Music and African football have always been inextricably linked. Think of some of Africa’s most iconic moments in football: Roger Milla and his dance at the corner flag, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Bafana Bafana on the half-turn in synchronized rhythm, and Robert Kidiaba bum-bouncing after a goal. It’s not just the players that punctuate the rhythm of play with dance, at times the terraces at Cup of Nations tournaments can turn into impromptu flash mobs.
With just a few days to go before we kick off the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, we’ve put together our official Africa Is A Country playlist, exploring some of the most iconic songs in African football and explaining why they mean so much to so many on the continent.
Artist: Felix Wazekwa
There is perhaps no song or dance more synonymous with the African Cup of Nations than Felix Wazekwa’s “Fimbu.” The Congolese basin has a rich musical heritage as it is home to Congolese Rumba, a genre of music that lends itself easily to the pitch. What makes “Fimbu” fun is that it is not necessarily the song itself, but rather its famous dance. DR Congo players use the whipping/spanking choreography made famous in Wazekwa’s music video to celebrate goals whenever they score at the Cup of Nations. When supporters of the Leopards join in on the action and scream “FIMBU, FIMBU, FIMBU,” there’s a little piece in all of us that wishes that we were Congolese.
Artist: Gadji Celi
Track: “Sénégal 92”
What separates this track from others is that the artist, Saint-Joseph Gadji-Celi, was a football player himself. Not only was he a great footballer, and the captain of the first Ivorian national team to lift the Africa Cup of Nations trophy for their country in 1992. but Gadji Celi also had a blossoming musical career parallel to his footballing one. Before every African Cup of Nations tournament, Gadji Celi released a song to motivate his teammates and galvanize support back home. While his songs “Maroc 88” (for the 1988 Afcon hosted in Morocco), and “Algérie 90” (for the 1990 Afcon hosted in Algeria) were bona fide hits, “Sénégal 92” is by far his most popular football song, as it was the year in which he and his teammates would win the trophy. After his playing career ended, Gadji Celi continued to sing and evolved into a veritable superstar. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Gadji Celi is now more famous for his music than his accomplishments on the pitch.
Artist: Rabah Driassa
Track: “Mabrouk ‘alina”
In the heyday of socialist Algeria, as access to different kinds of music was restricted, national artists were often commissioned by the state to sing patriotic songs that would then be broadcast on state television. Rabah Driassa was one such artist. For instance, he would sing about the different provinces of Algeria and their beauty. But, perhaps his most famous song is, “Mabrouk ‘alina,” which was released in the mid-1980s, as Algeria qualified for its second successive World Cup. “Mabrouk ‘alina” is a song strictly about football, and the chorus goes: “Congratulations to us, this is just the beginning, and there is more to come.” The song was so popular in Algeria that it bled over the borders and can be heard sung by fans of neighboring countries, usually after their teams score an important goal or win an important match.
Artist: Tagoe sisters
Track: “Yedi nkunim”
For Ghanaians of a certain age, this song is the very definition of nostalgia. Accra’s most famous twin sisters Lydia Dedei Tagoe and Elizabeth Korkoi Tagoe grew up singing in church choirs, and quickly transformed their musical talent into a professional career. To this day, their greatest hit is “Yedi Nkunim,” whose chorus goes: “We are victorious, we’ve been victorious, we will be victorious again!” The tune was used as a theme song for the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation before televised matches of the Black Stars and continues to touch a chord of nostalgia until this day.
Artist: Hamada Helal
Track: “Amalouha regala”
The most successful side ever at the African Cup of Nations was the Egyptian national team under coach Hassan Shehata in the mid-2000s. That Egyptian side, which was made up of mostly players playing in the domestic league, would play high-flying football and win three consecutive African Cup of Nations from 2006 to 2010. Although Mohammed Aboutrika and the team never made it to a World Cup, they are widely recognized as the golden generation of Egyptian football, and the soundtrack to their success was Hamada Helal’s “Amalouha regala,” which translates as: “The men have done it.”
Artist: Austino Milado
Track: “Super Eagles carry go”
Okocha, Kanu, Oliseh, Finidi, Babayara, West … Who didn’t love the golden age of the Nigerian Super eagles in the 1990s? For many, they remain the greatest collection of talent in an African starting XI, and they are forever immortalized in Austino Milado’s “Super Eagles carry go.” As enjoyable as the song is, “Super Eagles carry go” really makes a mark with the music video, which is a nonstop compilation of the Nigerian national team’s best plays with Milado dancing in front of a green screen on top of it. It isn’t rare to hear parts of the song sung at Nigerian matches even in the present day.
Artist: Manu Dibango
Track: “Soul Makossa”
When Cameron hosted the African Cup of Nations in 1972, President Ahmadou Ahidjo was determined for it to be a clamoring success. Not only was it the first time that the central African nation was hosting the tournament, but there was also a crucial referendum that was to take place in the months following the Cup of Nations. Therefore, the president pulled out all the stops to ensure that the tournament was of the highest caliber, including commissioning Cameroonian artist Manu Dibango to create a soundtrack for the tournament. Dibango came up with “Soul Makossa,” an intemporal piece that would go on to be sampled by the likes of Michael Jackson and Rihanna.