When we first reported on the asakaa scene at the beginning of the year, the Ghanaian movement was just starting to figure on the global music radar. Since then, the sound from Kumerica has grown in leaps and bounds, becoming arguably the world’s hottest drill hub. Yaw Tog’s anthemic Sore housed a Stormzy verse on its remix, Headie One touched base with Kumasi’s hottest stars during a visit to Ghana in April, and artists from eminent Kumasi record label, Life Living Records, are planning to tour Europe from July to August. It all hints asakaa’s ascension to the next level.
Much of the material that brought the scene to a global audience were viral singles that showcased the grittiness and vivid storytelling that makes music from Kumasi so compelling. So far, the Living Life records guys have gone for a singles-focused approach, churning out a relentless stream of standalone tracks which nearly always feature guest verses from rappers in the tight-knit scene. But it looks like asakaa artists could be establishing themselves by shifting towards projects, with Jay Bahd dropping his culturally-resonant The return of Okomfo Anokye this month and Reggie teasing the EP 2 Times A Guy.
Jay Bahd - The Return of Okomfo Anokye
Jay Bahd has always thrived in his role as asakaa’s gravelly-toned firestarter, delivering steely bars about Kumasi gang culture and wider life with a sneering assuredness on posse cuts like Condemn, Akatafoc and Sore. On The Return of Okomfo Anokye, Bahd, 22, couches his supreme confidence and braggadociousness in the cultural significance of Okomfo Anokye, a sage and diviner who co-founded the Asante Empire with its capital in Kumasi.
Joined by regular rhyming partners like Sean Lifer, O’Kenneth and City Boy, Bahd pays homage to the rowdy energy of drill music on the album, also providing commentary on both the missteps and opportunities that living in Kumasi has presented him on tracks like SIMAKU and See No Evil. “I’m a survivor/Only the streets witness my pain,” Bahd pensively offers on U CAN’T SHOW ME NATTIN, showing a mellow balance to his raucous persona.
Stiff Pap – Tuff Time$
Three years ago, post-kwaito music duo Stiff Pap founded the South African DIY creative collective Ebumnandini. In cities like Joburg, Cape Town and Durban, the crew has hosted raves for stylish, open-minded crowds and artists, which are soundtracked by an eclectic mix of punk, gqom, house, rap and amapiano.
On Tuff Time$ (which is accompanied by a short film), Stiff Pap – made up of lead vocalist MC Ayema Problem and producer Jakinda – rebel against the dysfunctions of post-apartheid South Africa, tackling topics such as classism, racism and economic inequality across the album’s 10 uncompromising tracks. In one moment of unbridled honesty on Caster Semenya, Ayema points out the fact that apartheid still exists and Black people keep ending up dead atop Jakinda’s emotive, experimental production.
Sarz and Lojay – LV N ATTN
While Afrobeats vocalists continue to receive acclaim for their infectious music, the importance of producers shouldn’t be overlooked. A big part of the current Afrobeats style was codified by innovative beatsmiths like OJB Jezreel and Don Jazzy, who in the mid-2000s matched US hip-hop’s bassy heft with the sweet melodies and hip-shaking percussion of west African genres. And from the 2010s onward, no producer has expanded the range of African pop music in the country like Sarz.
Two years ago, Sarz released his debut project, a beat tape titled Sarz Is Not Your Mate before closing out 2019 with the electronic-influenced I Love Girls With Trobul, a joint album with Nigerian-American soul singer WurlD. Sarz’s new project, LV N ATTN is a collaborative EP with rising Nigerian star Lojay. It’s another creative frontier for Sarz, who merges Afropop’s sensual essence with a moody overcast across psychedelic tracks that sound enthralling. Lojay’s vulnerable vocals swim dreamily favourites like Tonongo and Mona Lisa. Even when Wizkid shows up on the project’s titular track, his playful chirping and superstar presence doesn’t overshadow the vibe that Sarz and Lojay have created.
