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4 Contemporary African Authors Who’ve Been Featured In Popular Music

4 Contemporary African Authors Who’ve Been Featured In Popular Music


We love writers and authors for the written word––those stories, poems, and articles that lift us out of our bad moods and take us to imagined places. Nothing compares with the feeling of reading a book that holds your attention from the start to finish. But writers and their work can also inspire musicians or songwriters to create some of the songs we cherish today.

For instance, Lorraine Hansberry’s play To Be Young, Gifted and Black inspired the jazz singer Nina Simone’s hugely popular song of the same title, which was considered an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the US. But recently, some contemporary African authors and writers have also collaborated with popular musicians, featuring their words in entertaining arts — from writing for music films to inspiring musicians to create new songs with their works.

Check out 4 contemporary African authors / writers who have done so in recent times…

#1. Warsan Shire

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Imagine being a 27-year-old poet and receiving an email one day from Beyoncé inviting you to a musical collaboration. Well, that was exactly what happened to the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire whose poem “Home,” revolving around a migrant crisis, had become famous globally. This time, Beyoncé invited Shire to collaborate on the 2016 album Lemonade.

In this collaborative project, the multiple Grammy Award winner’s songs were interspersed with Shire’s voice reading her poetry. Shire was also a featured contributor in Beyonce’s visual album Black Is King.

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Shire, who is from Wembley in North-West London, debuted in 2011 with a chapbook of poems called Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth. In 2022, she published a full-length collection of poems, Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head. We cannot be more excited for this amazing literary talent whose golden words have gilded popular music.

#2. Uwem Akpan

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The writer Uwem Akpan, who is from Ikot Akpan Eda in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, became a global sensation with his 2008 debut, Say You’re One of Them, a collection of five fictional stories through the eyes of African children in various economic and socio-political situations. His book won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region) and the Open Book Prize. It became both a New York Times and Wall Street Journal #1 bestseller and a 2009 Oprah Book Club selection.

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No doubt, this book touched the hearts of many readers across the world, including the multiple-Grammy-winning and Beninese-born singer Angelique Kidjo, who didn’t hesitate to reveal how the book inspired her to write “Agbalagba,” a song that expresses her conviction that the children of Africa are one with humanity. Uwem Akpan has also written a novel, New York, My Village.

#3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the most popular literary voices out of Africa. Since she debuted with her critically acclaimed novel Purple Hibiscus, she hasn’t stopped enthralling the world with her splendid words. With the publication of two more successful novels – Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah – a collection of short stories titled The Thing Around Your Neck, and a trio of nonfiction books, Adichie has cemented her position as one of Africa’s most respected authors.

She has won numerous awards and recognition for her writing including a Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Orange Broadband Prize, and a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2012, Adichie delivered a very popular TEDxEuston talk, which was subsequently published as an essay, We Should All Be Feminists. The essay was a global commercial success and attracted widespread attention to the conversation on feminism.

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It also caught the attention of the global pop icon, Beyoncé, who sought collaboration with Adichie on her 2013 song “Flawless.” Snippets of Adichie’s words, in her own voice, featured in the song, which went on to become one of the most-loved tracks in the artiste’s self-titled 5th studio album, Beyoncé. This earned Adichie, as a featured artist, a nomination at the 57th Grammy Awards for Album of the Year. Indeed, that was a momentous event in literary and popular culture that we cannot stop talking about. Contemporary African authors.

#4. Yrsa Daley-Ward

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The popular Instagram poet Yrsa Daley-Ward was born in Chorley, Lancashire to a Nigerian father and a Jamaican mother. Daley-Ward’s poetry and writing have themes that include race and identity, femininity, and mental health. Her published books include a collection of poems, Bone, and a memoir, The How – Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself.

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Daley-Ward also collaborated with Beyoncé in the 2020 visual album Black Is King, intended to correlate to her role as Nala in Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King. The album features poetic monologues between songs in a style that fuses spoken poetry, music, and charming cinematography. Daley-Ward is credited as a co-writer for the album, alongside Andrew Morrow, Clover Hope, and Beyoncé. This was Daley-Ward’s first collaboration with the megastar.

These are good times for the intersection between literature and music, and we look forward to more collaborations between authors and musicians.

Featured image: @chimamanda_adichie/Instagram 

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