Best new African music: July’s roundup

Every month, Wale Oloworekende covers the continent's most exciting releases and music news stories for THE FACE.

By all metrics, South Africa has the biggest hip-hop scene in Africa. Stars like Khuli Chana, AKA, Cassper Nyovest and Nasty C combine critical acclaim with commercial success, adorning the covers of publications like GQ South Africa and Hype Magazine while routinely filling stadiums across the country and enjoying regular radio airtime. Still, for some in the Rainbow country, the true music of the land, especially post-apartheid, remains homebred genres like kwaito, bacardi and gqom, which all channel the struggles and joys of the nation.

In a bid to create music that resonates with those rap skeptics, some South African rappers have taken to fusing their bars with these indigenous genres. Earlier in the year, Pretoria-born artist Focalistic secured a cross-continental hit with his Davido-featuring remix of Ke Star, a song that mixed hip-hop with the sound of the moment, amapiano. AKA’s last project, 2020’s Bhovamania, co-opted elements of house and Afropop for music inspired by South Africa’s dance culture.

This month, Cassper Nyovest returned with a sonic tribute to amapiano in the form of Sweet and Short 2.0, while independent radio station NTS have captured the genre’s buzz with compilation Amapiano Now. Read on for the need-to-know details, as well as more key releases from the continent below.

Listen to THE FACE’s Best new African music playlist on Spotify

Cassper Nyovest – Sweet and Short 2.0

Despite a well-honed reputation as one of South Africa’s most accomplished rappers, Cassper Nyovest has always maintained a long-standing admiration for kwaito, regularly embellishing tracks with samples of the percussive, rave-starting Soweto-born genre. In 2018, his love for the sound reached a new level with Sweet and Short, an exciting collection of nine songs that put a distinctive hip-hop spin on kwaito instrumentals.

Led by May’s hit Siyathandana, the second installation in the Sweet and Short series follows its predecessor’s theme of Nyovest’s experimenting with South African genres. On 2.0, he pays homage to amapiano, the Gauteng-born meld of lush pianos and dreamy percussion that has risen in popularity over the last 18 months. Primarily favoring log drums, Cassper deftly contorts his voice around the project’s hypnotic grooves, emotionally contrasting his mother’s grief over the loss of his brother with her love for Nyovest’s own son on highlight track Khotso.

Listen to the full project here.

Rexxie – A True Champion

For years, the music springing from Lagos’ mainland was derisively referred to as street music. But thanks to the chart-topping efforts of mainland artists like Olamide and Reminisce, that perception is changing. And right now, no one is doing more to expand the range of the sub-genre than Rexxie, whose intuitive appreciation of melodies and airtight production has helped craft hits for the likes of Naira Marley, Zlatan and Burna Boy.

On A True Champion, Rexxie’s swashbuckling debut album, he unites the leading voices of mainland Lagos, such as Bella Shmurda, MohBad and Zinoleesky, with some of Africa’s most iconic pop stars, like Sarkodie and Davido. Also including exciting British-Nigerian talents like Kida Kudz, Midas the Jagaban and Ms. Banks, the album is an even-paced, almost ruminative, take on street music. The music on the album is light and hearty, slightly blunting the guttural energy of South Africa’s gqom while paying homage to the lively pianos of amapiano. It feels like a new blueprint for what Nigerian street music can aspire to.

Listen to the full album here.

Moonchild Sanelly – Yebo Teacher

Moonchild Sanelly has always proudly centred female desire in her music. Her 2020 EP Nüdes saw her playfully explore sensuality on tracks like Thunda Thigh and Where De Dee Kat. Sanelly’s latest release, the two-song pack Yebo Teacher, is a genre-meshing effort that lives up to the ethos of her infectious future ghetto punk sound, as she breezily mixes elements of Bacardi with folk music on the titular track. As the president of the female orgasm, I am checking that people are doing their homework on their own sensuality,” she said of the idea behind the track. As an artist, I’m asking if you are doing your truest, most important work.” Sanelly is joined by South African producer Heavy‑K on Yebo Mama, who layers the experimental track with his sturdy drum kicks.

