FORBES AFRICA ranks the top 10 most bankable musicians in the continent. We have a mix of battle hardened veterans and bright rising stars. Read it, argue over it and debate it. Music is our middle name in this May edition of FORBES AFRICA. We also look into what happens when the crowds melt away and how finance can be a musician’s best friend.
- Oliver Mtukudzi, Zimbabwe
Sixty five, that’s the number of albums Oliver (Tuku) Mtukudzi has under his belt. That’s more than Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.
It’s a remarkable career stretching back 41 years with songs that have enlivened parties all over the world with hits like Neria, Todii and Wasakara.
“I never decided to be in the music industry. It was in me. My mother said ‘you are a good singer but you will never surpass your birth cry. Your birth cry was so beautiful’. So I believe that’s when I started singing, from my first breath,” says Mtukudzi.
Born on September 22, 1952, in Highfield, a suburb in Harare, Zimbabwe; music runs in his blood. Both his parents were musicians. They met at a choir competition and sang a duet for life.
It wasn’t long before he found his voice.
“I made a three-string guitar for myself from a tin around 1969 or early 1970s with the help of a [relative]. I was always playing it. My father didn’t like it and he broke the guitar,” he recalls.
It wasn’t going to stop him. He made up songs as a child and sang everywhere he could.
“One day, I decided to perform for my parents standing on the table and they enjoyed it so much I didn’t get smacked for standing on the table. I remember my mother noticed I had been standing on the table, two or three days later. That’s how good it was,” he chuckles.
Mtukudzi followed his passion
His Tuku Music album, featuring the smash hit Todii went gold in its first month of release in Zimbabwe.
His skill is appreciated from Angola to Zimbabwe where he sells out concerts. He has millions of views on YouTube, has starred in movies and has over 30 awards; among them, the National Arts Merit Awards, Zimbabwe Music Awards, KORA Awards, South African Music Awards and the Breaking Through The Borders award.
“I don’t understand Shona but I sing along to his music and buy his albums. I google my favourite songs so I can get a bit of understanding of what he is saying because I love his voice and artistry. His music makes me feel alive,” says South African fan Ntuthuko Buthelezi.
There is no stopping him making the world feel alive.
- Sarkodie, Ghana
Born Michael Owusu Addo, Sarkodie has racked up millions of views on YouTube for his music with his debut album and first single, Baby, among the favorites.
He started out as an underground rapper which helped him cross paths with his former manager, Duncan Williams, who helped launch his career.
Staying true to his identity, he is a big advocate of Azonto, a Ghanaian genre that is said to have been born out of Kpanlogo, a traditional dance.
Mewu, the first single off his fourth album, Mary, sold almost 4,000 copies on the first day of its release in Ghana’s Accra.
His hard work does not go unnoticed. Sarkodie was the first Ghanaian to win a BET award and has the most nominations. In 2015, he was ranked the 19th “Most Influential Ghanaian” by e-TV Ghana and in 2013 and 2015, he was ranked 8th on FORBES and Channel O’s list, “Top 10 Richest/Bankable African Artists.”
His ambitions don’t end here. In 2013, he launched his clothing line Sark by Yas, launched Obidi Chief Headphones which endorses, among others, Samsung and telecommunications company, Tigo. In 2014, he also launched the music label SarkCess to empower other African artists.
2017 promises to be an even more exciting year for Sarkodie.
- Davido, Nigeria
Davido has claimed a high status in just five years. The single Back When planted him firmly in the music business in 2011.
“It was people like [Nigerian music veterans] P-Square and D’Banj who made me believe that all this was possible,” he recalls.
Dami Duro, an unexpected hit, leaked online almost a year prior to its official release, became the crown jewel for his widely acclaimed 2012 debut album, Omo Baba Olowo.
He became the talk of the continent, securing not just the buy-in of African fans by the multitude, but also unanimous media acknowledgement, with accolades including two MTV Africa Music Awards and the BET Award for ‘Best African Act’. He has also worked with MTN, Guinness, Unilever and has millions of views on YouTube.
