2021 will be fondly remembered as a year when popular African music made a big splash across the world. From British audiences enthusiastically embracing the lush pianos and signature log drums of amapiano to west African pop music hitting the Billboard Hot 100 charts on three occasions (via Wizkid’s Tems-featuring Essence, CKay’s breezy Love Nwantiti, and Amaarae’s Kali Uchis-featuring remix of Sad Gurlz Luv Money) the metrics for the growth of music across the continent have been visibly positive.
Another sign of the good times is a growing cultural bond between musicians from South Africa and their Nigerian counterparts. Historically, influences have moved fluidly between both parties, setting the template for cross-continental domination. Songs like Davido’s Mafikizolo-featuring Tchelete and DJ Maphorisa’s 2015 Wizkid and Dj Buckz-featuring Soweto Baby are classic examples of this creative synergy.
The rise of amapiano over the last 18 months has helped soothe cultural tensions after the trauma that followed the 2019 xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa stymied relations. Last year, Wizkid and Burna Boy made a scene-stealing appearance on Sponono off Kabza De Small’s landmark album, I Am The King Of Amapiano: Sweet & Dust and the lush pianos of the Gauteng-pioneered genre are now a fixture of pop songs in Nigeria.
This month’s column is led, therefore, by a collaboration between Nigerian singer Davido and South Africa rapper, Focalistic. There’s also write-ups on a sweeping project from the Ghanaian auteur, M.anifest and, finally, a party-starting bop from Ms. Banks and Naira Marley.
Listen to THE FACE’s Best new African music playlist on Spotify.
Davido & Focalistic – Champion Sound
In the twelve months since releasing his third album A Better Time, Davido has maintained a steady grasp on his place at the top table of popular music from Africa with a series of smartly thought-out features – namely Teni’s For You Adekunle Gold’s High and Teezee’s Badi. Earlier this year, the 29-year-old also linked up with South African rapper Focalistic on the remix of his track Ke Star, transforming the nationally-popular single into a cross-continental hit. Following the success of the Ke Star remix, the pair promised an extended play to flesh out their joyous blend of amapiano, hip-hop, and Afropop.
Although Davido and Focalistic’s joint project is yet to see the light of day, the collaborators have returned with another hard-hitting single. Champion Sound fuses Davido’s menacing flow with Focalistic’s hooting style of delivery over an amapiano instrumental with maximal percussive elements taken from Afropop. Long before the official release of Champion Sound, the song had leaked, meaning that listeners from Jozi to Lagos had been singing along to its taunting lines like “Tell them make dem calm down, 10 years I’ve never gone down” for months.
Ms. Banks – Party ft. Naira Marley
Over the last three years, Ms. Banks has maintained a strong affinity with Africa’s culture scene and music stars. The South East London-raised rapper, who is the daughter of a Nigerian father and Ugandan mother, has collaborated with Simi (There For You), Rexxie and Bad Boy Timz (Booty Bounce), and she’s also caught a hit track in Nigeria collaborating with Nigerian rapper, Falz, on Bop Daddy.
Last year, Ms. Banks dropped Anywhere, an Afroswing-inspired single with former THE FACE cover star Naira Marley, in which she weaved bars around his lustful, romantic declarations. On their latest collaboration titled Party, Ms. Banks leads the pace with her bubbly sung-rap flow where she declares herself the point of attraction at any party she steps into. Marley then compliments her insouciant bars with filthy lyrics of his own over a peppy beat by Nigerian street-pop architect Rexxie.
M.anifest – Madina To The Universe
Over the course of a career that’s crossed 10 years and seen him release four albums with ascending levels of success, Ghanian artist M.anifest has proven himself as one of the most formidable hip-hop acts in Africa thanks to his fluid style of rapping and open-ended genre-blending efforts. M.anifest’s latest album, Madina To The Universe, was primarily recorded during the 2020 lockdown in Ghana. The album soaks in the influences of Madina, a suburb in Accra, that range from familial bonds, highlife and the Ghanaian jama genre.
Halfway through the album, on Weeping Clouds, M.anifest responds to a death in his family with characteristic level-headedness. Over an airy instrumental infused with highlife elements, M.anifest memorialises the feeling of loss with tenderness and clarity: “Woke up early morning/Weeping clouds are falling/Voices inside my head roaring.”
