Having listened to hours of African Christmas music, I can safely say that these albums and songs will put your heart in a worshipful mood and set your feet tapping and your body grooving. While globally, African music may be best known for the highlife and Afrobeat genres, artists across the continent incorporate jazz, a cappella, R & B, rap, dance, and hip-hop into their music.
As a British Ghanaian now living in the United States who has sung in choirs and led worship, I count these among my favorite African Christmas gospel songs, largely from the Anglophone world, representing these wide-ranging music styles and showcasing collaborations with other world-class artists.
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Florocka is a Nigerian gospel artist and producer who has been in the music and production industry for over 27 years and is a multiple award–winning singer and producer. He has collaborated with other well-known Nigerian artists, including Helen Yawson and Sammie Okposo.
Florocka’s 2021 album, Another Christmas According to Florocka, is a dance album (think J Moss–type songs, especially “Keresimesi”) featuring pop and hip-hop tracks alongside songs like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which somehow mashes up Middle Eastern music with rock and a rap bridge.
Jehovah Shalom Acapella is a six-member Ugandan band that released the five-track EP Joy to the World in 2020. The title track, an adaptation of Isaac Watts’s classic, begins in English before transitioning to Luganda, and the song “Enkya Ennungi Esembedde” (“I’m Telling the World about His Love”) is entirely in the Bantu language.
Last year, the Seventh-day Adventist ensemble released another Christmas EP, The Manger and the Cross, which includes versions of standard Christmas hymns like “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Hark the Herald Angels Singing.” The final song on the EP is the title track, which moves the listener’s attention from the nativity to the crucifixion: “He was born to save a wretch like me / Amazing love, how could it be / That thou, my Lord, should die for me.”
Jonathan Butler, a widely admired singer, songwriter, and Grammy nominee raised in apartheid South Africa, was the first Black South African whose music appeared on white radio and national television in the segregated country. Nelson Mandela once credited Butler’s music as inspiring him during his imprisonment.
In Christmas Together, released in 2019, Butler features several holiday classic collaborations with world-class American artists like R & B singer Sheléa and saxophonists Dave Koz, Kirk Whalum, and Gerald Albright, the latter performing a groovy “Deck the Halls” rendition.
Christmas Together is Butler’s second Christmas album, following Merry Christmas to You (2013). Butler is currently on tour and will perform with Koz and others throughout the Christmas season in the United States this month.
Joyous Celebration is a South African choir founded in 1994, just as apartheid was ending and launched the careers of former lead singers turned solo artists Ntokozo Mbambo, Nqubeko Mbatha, and Mahalia Buchanan.
A Joyous Christmas (Live) released in 2018, offers an African sound with an R & B twist. The album opens with the choir singing “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” over J. S. Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” an unexpected but festive combination of the contemporary and traditional. The album features favorites like “Your Grace,” “Give You All the Glory,” and “Who Am I,” as well as songs in Zulu, one of South Africa’s main languages, like “Uyangihola” (“He Leads Me”), “Bhekani UJehova” (“Give Praise to the Lord”), and “Hallelujah Nkateko (Lihle’s Version)” (“Hallelujah Blessing”).
KODA is a Ghanaian artist famous for his highlife music, which mixes jazz, rock, hip-hop, and Afrobeat sounds. In KODA’s song “Christmas in Tadi,” he creates a medley of “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” with guitars, pianos, and traditional Ghanaian drums. (“Tadi” is an affectionate term for Takoradi, a city in Ghana, where KODA is from.)
KODA released his first album in 2017, which poked at the challenges of the Ghanaian church and pastors overly focused on making money on tracks like “Nsem Pii” (“Lots of Problems”), making him famous with many Ghanaian Christians. While KODA is known for up-tempo highlife dance tunes like “Nsem Pii,” “Christmas in Tadi” is a mid-tempo reflective ballad comprised of familiar Christmas tunes.
Niiella is a UK-based Ghanaian singer, songwriter, and vocal coach who appeared on season 10 of BET’s Sunday Best. After her success on the show, Niiella continued to release music and collaborated with African and Western Christian artists like Joe Mettle and The Spirituals.