“God has been very good and he continues to be. I am very fortunate,” he says.
Last year, he caught the eye of Sony and dissolved his lucrative co-owned HKN record label.
“I had four offers and I went with the one that was going to get my music out there. Right now everybody is trying to grab a piece of Africa. I went with the team that believed and was actually interested in my music.”
Just weeks shy of his 24th birthday, Davido gifted himself with the something money can’t buy. He released Son of Mercy, his very first internationally recorded, produced and released EP; collaborating with R&B It-Girl Tinashe on How Long.
“I could have done an outright R&B record but I decided to take what Tinashe does and fuse that with the culture back at home,” he says.
Davido has collaborated with Young Thug, Future, Trey Songz and Rae Sremmurd, and has toured the world.
No doubt, there is more to come.
- WizKid, Nigeria
Wizkid is arguably currently running the world of Africa music.
Grammy Award-winning artist, Alicia Keys and husband Swizz Beatz, danced to his songs Ojuelegba and Caro, with Keys posting a video on her Instagram account with the caption, “This song makes me happy” and Kylie Jenner posted a video of herself dancing to Wizkid’s music on snapchat.
The Nigerian singer and songwriter is spreading the Afrobeat sound to the world. He co-wrote and co-produced One Dance, Drake’s Hot 100-topping hit, has signed a multi-album worldwide deal with Sony Music International and is a Pepsi ambassador.
WizKid, born Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, made his mark with Holla At Your Boy in 2010 and has since won many awards, among them the BET Award for Best International Act Africa in 2012 and MTV Europe Music Award for Best Worldwide Act.
His rise to fame started with singing in church at the age of 11 before collaborating with M.I in the award-winning Fast Money Fast Cars in 2009.
He now hangs out with Akon and Chris Brown and has worked with Rihanna, French Montana, Trey Songz, Tinie Tempah and Wale.
- Jidenna, Nigerian-American
It was a life of passion mixed with fear. By the age of 10, Jidenna Theodore Mobisson knew he wanted to do music but was afraid to tell his computer science professor father who wanted him to be an engineer. It was just as well that his name means embracing the father.
“I worked up the nerve to tell him and my family… luckily after a few years he came around and said ‘just make sure you are an inventor, innovator in your field and you treat your work like a science’,” says the Stanford graduate.
It took years to make the dream a reality. He connected with singer and Wonderland record label founder, Janelle Monáe. With her help, two years ago, he produced the smash hit Classic Man with over 56 million views on YouTube; followed by a remix with Kendrick Lamar.
Jidenna is as classic as his song. He dresses in sharp tailored suits that many adore.
“I started wearing suits to grieve my father. In the 70s and 80s they were always in suits. My father was also disabled and walked with a cane so I wanted to embody my father just like my name means embracing the father.”
Jidenna has never forgotten his roots.
“As my father would tell the story, I was conceived in Nigeria and then they went to the US for me to be born there so I could have a blue passport,” he says with a chuckle.
As soon as he could fly, at a few weeks old, his parents took him back to Enugu, in Nigeria, where he spent the next six years of his life before moving back to the US.
“I have a lot of memories growing up in Nigeria because that is where I learned to walk and talk. I remember the chiefs that were my father’s friends hanging out in the living room drinking Heineken… I remember playing outside in the red mud after the thunderstorm…”
Life in the US was tough.
“My accent was a lot thicker than it is now and I was teased a lot… Even though Jidenna is my first name, like many African children in the US, I tried to abbreviate it, make it shorter and make it more of a English sounding name, I went by my middle name for a while. It was a big cultural shock,” he says.
In high school, he took an African American history class which he says brought him closer to the continent and when time to go to university came, he made sure everyone knew him as Jidenna.
Last year, he released his debut album, The Chief, which he promoted, first, in Lagos and Johannesburg.
