African Music and Documentaries on CD, DVD, and VHS



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Africa has produced some great artists.  African music is often related to political struggles. Music played an important role in the struggle against apartheid as anyone who has hear an impromptu group of South Africans sing freedom songs such as Nkosi Sikele’l Africa (God Bless Africa). Many of South Africa’s greatest artists also played an important role in the freedom movement, often after being forced in exile.  The fused traditional music with jazz and music from other areas of Africa.  Frequently these songs were banned inside South Africa and had to be recorded outside the country.  Music also played a role in the struggle against the military dictatorships in Nigeria.  The items are available as CDs and sometimes in DVD and VHS video format.  You can buy these items by following the links to the U.S. website of for each item.  I have included Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN) for each product which will aid you in ordering the items from Amazon websites for other countries.


South Africa


Ladysmith Black Mambazo

This group was formed in 1965 by Joseph Shabalala.  They sing in the tradition of the South African a cappella form of Zulu male coral music known as isicathamiya. It was born in the mines of South Africa by Zulu migrant workers. These migrant workers lived in all male hostels neat the mines where they worked, far from home and family.  Themes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo songs, sung mostly in Zulu and English, are both religious and the trials of daily life.  In 1970 they received their first record contract.  In 1986 they recorded with Paul Simon on the Graceland album. Simon produced their next album, Shaka Zulu, which won the Grammy Award in 1987 for Best Traditional Folk Album.


Raise Your Spirit Higher: Wenyukela ASIN: B00014X8AY

This album was released ten years after the end of apartheid.


The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo [Shanachie] ASIN: B000000DXI


The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Vol. 2 ASIN: B00000DBV8


Shaka Zulu ASIN: B000002LBQ


In Harmony: Live at the Royal Albert Hall DVD ASIN: B00001ZWB5 VHS ASIN: B00001ZWB4

From the Back Cover of the DVD

Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s musical career spans over four decades as South Africa’s most popular vocal group. This 75-minute DVD features their spectacular performance at the Royal Albert Hall along with an exclusive interview with founder and lead singer of the group, Joseph Shabalala, interspersed with scenes of South Africa and a rare dressing room performance of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” The concert is a virtual “Best Of” Ladysmith Black Mambazo--uplifting, soulful and inspirational--as they deliver their beautiful acapella harmonies and delightful “tiptoe dancing” on such signature songs as “Nezazi (The Star and the Wiseman”), “Rain Rain Beautiful Rain” and Paul Simon’s “Homeless.”


Manhattan Brothers

From the late 1940s through the 1950s, the Manhattan Brothers were one of the biggest names in black South African music. They sing in both English and Zulu. While primarily male, they did include women at times, including the young Miriam Makeba.


The Very Best of the Manhattan Brothers ASIN: B00004T2DX


Miriam Makeba

South Africa’s best known female singer, she is known as Mama Africa.  She was born in South Africa in 1932.  From 1954 through 1957 she sang for The Manhattan Brothers, then the biggest name in black South African music.  In 1958 she went to London to advance her career and there she met Harry Belafonte.  As a result she moved to the New York where she recorded perhaps her two best known songs: Pata Pata and the Click Song.  In 1959 she appeared as the female lead in the jazz musical King Kong.  She was an active opponent of apartheid.  She appeared in the anti-apartheid documentary film “Come Back, Africa” directed by Lionel Rogosin which was mostly shot clandestinely in Sophiatown in 1959.  In 1960 the South African government banned her from returning to the land of her birth.  In 1963 she testified about apartheid at the United Nations.  The South African government revoked her citizenship and she became an exile.  She married jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela but separated from him and married Stokely Carmichael. Following harassment by U.S. authorities she moved to Guinea for nine years following her separation from Carmichael.  In 1986 she returned to the world state performing with Paul Simon on the Graceland tour.  The ban on her records was lifted in South Africa in 1988.  The ANC and PAC were unbanned in February 1990 and she returned to South Africa in December of that year.  She has released over thirty albums. Her autobiography, Makeba: My Story (ISBN: 0453005616), was published in 1988.


Mama Africa: The Very Best of Miriam Makeba ASIN: B0000501LX


Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks, Vol. 1 ASIN: B00000JKP4

This CD contains her earliest work from the mid-1950s, with the Skylarks vocal ensemble.


Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks, Vol. 2 ASIN: B00000JKP5

The 32 selections reissued in this two part collection bring together the greatest recordings of Miriam Makeba and the Skylarks.


