“Networks create context. Movement along the network to subcategories or adjacent networks creates new insights out of new context, and importantly the person retains an ability to engage with the old context, while inculturating himself to a broader view.”
“Organize at least some significant portion of your knowledge of the world in terms of place, whether by country, region, or city. If you do that, virtually every person will be interesting to you, if only because almost everyone has some valuable knowledge of particular places.” – Tyler Cowen
I just booked a trip to visit Benin, Togo, and Ghana this spring. A number of my friends have asked me why I am traveling there and are confused by my response: I am merely curious to observe what life is like there.
Up until ~seven years ago, I didn’t have any sense of what Africa was. I didn’t understand basic groupings like how East Africa or West Africa differed, what regions were Muslim or Christian, where major languages were spoken, where various historically significant events occurred etc, or really anything about culture in various African countries.
This all changed when I started listening to African music. In 2016, I discovered William Onyeabor, a Nigerian funk musician, after his music was reissued by David Byrne’s Luaka Bop record label. From there, I started listening to African jazz and funk compilations, which then spiraled into exploring classic albums from countries like Ethiopia, Benin and Cameroon. This led me to read many books on African-related themes and visit a large number of African countries over multiple trips.
While I am not an expert on Africa by any means, discovering William Onyeabor’s music put me on a path where I now have enough contextual understanding of Africa that countries like Benin fascinate me.
Given my positive experience, I wanted to share some of my favorite African music, organized by country. I hope you will enjoy these groovy tunes and perhaps use this music as a tool to develop a better understanding of Africa like I did.
Hailu Mergia And The Walias– Tche Belew (1977) and Tezeta (1975)
Mulatu Astatke – Mulatu of Ethiopia (1972)
Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – Éthiopiques 21: Piano Solo
Yasimika – Jali Musa Jawara (1983)
Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime (2021)
Bombino – Agadez (2011)
Hamad Kalkaba and The Golden Sounds: 1974-1975 (just listen to that bass!)
Ebo Taylor – Ebo Taylor (1977) and Twer Nyame (1978)
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou – The Vodoun Effect 1972-1975
Angelique Kidjo – Remain In Light (Talking Heads cover) –
William Onyeabor – Who is William Onyeabor?
You may notice that aside from Ethiopia, all of the countries mentioned are contiguous. Aren’t you curious to investigate out why this is!
- World Psychedelic Classics, Volume 3: Love’s a Real Thing – The Funky Fuzzy Sounds Of West Africa 
- Nigeria 70 (The Definitive Story of 1970’s Funky Lagos) 
- Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976–1984 
- Ghana Soundz: Afro-Beat, Funk and Fusion in 70’s Ghana 
- African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Sounds From Benin & Togo 70s