Check out both tracks here.

DJ Tarico – Yaba Buluku (remix) ft. Burna Boy, Preck, and Nelson Tivane

In addition to his own global success over the last three years, Burna Boy has evolved into a legitimate African kingmaker, delivering zesty features that helped push songs like Kabza De Small’s Sponono and Master KG’s Jerusalema to widespread attention in 2020. Uniting with Mozambique’s DJ Tarico on the remix of Yaba Buluku, Burna is on devastating form, with swaggering chants like Odogwu, you bad” and E fi le fun Burna” urging his fellow artists to acknowledge his unparalleled brilliance and musical supremacy. The sonic effects of the tantalising banger from Tarico’s 2020-released Moz Piano 2 are dialed up to the max, with louder shakers and electrifying drums boosting the song’s power to get bodies moving on the dancefloor.

April Maey – Sweatshirt

On her 2020 EP, Ticket to Anywhere, Belgium-based Nigerian soul singer April Maey spun wispy songs about unrequited affection and romance-induced insecurities over featherlight beats. On her latest dispatch, Sweatshirt, April has moved on and is actively trying to live her best life. Never see me moody/​I draw lines,” she purrs over the song’s light percussive base. Later, she says, I’m beasting and I’m balling/​This conflict got me yawning,” proving that she’s processed whatever heartache inspired Ticket to Anywhere.

NTS's Amapiano Now compilation

Amapiano has exploded in popularity in the last eighteen months, thanks to the work of Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa (AKA the Scorpion Kings), and Samthing Soweto. Meanwhile, singers like Sha Sha, Alfa Kat and Kamo Mphela have added a new dimension to the defining sound of South Africa’s underground clubs, merging the sound’s dreamy fusion of percussions and piano keys with rap and soul influences.

The experiences of old and new acts collide on NTS’ Amapiano Now, presenting an urgent and powerful map of Amapiano’s trajectory. 21-year-old Mphela picks up the pace with Thula Thula, singing, I’m online so let’s party”. MachiinaSA’s James Bond instrumental harkens to the kwaito and jazz influence on amapiano, while Vigro Deep’s hypnotic melding of lush piano keys and log drums produces the deeply-relaxing Groove. The compilation is a satisfying body of work that doesn’t water down any of the elements that make amapiano special.

Listen to the compilation here.

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Yaw Tog is living his best life in the UK

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Earlier in the year, Yaw Tog told us that he was keen to visit London. This past weekend, his dreams came true when he stepped on stage at Ghana Party In The Park in Trent Park to perform his hit single Sore and assist rising Kumerican popstar Kweku Flick’s performance of Money. The young Kumasi artist later linked up with East London rapper BackRoad Gee for a studio session. On Instagram and Twitter, Tog made sure to keep fans up to date with his other adventures in London, such as attending Stormzy’s 28th birthday bash at Thorpe Park and kicking it with rappers Aitch, Ghetts and Pa Salieu.

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Sound Sultan – Back from the Future

Earlier in the month, Nigerian music was thrown into mourning when news broke of the passing of legend Sound Sultan at 44. Despite not receiving the same veneration as peers like 2Baba, D’Banj and P‑Square, Sultan was unarguably as important to the genre as the aforementioned trio. In purely musical terms, his alchemical blend of hip-hop, R&B and reggae was a fundamental standard-bearer for Nigerian pop at the turn of the 2000s, forecasting the genre’s textural rewiring and birthing iconic singles like Mathematics, Motherland and Campus Queen, as well as landmark album Naija 007.

While many contemporaries from the early 2000s faded away, Sound Sultan constantly reinvented himself, introducing his sound to a new generation of listeners on 2010’s Back To The Future, a pop album that reflected on the country’s socio-cultural and political climate with ironic humor. On the M.I. Abaga-featuring 2010 Light Up, he bemoaned Nigeria’s chronic power failures, juxtaposing it with the government’s fanciful promise to provide uninterrupted power supply by 2010. The body positive song Orobo also inverted the negative connotations of orobo, the Yoruba word for plus-sized people.

May Sound Sultan rest in eternal peace.

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