Reflections ASIN: B000294RS0


In Concert Pata Pata Makeba ASIN: B00007BH7J

This two CD set includes three original albums from the vaults of Reprise Records, Miriam Makeba In Concert (1967), Pata Pata (1967) & Makeba! (1968).


Africa [LIVE] ASIN: B0000004Y0


Sangoma (1988) ASIN: B000002LDH


Homeland ASIN: B00004S5HC


Welela ASIN: B00000478X


The Guinea Years ASIN: B00005QEBA

Mixes Makeba with West African music.


An Evening With Belafonte & Miriam Makeba [IMPORT] ASIN: B00004SNG7

French reissue of 1965 album for the world music stars. 12 tracks.


Live at Berns Salonger (Stockholm, Sweden, 1966) [Import] ASIN: B0001B3XXY


Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand)

A pianist, composer, arranger, band leader and teacher, he was born Adolphus Johannes Brand in 1934 in Cape Town’s District Six.  He adopted the stage name Dollar Brand.  His music is influenced by both American jazz and traditional African music. In his early years he played with the Tuxedo Slickers and the Willie Max Band. In 1959, he, along with trumpet player Hugh Masekela and saxophonist Kippie Moketsi, formed the group Jazz Epistles, which made what many consider South Africa’s first genuine jazz record, Jazz Epistle - Verse 1, in 1960.  But being an artist in apartheid South Africa, with white prejudice and racial segregation, was stifling.  He left South Africa in 1962 for Switzerland where he met Duke Ellington, who helped arrange a recording and Ibrahim’s first performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965.  In 1968 he changed has name to Abdullah Ibrahim upon converting to Islam.  He moved back to South Africa for a period in 1973 but left again following the events that spread across the country following the Soweto uprising in 1976.  He then moved to New York and in 1983 set up the group Ekaya. He returned to South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela.


The Very Best of Abdullah Ibrahim ASIN: B00004U02Q

“This delightful collection presents a chronological selection of the South African pianist’s live and studio recordings for the Enja label from 1979 to 1997. Consisting entirely of original compositions, the album reveals the bittersweet elegance and irrepressible optimism of a rare musical genius in a profoundly lyrical blend of classic modern jazz with the celebratory folk and spiritual traditions of South Africa.” --Michael Stone, Rhythm Magazine


The Best of Abdullah Ibrahim ASIN: B000063WCN


Cape Town Revisited (Original release date: 2002) ASIN: B00002DFOQ

“South African piano veteran Abdullah Ibrahim takes his time on this fine retrospective of tunes inspired by the homeland he can once again visit in the wake of apartheid’s end. Characteristically, Ibrahim runs his loping, fetchingly melodic tunes together, creating a sense of reverie while he summons scenes from marketplaces and townships.”


Live at Montreux (Original release date: 1980) ASIN: B000005C6T


Buddy Tate Meets Abdullah Ibrahim: The Legendary 1977 Encounter ASIN: B000003H94


African Piano (Original release date: 1969) ASIN: B0000260C9


Anatomy of a South African Village [LIVE] (Original release date: 1965) ASIN: B0000015QH


Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Band Trio (Original release date 1963) ASIN: B000002KO6


Hugh Masekela

Born in near Johannesburg, Masekela was introduced to the trumpet by anti-apartheid activist Father Trevor Huddleston. He played in South Africa with Dollar Brand, Jonas Gwangwa, and Kippie Moeketsi.  In 1961 he went into exile and Harry Belafonte helped him get established in the U.S.  He was an active supporter of the anti-apartheid movement. He co-wrote the score to the musical Sarafina! He preformed with Paul Simon on the Graceland tour and He returned to South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela but continues to tour around the world.


Grazing in the Grass: The Best of Hugh Masekela ASIN: B00005QGB1

“In 1968, a little-known South African-born trumpeter and flugelhornist named Hugh Masakela released an instrumental single called “Grazing in the Grass.” Its catchy, percussive rhythms and jazzy horn lines made it an international hit, and turned Masakela into an overnight star. This compilation contains 14 of Masakela’s most celebrated tracks recorded from the ‘60s to the ‘90s.” - Eugene Holley Jr.,


Hope ASIN: B0000057QH


Hugh Masekela & Union of South Africa ASIN: B000001A6T


Collections with various artists


Long Walk to Freedom – A Celebration of 4 Decades of South African Music ASIN: B00004TACP


