabonese music sings in his native Nkomi, various other Gabonese languages and French.
Afro-Folk Playlist (Track name, Artist, Song Language, Artist’s Origin)
- M’Bifo, Rokia Traore, Mali
- Idiba, Francis Bebey, Duala, Cameroon
- Pata Pata, Miriam Makeba, South Africa
- Emile Soki, Lingala, D.R.C.
- Evo, Pierre Akendengue, Miènè, Gabon
- Mun’a Mulato, Eboa Lotin, Cameroon