“I am a Naija boy… I am focused on creating infrastructure of industries. I want more publishing and royalties to be available to artists in Africa in the music industry so there can be more money and more job opportunities.”
Jidenna has also been working with former US First Lady, Michelle Obama, on her education initiative, does speaking gigs, private shows and was in the HBO series Insecure.
He is currently doing a US national tour, will do an African tour in October and will work on his next album in between.
He leaves us with food for thought.
“I hope we don’t chase the American dream but create our own African dream.”
He is playing his part.
- Tinashe, Zimbabwe-American
Twenty-four-year-old Tinashe Kachingwe sang before she could talk. Her Zimbabwean father Michael, and mother Aimie, from Denmark, have always helped.
Tinashe was a child model by the age of three, made her first appearance in 2000 in the film Cora Unashamed and her voice starred in the cartoon feature film The Polar Express alongside Oscar winning actor, Tom Hanks.
Her debut album, Aquarius, drew a tidal wave of acclaim especially with the #1 multi-platinum single 2 On featuring Schoolboy Q.
Her graceful twists and turns and magical voice have earned her respect among the who’s who of the industry. She has collaborated with the likes of Nick Jonas, Future, Chance The Rapper, A$AP Rocky, Calvin Harris, Usher, Chris Brown and Britney Spears. Her voice has also earned opening spots on tours with Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry and Maroon 5. She also wrote That’s My Girl for Fifth Harmony, was announced as Pepsi’s newest Sound Drop artist and her Britney Spears collaboration, Slumber Party, reached the #1 position on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart.
This is a solid foundation for her dream to be an R&B star. Tinashe has taken her career to the next level featuring on the hit comedy Two and a Half Men and will play herself in a multi-episode storyline, on the Fox drama series, Empire, alongside Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard.
Where there is talent, there is opportunity and money.
Tinashe is a brand ambassador for various multinational brands and has relationships with the likes of Alexander Wang, Ralph Lauren and MAC Cosmetics.
That’s not all.
She is the face and owner of her own lifestyle brand, Svu Svu, was honoured as one of 2015’s ELLE Women in Music and was hand-picked by Janet Jackson to perform a tribute to her at the 2015 BET Awards.
Money keeps pouring in for Tinashe and she is only 24.
- Don Jazzy, Nigeria
Like many artists, Don Jazzy, real name Michael Collins Ajereh, started playing music as a child in church before moving to the UK to pursue his career.
“I worked as a security guard in the UK, and after a while I realized I could make some money playing the bass guitar. A friend of mine helped me and took me with their band to play at restaurants and different venues,” he says.
At the time, he would make £150 or £200 for playing for about five hours in London.
“The band got popular that I could make £500 per gig. I grew to the point that I played at a wedding for the President’s daughter at the time.”
This steered him to music production.
Two years later, with then partner D’banj, he decided to move back to Nigeria to make Afrobeats.
“We worked on the album in the UK, so that when we got home we would have something to present. As soon as we got home people accepted us and loved the music.”
It was upward movement from then on. Don Jazzy is a multi-award winning artist, was MTN brand ambassador and is running a successful record label which is home to stars like Dr.SID and Tiwa Savage, is in real estate and launched Flobyt, a company that provides free Wi-Fi in Nigeria.
“With Flobyt we make money from advertising because the people watch like a 10-second video before logging on.”
There is no turning back for Don Jazzy.
- Hugh Masekela, South Africa
Born in Witbank, east of Johannesburg, Hugh Masekela is committed to restoring African heritage. This world-renowned flugelhornist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer and singer has released more than 43 albums and performed with Marvin Gaye, Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Miriam Makeba.
“The music I make, I don’t call it my music. It is based on my township and indigenous rural roots in South Africa. That’s what brought me fame all over the world,” he says.
At the age of 14, he got his first trumpet and developed his signature sound in the late 1950s, melding jazz with African music.
His first album, Trumpet Africaine, was released in 1962.
