Updated: Jul 8, 2019
The continent of Africa has produced many great musical talents, blending their indigenous styles with other genres like dancehall and gospel. Here are five prodigies from the world of African music.
1. Kheli Fiadjo – Pianist
Since the days of Mozart, history has shown that when it comes to child prodigies, a pianist almost always makes the cut. Kheli Fiadjo, a pianist from Togo, was the Mozart of Africa. Naïve at heart, the tall and well-built boy looked quite like an adult in his youth. He first played the piano by accident. His parents had bought one for his older sister but she showed little interest. Then by the age of 6, a young Kheli started running his fingers on the keys. It turned out that he was a natural.
And by the time he reached his pre-teens, he was already proficient in the music of the European greats. His talent got him a scholarship at a music camp in North Carolina and this boosted his reputation as a pianist in the 2000s. Now Kheli is all grown up, but remains as one of Africa’s earliest music prodigies. “Classical music isn’t European or American. It’s universal. It belongs to anyone who has a certain elevation of spirit.”, he remarks on his music.
2. Luthando Jackson - Guitarist
12-year-old Luthando is a guitar prodigy from South Africa. Completely self-taught, he learnt by listening to the radio and watching Youtube tutorials. He quickly came to the national media’s attention and this also led to a cultural scholarship in his school. If that wasn’t enough, Jackson was also recently invited to audition for a musical scholarship at the Yehudi Menuhin School in London.
He practices daily and is quite focused with his art. “I love playing the guitar because it exercises my brain,” he told a news broadcaster. Instead of being a big star on the world stage, Luthando wants to be a music teacher in the future.
3. Culoe De Song – DJ
This South African DJ and remixer’s greatest hits came out right when he turned 16. The small-town boy Culoe, got his first taste of electronic dance music when he moved to Durban for schooling. He bought a computer with music software and started experimenting with sounds, hoping to be an amateur DJ of sorts.
But with some demo sets in clubs, the crowds and fellow musicians told this teenager that he should get serious in this field, for his music was no ‘child’s play’. His presence in the club scene was characterised by electronic songs heavy in African rhythms. ‘Sometimes this happens naturally…African beats are in my roots.’, Culoe De Song admits humbly.
For further training, he was selected as one of the youngest fellows of the prestigious Red Bull Music Academy in Spain. The skills which he picked up here, helped him drop his highly successful album, A Giant Leap.
4. Shanah Manjeru - Gospel singer
In a recent TV talk show, this Kenyan girl and her mother revealed her first moment as a singer. Shanah and her parents were having lunch at a restaurant and she felt a sudden childish impulse to sing. ‘I want to sing’, the little girl demanded. When the parents tried to shush her, she stood up on the table in an act of rebellion. Then she sang a sweet song, drawing the attention of all seated customers. It was this moment when Shanah and her family realised, she could be a real singer.
The little girl from Nairobi, started out by performing at church sessions and birthday parties. But now her amazing voice has brought her to several musical stages and she has become quite the youth icon. She also hosts a Kenyan kids show called Big Minds, which is broadcast every Saturday.
5. Daniel Petersen – Drummer
Drummer boy Daniel attained his popularity right from the time he turned 11. While making some intense and original drum music, he also made history when at 11, he became South Africa’s youngest University student.
A few years later, Petersen became the youngest artist endorsed by Yamaha. Representing his music in America, he even received an award by President Barack Obama in 2017. The kid is not only hardworking but self-confident too. “Everyone, if they work as hard as me, can achieve anything. You have to put in the hours. If you don’t practise you can’t be number one,” he said.
Shaurya Singh Thapa