Typefaces with an African vibe

rubenDmarkes's picture

[Don't know if this should be posted here, but here goes.]

I'm aware this might sound like an ignorant question, but work with me, here: are there any typefaces out there that look mozambican or are somewhat inspired by Mozambique? Maybe that doesn't actually exist; what about just generally african?
I mean something along the lines of: if you want your design to look english, you can go with Gill, maybe Caslon, Bulmer, Baskerville; if you want french, Didot, maybe something like some Auriol; german, fraktur blackletters or Bauhaus inspired stuff or something along those lines; italian, Bodoni or maybe Centaur. You know, I'm looking for the stereotypical typographic choices. Stereotypes might be bad and wrong, but they do have their uses. (In fact, I'd appreciate if you shared some more stereotypical type choices like those ones, I always find these interesting.)

Again, I'm aware of what I'm saying here; I'm aware that Africa is a very culturally rich continent and that african countries are definitely not all the same and that having one typeface somehow “represent” an entire continent might be offensive and just plain wrong, let alone when we use typefaces to represent just one country, but still.

Anyway, besides that, I'd like to know if there are any successful/renowned african type designers. I'd love to get to know typefaces coming from an entirely different culture and background with different influences, like that. Once more, I'd also appreciate and enjoy anything along those lines but coming from other continents (which will obviously also mean other alphabets and even other writing systems), but my focus here, right now, is Africa and, more specifically, Mozambique, and the roman alphabet.

Nick Shinn's picture

Google reveals:

Some of my types have been used in South African newspapers, by newspaper designer Tony Sutton of News Design Associates, a Brit who lived for many years in South Africa, now in Canada but still doing work for clients there, eg:


Kwesi Amuti's picture

Hello Ruben,

I think I get what your saying but at first glance and first read it looks like you may be stepping in a bit of a "minefield" since the topic of race and type and even steering the intended audience towards certain racial stereotypes by using certain typefaces can be a sticky and at time heated topic. See here for some more info on what I am talking about.

But to answer your questions:

I'm thinking everyone might steer you towards any derivation of Koch's Neuland and then tell you about Twombly's Lithos, which in certain contexts can get the job done. They were not intentionally made to represent Africa or even the millions in the African Diaspora but these fonts have been firmly cemented in the minds of art directors and consumers alike as the ultimate in African typography. But this is almost like always using Costello's Papyrus to represent anything Egyptian. Aside from those options you may be able to find other stereotypical "African" fonts here. Though as a Ghanian-American designer, I don't really like fonts like the ones on the site I have led you to, I have to understand and recognize that they exist and address the fact that the "African" voice needs to be more developed in the type world.

As for your question about successful/renowned African type designers...there are some but not as many as there should be. Let's see: Anton and Merle Scholtz from Scholtz fonts in Durban, South Africa, Andrew van der Merwe of Cape Town, Christine Voigts of Namibian/German descent, Saki Mafundikwa of the ZIVA Institute of Zimbabwe to name a few. Oh and I also forgot myself...although I'm not world renowned yet I still am of African descent and make typefaces.

@NickShinn - What's happenin' Nick!

rubenDmarkes's picture

Oh, right… I forgot I should've searched it beforehand. Sorry. Thanks, Nick!

What's said on that other thread echoes what I already thought and concluded – that going for rough, wood-type-like stuff or even just roughly painted display letters is what's more usual, that it's a fact that there isn't a definite overall graphic identity in regards to roman type or even type in general, etc. –, but I was still looking for some opinions and ideas on this. For instance, I really don't know why, but to me Chaparral kind of suggests Africa, in a strange way, even though the name is spanish (the word actually also exists in portuguese) and the text accompanying the typeface suggests it's somehow inspired in an american landscape. I was looking/hoping for suggestions such as this one.

rubenDmarkes's picture

Thank you very much, sasabonsam!

I'm aware of all that, but I was looking to go beyond that and get to the point without being stuck on that. I'm not even thinking about race or anything, I really just wanted to know how I could evoke a certain country or continent in a subtle way. No one really needs to get it or to understand it; I'm sure most people don't get that some designers are evoking England with Gill Sans in their quietly designed tea package. It's just a matter of, on the one hand, having something to hold on to while choosing the typeface, and on the other, maybe somehow suggesting the atmosphere of the continent.

dberlow's picture


rvavruch's picture

Also from South Africa there is Jan Erasmus, among other fonts he has made Lalibela which I am personally fond of:



rubenDmarkes's picture

Thank you, David and Rudolf. Interesting to see Mr. Erasmus' typefaces!
I still need more time to thoroughly check the other thread that Nick mentioned and everything sasabonsam shared, though. :P

Alas, the deadline I was facing has already passed, so this isn't urgent anymore, but I'm still interested in getting some other suggestions for next time around.

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