South Africa is celebrated for its cultural diversity and rich heritage. Here are some of the top, most iconic and innovative South African musicians that you should be listening to.

South Africa’s history of music is vibrant and powerful. And with 11 different languages, it’s no surprise that South Africa’s music scene is a melting pot of eclectic local talent.

During the Apartheid years, music was a source of healing as well as the sound of justice and revolution. Today, the country boasts legendary musicians that have created unique subgenres such as, gqom, kwaito and kwela which represents the new generation of South Africa.

Iconic South African Musicians You Should Know

Take a look at the greatest South African musicians that have shaped the country’s music as we know and love today. Some are icons, who documented the struggle years with song, others are new, contemporaries who have found followings with today’s audience. Head over to the YouTube links below and give each track a listen!

Miriam Makeba 

The late Mariam Makeba is best known as Mama Africa. This singing diva gained tremendous worldwide recognition for her soothing melodies and was also recognised as an influential political activist against apartheid. 

During her career, Makeba sang in any language she chose, and her famous hit “Pata Pata” is still considered one of the greatest hits of all time. A Grammy Award winner and United Nations ambassador, Makeba sang for justice, equality and humanity. 

Brenda Fassie 

Brenda Fassie, best known as the Queen of African Pop, made her first hit record at the age of nineteen. The single “Weekend Special” became the fastest-selling record of all time in 1989 and quickly gained international popularity. 

Before her tragic death in 2004, the pop star toured the world while scooping up several international music awards. Throughout her career, the singer shared the stage with great international artists such as Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie and Papa Wemba.  

Hugh Masekela

A world-renowned flugelhornist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, singer and defiant political voice, Hugh Masekela is a legendary name in the country’s music industry.

Born in the town of Witbank on April 4th 1939, Masekela’s career began in 1959 with the formation of his band – the Jazz Epistles. Masekela’s music reflected his life experiences in the harsh political climate of South Africa during Apartheid. Winning a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Pop Performance – Instrumental in 1968, Masekela is still honoured as one of South Africa’s most talented musicians.

Lucky Dube 

Lucky Dube is one of Africa’s most celebrated musicians. Born on August 3rd 1964, he was named Lucky by his mother who considered his birth a blessing after a number of miscarriages. 

In the early 1980s, Lucky discovered Rastafarianism and began listening to reggae artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. The socio-political messages in Jamaican reggae music were incredibly relevant in an institutionally racist South Africa. Dube began to record reggae music which gave South African’s a voice to their struggles. 

Dube went on to produced 22 reggae albums in Zulu, English and Afrikaans and toured international stages. He was an international star until his tragic death in 2007. 

Lira 

Lira is a platinum-selling artist and an 11 time South African music award winner. Born in Johannesburg in 1979, Lira was discovered in 2002 when she rose to fame as a soulful vocalist and performer. 

Her debut album earned her numerous music awards, and in 2010, she shared a stage with famous musicians including Alicia Keys, Shakira and John Legend. She is well known for her singles, “Feel Good” and “Rise Again.”

Black Coffee 

Black Coffee, born Nkosinathi Maphumulo, began his record producing and DJ career in 1995. At the age of fourteen, Nkosinathi lost the use of the left-hand side of his body in a car accident. Despite his disability, Black Coffee has become the most famous electronic music producer in Africa today.

In September 2015, he won the “Breakthrough DJ Of The Year” award in Ibiza, and a few weeks later he released his award-winning album, Pieces of Me. The afro-house music Dj and producer has collaborated with music legends including Hugh Masekela, Drake, Usher and David Guetta.

YoungstaCPT

Riyadh Roberts, professionally known as YoungstaCPT, was born on December 22nd 1991 in Cape Town. The South African rapper and songwriter is described as the voice of the “Kaapstad.” 

The name YoungstaCPT represents his experience of growing up in the new generation of post-Apartheid South Africa. Through his lyrics, Youngsta documents the complex experiences of being a brown person in South Africa today. YoungstaCPT is quickly becoming one of South Africa’s favourite Hip Hop artists. 

Alice Phoebe Lou

Alice Phoebe Lou grew up in Kommetjie in Cape Town. By the age of 16, she made her first trip to Europe, taking her original songs with her. Alice began busking on the streets of Berlin with her small amp and guitar. People were so captivated by her music that they started sharing it on social media and Alice soon built a devoted fan following.

Now 26 years old, the South African singer tours the world with her folk band. In December 2017 her song “She” from the film Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story was nominated for the Oscars Best Original Song.

Dope Saint Jude 

Cape Town-based rapper Dope Saint Jude has carved her own lane. Born, Catherine St Jude Pretorius, Dope Saint Jude is a socially conscious rapper and activist. 

Her subversive lyrics discuss topics like racism, sexuality, gender and class in the South African society today. Her message makes her an important voice for a generation that is challenging societal norms. She has quickly gained a following across the globe, touring to Europe and the US. Her song “Grrrl Like” was recently selected as the theme song for the new series, Dickinson on Apple TV. 

Shekhinah 

Born on October 2nd 1994 in Durban, Shekhinah Donnell shot to fame as an Idols SA contestant back in 2012. Although she didn’t win the competition, she released several successful singles and collaborations that became top-selling hits. 

Carving a career for herself, this songstress is headed for international fame with her popular hit ‘Let You Know’ debuting in America. 


South Africa’s music industry is a hub of creativity and diversity, and we loved sharing our list of the top famous South African musicians you should know.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post on South African musicians. If you would like to see these artists live, keep a lookout for the next Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset performances this festive season!

Let us know your favourite artist in the comments section below!

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