African music has been making waves across the world in recent years. Music from the continent is known for its infectious beats and danceable rhythms. However, beyond the party anthems, there also exists an unending catalog of conscious African music that speaks to the experiences of war and conflict, while preaching peace.
Below are 20 of such songs curated in no particular order:
1. Patoranking – Abobi (2023)
“Abobi” is a moving and socially conscious song about the need for peace, love, and unity in the face of violence and conflict. Patoranking speaks up on the various forms of violence that plague the world, including police brutality, tribal wars, and terrorism. He mentions specific locations in Nigeria, such as Umukoro and Ikorodu, where violence has taken a toll on the innocent. When Patoranking sings, “Kill by a gun, you will die by a gun,” it is one of the song’s most powerful moments. ‘Nuff men dead under the sun, na so them kill the innocent man.” These lyrics remind listeners of the harsh reality of violence and its devastating consequences.
2. Patoranking – Heal D World (2018)
Patoranking departs from his usual upbeat dancehall style on “Heal D World,” delivering a conscious record that calls for global peace. The song, an empowering and redemptive anthem, emphasizes the prevalence of war and unrest in various parts of the world. Taking a cue from the late Michael Jackson’s classic “Heal the World,” Patoranking reminds us that our collective actions and inactions as a human race can make a difference in making our world a better place.
3. Africa All Stars (Youssou N’Dour, Papa Wemba, Jabu of Bayete, Lucky Dube, Lagbaja and Lourdes Van-Dunem) – So Why (1997)
The International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) spearheaded this campaign, which brought together Africa’s top musicians to join their voices in a unique plea for peace. “So Why” is the title song of the star-studded album. With Wally Badarou (Benin) acting as the artistic director, the project was recorded by Youssou N’Dour (Senegal), Papa Wemba (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Jabu of Bayete, and Lucky Dube (South Africa), Lagbaja (Nigeria) and Lourdes Van-Dunem (Angola). The song expresses the emotion they felt after meeting war victims in KwaZulu/Natal, Liberia, southern Sudan, and Angola, on a trip they took with ICRC representatives to some of the worst-affected regions in Africa. The album was released with a documentary and book titled Woza Africa, whose profit went to the war victims in Africa. The foreword was written by Nelson Mandela.
4. Asa – Fire on the Mountain (2007)
“Fire on The Mountain”, is lifted from Asa’s eponymous debut album, and serves as a metaphor for the myriad issues and difficulties that African societies face, such as terrorism, civil upheaval, and social injustice. The poignant song sees Asa sing about the need for change and transformation and the urgency of addressing these issues before they become even more serious. Laying her serene vocals over simple guitar strums the songstress warns: “One day the river will overflow and there’ll be nowhere for us to go.”
5. Alpha Blondy – Apartheid is Nazism (1986)
Seydou Koné, better known by his stage name Alpha Blondy, is an Ivorian singer who was one of the world’s most popular reggae acts throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Alpha Blondy, a staunch supporter of African unity, world peace, and religious tolerance, was able to capture the horror and strife that existed in apartheid South Africa in music. His 1986 album, aptly titled “Apartheid Is Nazism,” is one of the most powerful anti-apartheid statements ever made in music. The title single is a powerful plea to the American government to “break the neck of this apartheid.”
6. Alpha Blondy – Peace in Liberia (1992)
This song was recorded in solidarity with the people of a place Alpha Blondy once called home, given that the Ivorian megastar at a point in his journeyed career relocated to neighboring Liberia. “Peace In Liberia” is a political anthem from his 1992 album “Masada” which went double gold in France. The lyrics of the song demand an end to Liberia’s civil war, which had been raging for several years and had resulted in widespread violence and instability.
7. Alpha Blondy ft. Stonebwoy – Love Power (2022)
“Love Power” is the second single off Alpha Blondy’s most recently released album dubbed “Eternity”. The song features multiple award-winning Ghanaian Reggae-dancehall star Stonebwoy. One the poignant piece, the duo highlights the basic importance of love – urging us to spread love in order to heal the world of war and conflict.
8. Fally Ipupa – Stop A La Guerre (2013)
Renowned for his feel-good music, Congolese Ndombolo star Fally Ipupa made a turn with his 2013 release ‘Stop A La Guerre‘. Written and performed predominantly in French, the song title translates to: ‘Stop the War’. The melodious R&b-influenced number has a powerful message for peace and strongly condemns the then ongoing incidents of violence in the Eastern part of his country home country and Africa at large.
9. Daddy Lumba – Give Peace a Chance (2005)
“Give Peace a Chance” is the title song of legendary Ghanaian highlife artiste Daddy Lumba’s 2005 album. The reggae-influenced song serves as a rallying cry for people all over the world to work together to make the world a better place by showing more love and compassion. The song’s lyrics implore the audience to visualize a world free of strife and to strive to make that dream a reality.
