If music is the food of love, one thing is for sure: Africans can and will most definitely play on.
From Lagos to Accra, Dar es Salaam to Dakar; Kampala, Kinshasa, Cape Town and beyond, some of the greatest love songs in the world reside south of the Sahara. Here, continental love comes in all forms and flavours – from afropop to highlife, amapiano to kizomba, alt R&B, afro-zouk and everything in between.
Be it sexy and sultry, heartfelt and epic, a tender ballad or another banger! – there’s a love song to set just about every mood on Valentine’s Day. Here are 14 for your listening pleasure.
1. Oxlade - KU LO SA (Nigeria)
When Oxlade and his black leather two-piece danced their way through his COLORS performance plunged in an emerald green backdrop, who could have predicted this lo-fi lullaby’s hostile takeover of 2022? At 60 million Youtube views, the COLORS performance broke the fourth wall and the internet through an onslaught of hilarious remakes and asides.
With lofty vocals and comical dance moves, Oxlade romanced ravers in the streets of Paris, tickled London’s TikTokers and concert ticket holders alike, and became the nation’s sweetheart, bringing us all a little closer together.
2. Nimco Happy – Isii Nafta (Somalia)
Next up, coming in just as jubilantly as its creator’s namesake, is this upbeat pop jam turned overnight sensation – known simply around the world as the ‘I Love You More Than My Life’ song.
How much do I love you? Let me count the ways, in four languages to be exact. The now infamous chorus sees a multilingual Ms Happy flitting between Somali, English, Arabic and Swahili to drop those three magic words that everyone wants to hear.
3. Kofi Nti - Odo Nwom ft. Ofori Amponsah (Ghana)
A hall party classic hailing from the former ‘Gold Coast’, this is one love song (literally, as the song title translates from Twi) that simply gets better with time – unlike Supermalt.
4. Awilo Longomba – Karolina (Democratic Republic Of Congo)
Another oldie-but-goldie. Known less as a love song and more as a hall party hit, no African party from your childhood was complete without this certified parents’ joint. If you listen closely though, you’ll hear the legendary Mr Longomba hand-deliver the ultimate love language to his muse Karolina, who according to him is pretty on all sides – up top, down below, in the front and at the back. How’s that for words of affirmation?
5. Cassper Nyovest – Siyathandana ft. Abidoza & Boohle (South Africa)
With Boohle’s stunning guest vocals steadily pulling on our heartstrings, this hypnotising smash hit from rapper Cassper Nyovest quickly provided the soundtrack to summer love in 2021. Right on time, too: after a year cooped up and quarantined, it wasn’t long before amapiano enthusiasts the world over were reunited post-lockdown and running headlong into the genre’s loving, melody-laden arms.
6. Ya Levis – Mbange te
Dripping in the same delectable sounds heard across the diasporic communities of Haiti, Brazil and the French Caribbean, this is one deliciously slow tempo, zouk-infused kizomba number you need in your love life. Slipping effortlessly from French to Lingala, Ya Levis warns his love against moving too fast and ‘making it official’ too soon – proving that this Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t matter what you say, but how (smoothly) you say it.
7. Lala &ce – Show Me Love – (Cote D’ivoire (Ivory Coast)
What is it about the French language that just gets the people going? Lyon-born, French-Ivorian artist Lala &ce gives us all the answers with the help of a Spanish guitar lick.
8. Amaarae – Like It (Ghana)
Fast-forward to the contemporary face of Ghana and you have Amaarae, the trap angel mastermind that had the TikTok girls running up her bad b essential anthem Sad Girlz Luv Money. It’s the sensual sultriness oozing out of Like It however – where she first laid down those trademark ethereal vocals – that easily makes it one of sexiest songs of recent years.
9. Wizkid – True Love ft. Tay Iwar & Projexx (Nigeria)
Picture this: you’re descending down the staircase of a dimly lit basement party à la Sean Paul’s Get Busy. A sea of sweaty, gyrating bodies bathed in Moonlight blues and Insecure Season 2 Episode 4 purples await you. Slowly, you move through the crowd, feeling the throb of Jul’s bassline before you hear it. Suddenly, you lock eyes with bae, all the while Tay’s soft croons seep slowly into your system: “My days, when I’m not with you babe…” At the end of the day, *this* is True Love – a romance odyssey with more layers than a Viennetta.
10. Sauti Sol – Afrikan Star ft. Burna Boy (Kenya)
East Coast meets West for this moody but mellow ode to a bevy of beautiful African women. With lines like “Your papa Uganda, your mama Burundi” this love letter doubles up as a great way to familiarise yourself with the continent’s geography. A genius coming together of African Giants, from the collaborative gift that keeps on giving in Sauti Sol and Burna Boy.
11. Diamond Platnumz – African Beauty ft. Omarion (Tanzania)
You couldn’t tell us this wasn’t the ultimate diasporan link-up of 2018. Catchy, dancey, with both artists providing us love-soaked vocals and grooves for days? Omarion’s Swahili scrubs up pretty well too, as did his short-lived stint in afropop.
12. Radio & Weasel – Bread & Butter (Uganda)
Generally speaking, the Pearl of Africa has two settings: Parte After Parte (dancehall is a huge mood here, don’t ask) or pine away after the love of your life. As the late Radio, one half of the dynamic, BET Award nominated duo, sings: “You are the bread and the butter” – the staples of any healthy relationship.
13. Nomfundo Moh – Phakade Lami ft. ShaSha & Ami Faku (South Africa)
To all the forlorn, long-distance lovers out there, this one’s for you. Belted out by some of the finest singer-vocalists in the Southern African region, Phakade Lami (meaning My Eternity) is a psychedelic, 80’s inspired synth-pop ballad that sees Ami Faku, Nomfundo Moh and Sha Sha tag team to lament on respective paradises lost. Seamlessly, they switch gears from Xhosa, to Zulu to English – eagerly awaiting the return of their long-lost, but never forgotten, loves.
14. Wizkid – Essence ft. Tems (Nigeria)
We couldn’t forget what happened when boy met girl and teamed up to give us both the duet to end all duets. Flowing with nothing but good and infinitely cool vibes – and where the charm of the original Star Boy is greeted by the disarmingly rich and dulcet tones of the leading vibe herself, Tems – Essence captured the hearts and minds of a new, laid-back-kind-of-love generation.