Ibejii – Gonto
Recording in an eclectic mix of English, Yoruba and pidgin, Ibejii’s soulful elegies cast the singer as a stream of consciousness for a generation simultaneously pining for the comforts of nostalgia and confronting the duality of the human condition. Ibejii’s songs are layered and laced with metaphors steeped in the Yoruba tradition and, as last year’s Ìlù Ìlú proved, his message is gets clearer with each project.
On Gonto, Ibejii’s first single of 2021 and the lead track from a forthcoming album, the singer delivers a sobering reflection on last year’s momentous #EndSARS protests. Gliding over an orchestral instrumental, he situates the resistance that powered the anti-police brutality protests in a wider global movement for the freedom of the oppressed, condemning the governments who are stubbornly insensitive to Black suffering.
Angélique Kidjo – Mother Nature
One year ago, while receiving a Grammy Award in the Best World Music Album category for Celia, Angélique Kidjo paid tribute to the new generation of artists coming from Africa, stressing that they were poised to change perceptions of the continent. On her latest album, Mother Nature, Kidjo engages that new generation of African artists in conversation over throbbing beats inspired by Afropop, soukous, and soul.
Zimbabwean-American singer, Shungudzo, matches Kidjo’s urgency on Choose Love where they make a plea for Africa to take a lead in making the world a better place (“Had a beautiful dream that I woke up and all the bombs in the world had been blown,” Ms. Kidjo sings.) Salif Keita was cajoled out of retirement for a cameo on Africa, One of A Kind, also featuring Mr. Eazi. Elsewhere, the album opens up to the inventive sounds of the Black diaspora, pairing Blue Lab Beats and Ghetto Boy with Kidjo for a groovy funk number on Fired Up.
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Tiwa Savage and Seyi Shay's feud fills the timeline
Millions of Nigerians were shocked when the simmering feud between superstars, Tiwa Savage and Seyi Shay, blew up into a verbal spat earlier this month at a hair salon in Lagos. Their beef started roughly two years ago when Seyi took shots at Tiwa on her rework of Kizz Daniel’s track Fvck You, and Tiwa was having none of Seyi’s conciliatory efforts when the singer said hello to her at the chance meet-up this month. Some ugly words were thrown around. And although Nigerians were lapping up the details on their VPN-powered Twitter accounts, many groaned at the slut-shaming insults.
Wizkid loves the sounds from the cave
The Ghana-pioneered highlife genre is making a return to the limelight in Nigeria, thanks to the effort of brother duo The Cavemen. Their 2020 album, ROOTS, was on of the year’s best projects, pairing traditional percussion with stunning riffs and witty writing. The Cavemen have found an admirer in Wizkid, who described himself as the band’s biggest fan when he attended one of their concerts in Ghana earlier in the month. He put his money where his mouth is by showing support online and honouring the time-honed Nigerian practice of spraying the band with cash.
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Wizkid – Superstar
In 2010, Nigerian music was at a crossroad. The staying power of the trifecta – comprised of Mo’Hits Record, 2Baba, and P‑Square – that had powered Nigerian pop for the last decade was waning. But a void was open for a new class of pop stars to emerge, including the distinctive sounding 19-year-old going by the name Wizkid.
Regarded as one of the most important Nigerian albums of the 2010s, Superstar set the stage for Wizkid’s rise to global pop sensation. Across the album’s 17 songs, Wizkid reminisced about his grace to grass story, the perks of being a teenage superstar, and his aspirations for the future over party-starting instrumentals supplied by producers like Samklef and DJ Klem. Sonically, the album was as diverse as the topic that influenced it, packing in classic R&B samples, hip-hop flows, and revamped fuji melodies. Above all, Wizkid was a young man with big dreams of being heard across the world and his now-iconic “My music travel no visa” line on No Lele feels a wee bit clairvoyant ten years after it was first uttered.
Read last month’s Best new African Music roundup here.