Last month, Niiella released her single, “Christmas Night,” a melodic, soulful choral song where she reminds us:
A child was born
To save all of man
And gave, gave eternal life
A child was born
To bring salvation to the earth
It was Christmas night.
Ntokozo Mbambo, who started her career with the vocal group Joyous Celebration, has found success as a solo artist, songwriter, and dynamic performer. Her 2020 live Christmas album The First Noël features a rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in which she sings in English and Zulu, and later sings in English and Twi on “Yinaye” (“Praise God”).
The South African singer’s record also includes covers of classic Christmas songs like “O Holy Night,” “O Come Let Us Adore Him,” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and the CeCe Winans hit “Jesus, You’re Beautiful.”
Emerging from the Egyptian Christian music group Praise Team Egypt, Praise Team Youth is a non-denominational choir that includes singers and band members from Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical backgrounds. The team has recorded 40 albums and sings in both Arabic and English on their albums.
The group began after its founder, Boules Boushra, visited a number of European countries and realized that most of the songs in Egypt were more about petition and lament and less about praise and worship. After translating some of the songs into Arabic, he began writing his own music and organizing a group to perform this work with the goal of encouraging “Christians in the whole Arabic world to praise God the way He wants them to. ”In their song, “In the Christmas Night,” they sing in Arabic:
In the Christmas night,
The bright star of the sky,
Shine the light of God,
Then, the Lord will be lifted high.
Prinx Emmanuel is a Nigerian gospel singer-songwriter, producer, and recording and performing artist who has previously collaborated with well-known Nigerian artists, such as Limoblaze and Moses Bliss.
On his 2022 Christmas single “Afrobeat Christmas,” he mixes “Hark the Herald” with “Little Drummer Boy” in a result that could play on any Top 40 station immediately. You may end up dancing!
Sinach is among the most well-known Nigerian Christian singers, best known for her global hit “Way Maker.” American artists like Leeland, Michael W. Smith, and Bethel Music, and Dante Bowe have released their versions of the widely used worship song. Sinach has been leading worship and recording music for over 25 years. “Way Maker” won Song of the Year at both the GMA Dove Awards and the BMI Christian Awards, and in 2016 Sinach became the first winner of the LIMA Songwriter of the Decade Award.
Sinach’s 2013 R&B Christmas album, Sinach at Christmas, features classic Christmas songs alongside originals, including her hit song, “I Know Who I Am.”
The Spirituals is an African British gospel choir whose 2020 version of “Wade in the Water” went viral and earned them a performance at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The group, which reimagines and adapts traditional Black spirituals, produced a four-track Christmas EP, Christmas Project, which fuses modern gospel with favorite Christmas carols and anthems. The album features Niiella, who is one of the choir’s directors, as well as Christian R & B and neo-soul singer Kaye-Marie.
The group’s rendition of “O Holy Night (Beautiful Savior)” begins with an energetic instrumental interlude featuring the melody of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which builds into a choral swell, leading into a soulful, sparsely accompanied solo performance of the first verse. A spirited “Hark the Herald (Sing Out Loud)” enlivens the traditional Christmas hymn with claps, syncopation, choral harmonies, refrains, and vocal interludes. It’s a modern, joyful arrangement of a favorite that truly captures the spirit of a choir of angels singing in exultation.
Watoto Children’s Choir from Uganda began in 1994 via Watoto Church, a Kampala congregation formed in the 1980s when civil war broke out. According to its website, the church was launched to bring healing to the nation and help rebuild the country.
The choir’s 2021 album, What Child Is This (Emirembe), features a mix of Afrobeat and R & B sensibilities alongside the choir’s signature claps and joyful shouts of call-and-response. The lullaby-like “We Three Kings” plays with the structure and melody of the traditional carol, interspersing solo verses with interjections from the choir. Listeners will be struck by the musicality and skill of the young vocalists, who have performed around the world for huge audiences and heads of state.
Akosua Frempong, Ph.D., is a freelance journalist with the Evangelical Press Association, adjunct professor at Regent University, Virginia, and founder of Listening Ear Communications. She loves music and has sung in churches in Europe and Africa for several years, including leading worship at local churches.