Mayorkun – Back In Office
Since being signed to Davido’s DMW record label in 2016, Mayorkun has been one of Nigeria’s most consistent hitmakers. 2020 was an especially fruitful year for the singer, with the winning streak of singles like Geng, Betty Butter, and Your Body (and let’s not forget stellar verse on The Best off Davido’s album, A Better Time). On his second album, Back In Office, the Mayor of Lagos, as Mayorkun is playfully known, is in settled form, interspersing his playful take on Afropop with influences from amapiano, soul, and highlife within a decidedly Afro-fusionist framework across the project’s 12 songs. On the album’s titular track, Mayorkun casually flexes his cultural cachet, singing “I held down the lockdown for a long time,” before nimbly flowing over an amapiano instrumental on Jay Jay, a striking collaboration with the Scorpion Kings.
Djodje – Mininu Di Oru
Djodje grew up in Praia, the capital of the West African island country Cape Verde. He picked up musical influences from his father, who played guitar in Os Tubarões, a Cape Verdean traditional music band that was among the most famous groups in the country. In the years since then, Djodje has catapulted to international fame, first becoming a fixture in the African lusophone music scene (a subset of African music that sees musicians mostly record music in Portuguese mixed with local techniques) with his sophomore album Check-In, which housed hit singles like Proibido, Mon Pa Altura, and Close Your Eyes.
Djodje has achieved further success on albums like Feedback and Newborn while experimenting with elements of Afropop, kizomba and house. On his latest project, Mininu Di Oru, the singer returns to the classic Cape Verdean melodies that he fiddled with on his debut album, Semper TC, while collaborating with a selection of singers from Cape Verde, Portugal and Brazil. The celebratory feel of the project is best captured on No Bad Vibez, a duet with Irina Barros where they move fluidly between English and Portuguese, declaring their intention to live a life free of negativity.
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Africans dominate Grammy nominations for Best Global Music Categories
Ahead of the reveal of the full list of nominations for the 64th Grammy Awards, many music lovers in Africa had their fingers crossed. There were high expectations, particularly, in the Best Global Music and Best Global Music Performance categories. Others retained quiet hope that Wizkid’s Made In Lagos, propelled by Essence, might crack major categories like Album of the Year/Record of the Year. When the full list of nominations was revealed, some fans were disappointed by Wizkid’s absence from these categories.
While expecting a major category was a romantic’s projection, it always seemed unlikely that the Recording Academy, with its oft-criticised archaic structure, would be open to making such a big call. Instead, Wizkid was nominated in both the Best Global Music and Best Global Music Performance Category where the Lagos-born global superstar joined a sizeable number of African nominees. For the Best Global Music award, Wiz would be going up against Ghanaian afro-roots singer Rocky Dawuni’s Voice Of Bunbon, Vol. 1, Beninese legend Angélique Kidjo’s Mother Nature as well as Femi Kuti and Made Kuti’s father-son effort, Legacy+. Similarly, there are four African nominations in a list of five for the Best Global Music Performance Category with Angélique Kidjo, Burna Boy, Femi Kuti, Yo-Yo Ma, Wizkid, and Tems picking up nominations.
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2Baba – African Queen
When Nigeria emerged from the throes of autocracy in 1999 following the election of Olusegun Obasanjo as president, there was optimism that the country would rebuild its music industry after the brutal crackdown and isolationist impulses of the last regime had squandered whatever global gains Nigerian music had made in the late 1970s through to the early ‘90s. A new generation of musicians, inspired by the hip-hop and R&B music of America, came onto the scene but few boasted the magnetism of the Plantashun Boiz. A boy band consisting of Blackface, 2Face and Faze, they captured the heart of Nigerians with their local interpretation of R&B and dancehall melodies, successfully releasing their debut album, Body & Soul, in 2000.
Following 2003’s Sold Out, 2Face decided to leave the Plantashun Boiz to pursue a solo career, leading to a rift with members of his band that led to accusations of betrayal and song theft. Their differences were further exacerbated when 2Face released his classic single, African Queen (which Blackface claimed to have written when they were still members of the Plantashun Boiz), instantly launching him to national superstardom. The lyrics to African Queen were clean and simple enough for parents to allow their children and wards to belt it out, ensuring that it maintained a ubiquitous across the country. As the acclaim for the song rose within Nigeria, it started to spread across other countries in the continent, becoming a hit single in many parts of west and southern Africa. In 2006, African Queen got an international release and was used in the American romantic comedy, Phat Girlz, becoming the first widely recognised first crossover hit from the modern iteration of Nigerian pop.