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Afro-Tech: Stories of Synths in African Music


Technology is one of the great drivers of musical change, and often one of its least understood. In this episode, we will explore the synthesizer, looking closely at the history of this ubiquitous (and often debated) piece of musical technology, and investigating how and why it was first used in a variety African musics. Enabled by groundbreaking reissues of synth pioneers like William Onyeabor (Nigeria) and Hailu Mergia (Ethiopia), disco stars like Kris Okotie, and South African superstar Brenda Fassie, we will take you back to the ’70s and ’80s, listening to the birth of a distinctly African electronic sound. 

Featured Artists: Afro-Tech 

highlife time


ATFA’s Brian Shimkovitz on Synthesizers, Hailu Mergia, and More Synthesizers

Hailu Mergia on Organs, Ethiopia, and his Classical Instrument 

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  • Justin Scro

    This is great. So many unsung pioneers.

  • BongoMuzic.CD

    Check out also – The home of Alternative East African Music

  • Charles O.

    Thank you very much for this fascinating information. I have done some research and figured out that Jimmy Cliff actually played at the National Stadium in Lagos in 1974 (where he coincidentally first met Fela), not 1975. The first EMI record to credit the use of a synthesizer is “A Move In the Right Direction” by SJOB Movement, I think. Johnny Woode is playing the synthesizer on this album and appears to be the main synthesizer musician for EMI’s subsequent releases. If anyone has more information about Johnny Woode or knows of an earlier Nigerian record that credits the use of a synthesizer I would be very curious to hear what you know. Thanks again for this fantastic segment.