10 African Masterpieces of Literature & Song

Daily Mirror Sculpture By Ben Enwonwu
The following is our list of the most famous pieces of work about Africa, cutting across:
  • literature
  • politics
  • poetry
  • painting
  • and sculpture.

Africa has great pieces of creative work that surprisingly even many Africans have never seen or heard of; this is due to Africa’s wide geographical spread, multilingual barrier, and very few Afro-focused media. With that said, let's jump right into it, shall we?

10. Things Fall Apart

Novel, By Chinua Achebe - Nigeria This is a literary piece of work written by one of the best African writers of all time – Chinua Achebe. Chinua Achebe hails from Nigeria. Things Fall Apart is a piece of work that focuses on a clash of traditions during Africa’s transition period from the colonial rule.

It is at this period that Africa’s traditional values were in a violent clash with those values of their colonial subjugators.

Even though the Western culture brought profound positive effects on Africa – including modern industrialization and infrastructure, it nonetheless caused tremendous destruction in terms of Africa’s authentic traditional values that held families together and defined the gender roles.

Things Fall Apart is a theme about characterization and demonstration of Africa’s torn socio-cultural fabric as different forces fight for their own domain.

9. An African Thunderstorm

Poem, By David Rubadiri - Malawi David Rubadiri is a great poet, writer, novelist, diplomat, and playwright from Malawi. Like most early African writers, he ran afoul with his country’s government under dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda and ran into exile in Uganda.

While in Uganda, Obote’s government was overthrown, forcing him again to run into exile in Kenya. He served twice as his country's diplomat, first has Malawi’s first ambassador to the US.

After Kamuzu Banda ceased to be president, he returned to the country and later became his country’s Ambassador to the UN. The following poetry extract is one of his great pieces of work, An African Thunderstorm:

Pregnant clouds Ride stately on its back, Gathering to perch on hills Like sinister dark wings; The wind whistles by And trees bend to let it pass.

And like most writers of his time, he was critical of poor governance and leadership in Africa. Some of his work was critical of Africa’s despotic regimes.

8. Burger’s Daughter

Novel, By Nadine Gordimer - South Africa This is a historical and political novel by Nadine Gordimer, one of Africa’s earliest literary Nobel Laureates.

This piece of work focuses on the criticism of the era of the draconian Apartheid regime of South Africa. Burger’s Daughter was billed by the New York Times as Gordimer ’s most political and most moving novel.

7. Bahora Girl

Bahora Girl

Painting, by Irma Stern - South Africa This is a great painting that fetched one of the highest auction bids for such a piece of art in Africa.

Bohari Girl was painted by Irma Stern, one of South Africa’s most renowned personalities and a leading figure in the art scene. Apart from this masterpiece, Stern has painted many other pieces of art that have etched their place in the international art scene.

6. Daily Mirror

Sculpture, by Ben Enwonwu - Nigeria Billed as Africa’s most influential artist of the 20th Century, Odinigwe Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu, popularly knowns as Ben Enwonwu, is an artist and sculptor. One of his most famous piece of work is the ‘Daily Mirror’ sculpture, which he created in May 2013.

5. Senufo Female

Sculpture, by Master of Sinasso - Ivory Coast Senufo Female is a sculpture created by one of the most celebrated Ivory Coast artists by the name Master of Sinasso. It is a sculpture representing a traditional female body of the Senufo people of Ivory Coast. This piece of work fetched $12 million at its auction, bought by Sothebys.

4. Construction of the Suez Canal

Painting, by Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar - Egypt Construction of the Suez Canal is one of the best modern masterpieces from Egypt that depicts its topic. It is a painting drawn by Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar, one of Egypt’s most celebrated artists of modern times.

Egypt is a famous ancient civilization characterized by great artwork, science, engineering, and construction. Pyramids, paintings, sculptures, and religious edicts define this great land of the Pharaohs. This masterpiece was able to fetch $1 million at an auction in Dubai in 2014.

3. Les Chadoufs

Painting, by Mahmoud Said - Egypt Les Chadoufs painting depicts the ancient Shaduf Screw method of irrigation which was invented by the ancient Egyptians over two millenniums ago as a way of irrigating farms along the River Nile. The painting was drawn by Mahmoud Siad, a famous painter from Egypt. It was auctioned at Christie’s for a whopping $2 million.

2. Aye Africa

Song, by Franklin Boukaka - DRC This is a great song that many people brand it as “Africa’s Anthem”. It is a deep moving song with that moves any listener who understands the plight of Africa, especially after the mirage of the so-called ‘Independence’.

In the song, Franklin Boukaka questions whether this war, poverty and misery that Africa faces is the independence and freedom that was promised by the Independence heroes.

From his background as a Congolese from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the song is painfully relevant when you realize that DRC is in deep turmoil that has so far claimed over 10 million lives, not forgetting that over 6 million of them that were massacred by King Leopold of Belgium prior to independence.

This is a painful song. Its lyrics can move any patriot to tears. A song from the deep heart of a martyr who was killed trying to fight for a better country through words and deeds. The song was sung in French. The following are some parts of the translated lyrics:

Ahe Africa he Eh he Africa Where is your freedom? Where is your liberty? Oh, it is hard labor to cut wood fire! With such sufferings with our kids! I don’t know how to fix that. I gave my confidence To people only focused on luxury stuffs and cars But when elections comes, they remind me as an important person for them The colonizer left already But what do we do with this freedom now?

1. Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika

Song, by Enoch Sontonga - South Africa Translated as ‘God Bless Africa’, this is another emotionally moving son by a great son of Africa – Enoch Sontonga. It’s greatness is evidenced by the fact that it has been adapted by several countries in Southern Africa as their national anthem.

These includes South Africa itself, Zambia, Namibia, Tanzania (in Swahili version), and Zimbwabwe (Shona version). Enoch Sontonga was a teacher and Choirmaster at the Methodist Mission School in South Africa.

He composed and sung the song as part of religious service and as a special dedication to his continent – Africa. Enoch Sontonga died in obscurity during his youth at a prime age of only 33 years.

But, his giant legacy lives on in this great masterpiece that has been adopted as a National Anthem for 5 African countries. His spirit guided and blessed most of Southern Africa’s liberation heroes as it was the song of choice during their liberation struggle.

A simple man whose hearty song invigorated the liberation spirit of a people of 5 countries of Africa. The song has been adapted in many languages across Africa. In South Africa alone, it has been adapted in Xhosa (its original language), Zulu, Afrikaans, and English. Here are some of the English extracts:

Lord bless Africa May her glory be lifted high Hear our petitions Lord bless us, your children Lord we ask You to protect our nation Intervene and end all conflicts Protect us, protect our nation Protect South Africa, South Out of the blue of our heavens Out of the depths of our seas Over our everlasting mountains Where the echoing crags resound Sounds the call to come together And united we shall stand Let us live and strive for freedom In South Africa our land

May Sontoga’s spirit be blessed.

Parting words

Africa is the source of the world’s most ancient civilizations. Every source of civilization has its culture which is described through different pieces of work. The top 10 most famous pieces of work about Africa provided herein helps to reignite memories of Africa’s rich cultural heritage.