/ 10 January 2023

Rolling Stones recognises eight African artist on list of 200 greatest singers of all time

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Miriam Makeba performs on stage at The North Sea Jazz Festival on July 14 2001 in The Hague, Netherlands. (Photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

Rolling Stone, one of the world’s leading music publication platforms, kicked off the new year with an update to its rankings, which began in 2008, honouring the best vocalists in pop music.

“These are the vocalists that have shaped history and defined our lives – from smooth operators to raw shouters, from gospel to punk, from Sinatra to Selena to SZA,” Rolling Stone editors wrote. 

The publication released its Top 200 Greatest Singers of All Time on 1 January, featuring eight African singers in the compilation.

They looked for “originality, influence, the depth of an artist’s catalogue, and the breadth of their musical legacy” when compiling the list. 

According to the list, Sade Adu is the highest-ranked African singer at position 51.

Rolling Stone said the Nigerian-British singer has “proved herself the ultimate smooth operator”, adding that “her languid cool has a way of making everyone else sound histrionic”.  

Following closely was South African vocal powerhouse Miriam Makeba, ranked 53 and described as “a fountain of vocal personality”. 

“Indeed, to listen to her now, years after her death is to experience an artist who brilliantly communicates the joy of being alive,” the publication wrote. 

Egyptian Umm Kulthum was the third-highest African on the list at position 61, with Rolling Stone saying she “has no real equivalent among singers in the West”.  

“Her potent contralto, which could blur gender in its lower register, conveyed breathtaking emotional range in complex songs that, across theme and wildly-ornamented variations, could easily last an hour, as she worked crowds like a fiery preacher.”

Other African singers who made the list include Senegalese tenor Youssou N’Dour (69), South Africa’s Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde (153), who the publication described as “a peerless figure in the history of South African music, gifted with a cloud-rattling basso profundo groan, and a knowing, playful, at times diabolically incisive sense of what to do with it”.

Africa’s leading Rumba singer-songwriter Tabu Ley Rochereau of the Democratic Republic of the Congo came in at position 178. 

“His voice was almost startlingly sweet — but he sang with so much pure transport he never cloyed,” Rolling Stone wrote.

Nigerian superstars, Fela Kuti and Burna Boy, rounded up the African featured artists at position 188 and 197, respectively.

The publication said Burna’s voice “is sweet like caramel, but it can also soar on slickly produced tracks like his recent megahit Last Last or the 2019 gem Anybody excited by deep bass accents and insanely sophisticated polyrhythms”. 
According to Rolling Stone, the top five greatest singers of all time are Mariah Carey, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Whitney Houston and, at number one, soul and Motown superstar Aretha Franklin.