10. Youssou N’dour ft. Idylle Mamba – One Africa (2014)
A champion for humanitarian and social issues Grammy-award-winning Senegalese legend Youssou N’dour holds the view that a song can get the message out there quicker than a political speech. He performs “One Africa” alongside singer Idylle Mamba from the Central African Republic (CAR). The song is an emotional call for peace in the then-troubled CAR where Christians and Muslims were engaged in a bitter conflict. Together, N’dour, a Muslim, and Mamba, a Christian, will demonstrate to the public that religious diversity should be embraced rather than exploited as a weapon of hatred.
11. Timaya – Dema Mama
Nigerian Afropop veteran Timaya’s solo career officially kick-started in 2005 with the release of his debut single, “Dem Mama”. The track was also featured on his debut album “True Story”, which was well-received by critics and fans alike when it was subsequently released. “Dema Mama” is written and recorded in commemoration of the 1999 Odi Massacre. An Odi native himself, the agony Timaya expresses on the record is palpable.
12. Lucky Dube – Different Colors (1993)
Lucky Philip Dube is South Africa’s biggest-selling reggae artist of all time. His hit song “Different Colours” conveys a message of unity and is a commendable attempt to break racial barriers and unite all natural persons, irrespective of race or color. Lucky Dube denounces racial discrimination and urges everyone – including governments, and politicians to refrain from separating “the people”.
13. Lucky Dube – Together As One
“Together as One” is a song by South African reggae musician Lucky Dube. The song is a call for unity and reconciliation in South Africa, which was then under the apartheid regime, a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination. The lyrics of the song speak to the need for people of all races and backgrounds to come together and work towards a common goal of building a better future.
14. Freshly Ground – Africa Unite (2010)
South African Afro-fusion band, Freshly Ground is renowned for their performance of “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” with Colombian singer Shakira, which received worldwide recognition as it was the official theme song for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. However, in the same year, the band remade “Africa Unite”, putting their own unique spin on the Bob Marley classic. The song is self-explanatory; a call on Africa to forgo the in-fighting and unite. The remake proves that Marley’s message of unity and solidarity remains just as relevant today as it was when the song was first released in 1979.
15. Burna Boy – 20.10.20 (2020)
On the evening of October 20, 2020, the #EndSARS protests came to an abrupt end after Nigerian military personnel opened fire on demonstrators at the Lekki Toll Gate area, and several different sites across Nigeria, killing several and injuring many more. Burna Boy’s “20.10.20” is a sobering narrative of the events of that night. Whilst paying tribute to the souls lost, he also points accusing fingers at various political figures for the gruesome atrocity.
16. Sonny Okosun – Give Peace A Chance (1985)
During the late 1970s to the middle of the 1980s, Sonny Okosun, a legendary musician from Nigeria, was among the top performers in Africa. His 1985 single, “Give Peace a Chance,” is a plea for peace and unification on the continent, which at the time was beset by conflicts and instability in many regions. The song’s lyrics exhort listeners to embrace peace and abstain from using violence to settle disputes.
17. Sonny Okosun – Fire in Soweto (1984)
“Fire in Soweto” is a powerful and influential protest song that speaks to the struggles of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. Its message of resistance and solidarity continues to inspire people all over the world to stand up to injustice and fight for a better future. The song’s lyrics describe the oppression and suffering endured by the people of Soweto, who faced police brutality, forced evictions, and other forms of violence and discrimination.
18. Kayo Musiq ft. Berklee College of Music – “Praying for Peace” (2015)
Multi-talented Nigerian-born musician Kayode Ajayi, also known as Kayo Musiq, wrote “Praying for Peace” while a student at Berklee College of Music. Together with his mates from school, he sings the song’s moving lyrics. The stirring song is inspired by the then ongoing turmoil in Nigeria and is a prayer for peace to reign, not just in Nigeria but all over the world.
19. Epixode ft. Stonebwoy – No War (2016)
“No War” is a collaboration by Ghanaian reggae-dancehall powerhouses Epixode and Stonebwoy. The song’s lyrics are a call for peace and unity, urging people to put aside their differences and come together for the greater good. Throughout the song, Epixode and Stonebwoy reflect on the destructive nature of war and conflict, and the need for people to work together to build a better future. They also reference various social and political issues affecting Ghana and the wider African continent, such as poverty, corruption, and inequality.
20. Fela Kuti – Zombie (1976)
Without mentioning the originator of Afrobeats, this list will fall short. “Zombie” is a scathing critique of the Nigerian military and the government’s attempts to stifle dissent and control the population. Kuti compares the Nigerian military to zombies, implying that they are mindless and blindly obedient to their superiors, regardless of the consequences for the people they are supposed to protect. One of Kuti’s most popular and enduring songs, its theme of revolution and resistance still resonates with listeners today.