In the ensuing decades, he became an international star and an outspoken political voice with songs such as Stimela, with over a million YouTube views, Soweto Blues and Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela), which became an anti-apartheid anthem.
His music did not whither with the apartheid government.
In 2010, he opened the FIFA World Cup Kick-Off Concert; South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma honored him with the highest order in the country given for achievements in arts, culture, literature, music, journalism, and sports, and the US Virgin Islands proclaimed ‘Hugh Masekela Day’, not long after he joined U2 on stage during the Johannesburg leg of their world tour.
Masekela, who also owns a studio and record label, has numerous awards, honorary doctorates and was nominated for a Grammy for his 2010 album Jabulani in the best world music category, alongside Jay-Z, Kanye West, Frank Ocean and Mumford & Sons. He is insurance company Assupol’s brand ambassador since 2012
Masekela maintains a busy international tour schedule as his fan base around the world continues to grow. He shows no signs of slowing down. Between April and November, he will perform in London, South Africa and three shows in the US for up to $125 to admit one. His music is also sold online for about $10, and reports claim it would cost about $20,000 for a live performance from the star.
Accolades, sold out concerts and smash hits are Masekela’s way of life.
- Black Coffee
Black Coffee, real name Nkosinathi Maphumulo has not only raised the bar for South African house music, but has put it on the world map.
The multi-award-winning artist was born in South Africa’s house music province, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), raised in the Eastern Cape province, where struggle stalwart Nelson Mandela hailed from, before moving back to KZN to study music. It was worth it.
In 2003, he was chosen as one of two South African participants in the Red Bull Music Academy steering him into the South African DJ scene. He never looked back.
The DJ founded Soulistic Music, a leading management and record company, and introduced himself to the world through a self-titled album.
The year 2008 marked a very fruitful year in Black Coffee’s career. Soulistic Music signed releases from Culoe De Song, Tumelo and Zakes Bantwini, all achieving gold and platinum sales.
Black Coffee took his career a step further to collaborating with international artists. He worked with Alicia Keys on a remix of In Common, released a Superman remix with Drake and even R&B superstars Usher and John Legend want to do songs with him.
One of his Pieces of Me album favorites, We Dance Again became part of a worldwide dance challenge with people taking videos of themselves dancing outside a car.
“This new Black Coffee album is crazy,” said rapper Swizz Beatz on his Instagram jamming to the album.
His work has been recognized all over the world. Last year, he was the first South African to win a BET Award. He also won three South African Music Awards and a DJ Award for Best Deep House, and does sold-out tours.
When in the US, Black Coffee hangs with P Diddy. He has earned the seat at the high table.
- Akon, Senegalese-American
With over 35 million albums sold worldwide, numerous awards, five Grammy Award nominations, 45 Billboard Hot 100 songs under his belt and over 51 million likes on his Facebook page, Akon is not only bankable but also unstoppable.
He has had chart-dominating singles like Smack That and Lonely, he’s made more than 300 guest appearances for the likes of Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, Lil Wayne, R. Kelly and Eminem. That’s not all.
The singer and producer was not only listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the #1 selling artist for master ringtones in the world, but also became the first solo artist in history to lock down both the number one and number two spots on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Senegalese-American isn’t showing signs of slowing down. With a new album on deck for 2017, he has set his sights on breaking into Hollywood and is already well on his way to making his mark landing his first major movie in indie action thriller American Heist, a remake of the 1959 Steve McQueen movie The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.
He is also a friend of corporates, cashing in on the Pepsi soccer ad campaign and was in FORBES’ Celebrity 100 list in 2010.
His unquestionable musical talent aside, Akon is a formidable entrepreneur and humanitarian.
He owns two thriving record labels which helped jumpstart the careers of both Lady Gaga and T-Pain and is founder of Konvict clothing.
With a heart even bigger than his resume, Akon also created The Konfidence Foundation, a youth charity organization, and in February 2014, he launched a partnership to bring solar energy to half a billion African households with the Akon Lighting Africa and, most recently, Akon Lighting Asia projects.