Indestructible Beat of Soweto ASIN: B000000DW2


South African Rhythm Riot ASIN: B00002JXC5


The Rough Guide to South African Music ASIN: B000001I1S


Homeland: A Collection of Black South African Music ASIN: B0000003N1


Homeland, Vol. 2: Collection of Black South African Music  ASIN: B00000038P


Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony [ENHANCED]  CD: ASIN: B00007MB6Z

This 29-track soundtrack for the documentary Amandla: A Revolution in Four Party directed by Lee Hirsch that features a musical history of the movement, often highlighting powerful rallying cries of revolution. It took ten years to make the documentary. It is now available on DVD ASIN: B0000C2IWO and VHS ASIN: B0000C2IWP. There are songs from such well-known figures as Mariam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim, and South African star Vusi Mahlasela and many others as well as members of Pretoria Central Prison and chanting crowds from various town hall meetings.


Rhythm of Resistance - Black South African Music (1979) You can get this in DVD ASIN: B00004YA70 or VHS ASIN: 6301311744

 “Rhythm of Resistance crosses the forbidden boundaries of apartheid and looks at the sorrow and joy of Black South African music. Music that had been ignored, censored or suppressed comes alive in unforgettable moments, often filmed clandestinely. From Zululand roots to Soweto street singing, from the defiant dancing of workers on their day off to all night singing contests, Rhythm of Resistance captures the panorama of Black South African music during the years of apartheid. Features performances and intimate moments with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Philip Tabane and Malombo, the Mahotella Queens, Abafana and more.” – Description from


South African Freedom Songs 2 CDs ASIN: B000063VET

Freedom songs were central to the liberation struggles. The first CD is a documentary in twelve parts, with interviews from many leaders of the struggle, which examines freedom songs and their development as the struggle developed.  Among those interviewed are Pallo Jordon, Walter Sisulu, Ronnie Kasrils, Desmond Tutu, John Matshikiza and Baleka Mbete.  Nelson Mandela also appears.  The second CD has 25 songs from various artists/groups including Mayibuye, ANC Choir Angola, ANC Choir London, Amandla, Workers Choir and Sechaba, Zambia.  These are not professionally recorded by professional musicians as the other music is on this page.



Nigerian Music


Fela Anikulapo Kuti

“Nigerian band leader, saxophonist and political activist; credited with the invention of afro-beat. In a career that spanned 4 decades he established himself as one of the most popular figures in African music, with a musical influence that has spread around the globe.” – BBC.  Born in Abeokuta, Nigeria in 1938, Fele Kuti was a singer-composer, trumpet, sax and keyboard player, bandleader.  He was also a political activist and his music reflected his opposition to a long series of military dictatorships including that of Sani Abacha.  His music was extremely popular in Nigeria except with the military, which he regularly attacked.  He learned to play the saxophone as a teenager and in 1958 went to London and enrolled in Trinity College of Music were he spent four year.  At this time he started the group, Koola Lobitos. In 1962 he moved back to Nigeria. By 1968 he was calling his music Afro-beat. In 1969 Fela and the Koola Lobitos toured the U.S. where he met black activists including Angela Davis and Stokeley Carmichael.  He returned to Nigeria, renamed Koola Lobitos to Afrika70, and by 1972 was one of the biggest stars in West Africa. His music reflected is political opposition to the Nigerian state.  For more information see the African Music Encyclopedia.


The Best Best of Fela Kuti (Original release date: 2000) ASIN: B00002ZZ2P

This is a 2 CD compilation of his music. Political activist, outspoken radical, and inventor of Afro-beat, Fela Anikulapo (“he who carries death in his pouch”) Kuti left behind him an incomparable legacy of music when he died in 1997. His struggles against the Nigerian state became the stuff of legend in his home country; his denunciations of world leaders such as Reagan and Thatcher gained him notoriety abroad. But his music remains as his supreme achievement over and above the details of his amazingly courageous life.” –


Beasts of No Nation/O.D.O.O. (Original release date: 2001) ASIN: B00004XT2S


Zombie (Original release date: 1977) ASIN: B00000DQJK

The Zombies are the Nigerian military. There have been several re-releases of this album but it is not clear that the cuts are the same as the original on all versions.


Underground System (1992) ASIN: B00004XT2Q


Fela With Ginger Baker Live! T ASIN: B00004Z4YL


Underground Spiritual Game ASIN: B0002OOUNW


Coffin for Head of State/Unknown Soldier ASIN: B00000JOEW

I believe this was recorded in 1981.


Confusion/Gentleman ASIN: B00000JOEX


Expensive Shit/He Miss Road ASIN: B00000JOEY


Open and Close/Afrodisiac (Original release date: 2001) ASIN: B00004XT21