Every month, THE FACE columnist Wale Oloworekende covers the most exciting releases and music news stories from across the African continent. Check out his previous columns here.
Over the last 10 years, a lot has changed in Nigerian music. Our pop music evolved from enthusiastic reworks of popular American songs (take Banky W’s 2011 track Ebute Metta, for example, which borrowed the melody from Rihanna’s Umbrella) to being proudly authentic, and now major US acts are eager to slip into our styles and get a slice of the Afropop action. Following the release of One Dance – Drake’s colossal Wizkid-featuring hit – in 2016, major labels and music service companies started setting up shop in the country. In 2017, Apple Music embraced the explosion of Nigerian music by finally making itself available in the country, with other streaming platforms like Audiomack, SoundCloud, Spotify and Tidal soon following.
But aside from the industry’s boom in commercial success, arguably the most significant cultural development has been how mainstream Nigerian acts have embraced what’s known as street pop. Street pop stars traditionally hail from the inner cities and ghettos of Lagos, and they have always rapped and sang with authentic Nigerian accents and languages, instead of imitating American voices. These artists – such as DaGrin, Seriki, Lord of Ajasa and Olamide – have earned respect by providing a full-blooded perspective of life in Lagos.
In the decade since Olamide dropped his debut album Rapsodi, the context and definition of street pop has widened to include Phyno, a rapper hailing from east Nigeria who performs primarily in Igbo, as well as Naira Marley, who channels the guttural rawness and mischievous streak of OG street rappers. A short while after Naira had his breakthrough in 2019 with controversial songs like Am I A Yahoo Boy and Soapy, a new class of street pop acts emerged including Zinoleesky, Bella Shmurda and MohBad. Buoyed by instrumentals from street pop architect, Rexxie, this new street pop generation created a wave of momentum in late 2020 and early 2021.
And now, in 2022, Asake is burning the candle for street pop. He’s achieving critical praise and commercial success for his fusion of amapiano and fuji music with a delivery scheme rooted in hip-hop. Originally a singer and dancer, Asake came to public attention early this year when he received an Olamide co-sign on the remix of his song, Omo Ope, leading to a deal with Olamide’s label, Yahoo Boy No Laptop. In February this year, Asake dropped his debut EP with the imprint, featuring his hit Sungba, which reached number one on the Nigerian Apple Music Charts. Demonstrating a great sense of timing, he collaborated with Burna Boy on the remix of the single, securing yet another number one song. More number one songs have followed: Palazzo, a song with DJ Spinall and Peace Be Unto You.
Perhaps the reason why Asake’s songs have done spectacularly well is because he uses urban language that echoes street realities while crafting great pop melodies. He appeals to a wider audience of people in Nigeria’s less-privileged areas, while his excellently-crafted hooks have helped him get middle-class club-goers on his side. There are only a few Nigerian breakout acts who have enjoyed as much success in the first six months as Asake has done, and right now it feels like the future is only going to get brighter for him.
Listen to THE FACE’s Best New African Music playlist on Spotify
CKay ft. Davido, Focalistic & Abidoza – Watawi
The Kaduna-born Nigerian singer CKay reached global superstar status last year thanks to the wild success of a remix of his 2019 song Love Nwantiti (ah ah ah), which maintained a ubiquitous presence on TikTok for the last quarter of the year and charted on British and American singles chart, peaking at number three and 26 respectively. He’s been basking in glory pretty much ever since. On his latest single Watawi, CKay merges his emo-Afrobeats sound with the percussive bassline, shimmering bass and lush melodies of amapiano, recruiting South African rapper Focalistic and Davido to add extra firepower to a song about wanting to be non-committal despite a partner seeking clarity about the relationship.
Gyakie – SOMETHING
Gyakie makes love songs that are packed with conviction, delicately stitching English, Twi and pidgin into lyrics casually pondering attraction or picking apart her romantic impulses over featherlight beats. The Ghanian songbird’s latest single SOMETHING, taken from her second EP MY DIARY, is an R&B‑leaning number that sees Gyakie rebuke an inconsistent partner who toys with her feelings. It’s the most miffed that Gyakie has sounded on record yet, as she sings lines like “The way you do me so/Don’t call me, bye bye/I be needing my peace o” with forceful gusto, before softening her stance as the song goes on.
Samthing Soweto – Amagents
After originally teasing Amagents in March, Jozi-born singer Samthing Soweto finally released the single late in June, describing the soul-infused track as “as an ode to being a father to a daughter in South Africa.” Set against the backdrop of a country struggling with regular occurrences of gender-based violence against its women, Amagents arrives as both Samthing’s personal tribute to his daughter as well as a call for accountability from South African men. The message is torturously poignant as the 34-year-old singer bids his daughter to be wary of men who might attack her self-confidence as she grows older. Despite its heavy message, Amagents has reached the number one position on the Apple Music chart in South Africa.
Lasmid – Friday Night
There are few feelings that beat clocking off work at the end of the week with the promise of a party or a rave to indulge in. On his latest single titled Friday Night, Ghanaian polymath, Lasmid, crafts a jolly bop that brings the distinctive feeling of a night out in many of West Africa’s major cities to life superbly, capturing the excitement, delirium, and debauchery that characterise those weekend get-togethers and parties. Friday Night pairs the breeziness of tropical music with muted drums while Lasmid’s cheery vocals and stories evoke strong memories that feel almost touchable.
Yvonne Kushe – Kulikayo
Much of the writing that Toronto-based singer Yvonne Kushe has been doing over the last two years has reflected her experience with heartbreak and healing in the diaspora as well as the burden of being physically removed from the rhythms and culture of her Ugandan heritage. On her R&B‑flavoured debut album, Unchained, the singer pays homage to the Runyankole and Lugandan languages. Positioned in the middle of Unchained, Kulikayo is a thesis on how Yvonne Kushe comforts a lover, promising them that she’ll always be by the door to welcome them back after a long day out of the house. It’s a moving ode to love that celebrates details of her culture.
Check out the full album here
Vieux Farka Touré – Les Racines
During a career spanning 15 years, Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré has veered into electronic music, folk, classical and reggae music, also playing a part in the modernisation of songhai music. His latest body of work Les Racines (translating to “the roots”), is a body of work rooted in the purism of Malian desert blues with the entirety of the album recorded in Bamako with a talented ensemble of kora players, percussionists and calabash players. Les Racines is mesmerising in some places (Be Together and Tinnondirene) with haunting vocals emphasising a message of togetherness and unity, while other songs like Adou and L’âme are dedications to his son and father.
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Aṣa – Aṣa (Asha) (2007)
This debut album from the Nigerian-French singer is foundational to Afropop. Born in Paris to Nigerian parents, the singer moved to Nigeria with her family as a two-year-old, before returning to the French capital 18 years later in order to study music.
But it was in Nigeria where she became acquainted with the producer Cobhams Asuquo through her friend and manager. Together with Cobhams, Aṣa started on a body of work which reflected reality of life in the country’s post-military era, delicately straddling the hope and despair of Nigeria’s fourth republic with songs like Eye Adaba, a radio hit which she sang in Yoruba. Eye Adaba showed Aṣa’s virtuosic capacity for poetic lyricism, and songs like Fire On The Mountain and Jailer provided foreboding commentary on the state of the nation and the human condition. At the 2008 edition of Nigeria’s Headies awards, this album received three nominations, also winning France’s Prix Constantin award for best fresh musical talen. Importantly, Aṣa (Asha), a brilliant potpourri of soul, R&B, jazz, folk and alt-pop was a prescient effort, providing a high watermark for Nigerian pop to aspire to.