Best new African music: August’s roundup

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

We are officially in Essence season. The Teams-featuring standout from Wizkids 2020 album Made In Lagos has become a regular part of DJ sets across the world as clubs have thrown their doors open and welcomed revelers back. This year, many people took to social media to declare Essence the song of the summer. Subsequently, the song has received a major marketing push in the United States, becoming Wizkid’s first lead appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart – prior to his features on Drakes chart-topping One Dance and the Beyoncé-fronted Brown Skin Girl.

Earlier this month, Wizkid tapped Canadian pop star Justin Bieber for a do-over of Essence. The new version inspired candid conversations across social media about the international trajectory of Afrobeats and the genre’s dalliance with the western landscape.

On one hand, some people feel that the organic success of the un-remixed version, which first appeared on the Billboard chart in July, was proof that Afrobeats could penetrate the American market without the boost that a western megastar like Bieber brings, while others argued that collaboration was necessary to secure the genre’s place in the American mainstream. The thing is, Bieber’s tender verse doesn’t disrupt the magic of the song. And regardless of your opinion of the rework, it’s certainly had an impact: Essence rose to the number 16 position on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and there’s speculation that it could even crack the top 10.

Fittingly, this month’s column is led by the deluxe version of Wizkid’s Made In Lagos. It also spotlights the new album by Ghanaian icon Sarkodie and elsewhere, an enchanting debut by DMW singer, Liya. Dig in.

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

Wizkid - Made In Lagos Deluxe

Regardless of the divisiveness of Justin Bieber’s appearance on the hugely popular Essence, there can be no doubt that Wizkid made a modern classic on his 2020 album, Made In Lagos.

Coming three years after Sound From The Other Side, Made In Lagos perfected Wizkid’s roving global sound while tethering his influences to the instrumentation coming out of Lagos’ innovative music scene. The album currently has a strong buzz going – evident by the rush for tickets for his shows at London’s huge venue The 02 – and this updated version, carrying three new tracks in addition to the Justin Bieber Essence remix, is well timed, despite two months shy of the album’s one-year anniversary. On these bonus tracks, Wizkid is joined by some of the standout musicians from the new vanguard of Nigerian music. Anoti is produced by rising superproducer P.Priime with backing vocals from street poet, Bella Shmurda, who narrowly missed out on the album due to a label row, while former Burna Boy-signed artist Buju combines with the pop icon for a sensual number on Mood.

Listen to the Deluxe album here.

Sarkodie – No Pressure

Since breaking out with Mayke, his 2009 debut album, Sarkodie has been the defining Ghanaian act of his generation, combining critical acclaim as a rapper with the popular appeal of a pop star while releasing a long string of hits mostly performed in his native Twi dialect.

On his new album, No Pressure, the Tema-born artist luxuriates in the pure delight of rapping, focusing on lyrical structure and dextrous rhyming that was more sparse on 2019’s pop-tinged Black Love. Collaborations with American rapper of Ghanaian descent Vice Mensa (Vibrations) and UK rap legend Giggs (Round 2) display King Sark’s devastating flow. But the centrepiece of No Pressure is Anything, which sees him candidly examine his legacy and place in the contemporary Ghanaian music landscape over a delightful soul sample.

Check out the full album here.

Tiwa Savage – Water and Garri ft. Tay Iwar

Across four projects – three albums and one extended play – Tiwa Savage has established herself as one of Afrobeats’ most important voices, helping develop the genre’s sound around the early 2010s with singles like Eminado and Ma Lo. Last year’s Celia album was her first to be internationally distributed. The record found her ruminating on the scope of African womanhood over sweltering beats crafted by producers like Rexxie, London and the UK-based P2J.

Ms. Savage’s latest body of work, Water and Garri, is a return to the 2000s R&B influences that she soaked up writing for acts like Fantasia, Babyface and Mya at the beginning of her career, while the likes of Nas, Brandy and Amaraae make guest appearances. It all comes to a head on the project’s closer, Special Kinda, a glittering duet with Abuja-based auteur Tay Iwar that sees both singers evoke images of an immersive romance over dreamy piano keys.

Roki – Patati Patata ft. Koffi Olomidé & Rayvanny

Close to 40 years after releasing his first album, Congolese soukous legend Koffi Olomidé has retained a mythologised aura. He’s had a significant influence on music from across Francophone Africa, inspiring and mentoring other stars like Buoro Mpela and Fally Ipupa who have reinterpreted elements of soukous and rumba music for a modern, cross-continental generation.

In collaboration with Zimbabwean singer Roki and Tanzanian pop star Rayvanny, on Patati Patata Koffi Olomidé has scored a lively, cross-generational track that’s has become a hit favourite in East Africa, maintaining a position in the top 10 of Apple Music’s Zimbabwean Top 100 songs chart since its release.

Liya – Alari

Last October, Davido signed 24-year-old up-and-comer Liya to his label after getting an advance listen of her song, Melo, in a Lagos nightclub. 10 months after, Liya’s debut project, Alari, delivers on her immense potential, confirming that she is a singular talent blessed with a peculiar voice. Produced by Zaki Amujei, the six-tracker is guided by Liya’s sirenic cadences and incisive songwriting as she delicately explores desire, pleasure and gratitude to God with sprinklings of Yoruba panegyrics.

King Promise – Ring My Line ft. Headie One

2021 has been a big year for collaborations between Ghanaian acts and artists boasting Ghanaian ancestry, with Stormzy and Yaw Tog linking up on the remix of the asakaa anthem Sore in March. Then in April, Headie One headed to Kumasi to make music with members and associates of Life Living Records like O’Kenneth and Kwaku DMC. Now, Headie has returned to Ghana for Ring My Line, a blissfully melodic single by Accra-born singer, King Promise. Over a grooving instrumental, King Promise is in top form, dropping one of his best hooks in the years about not being disturbed over trifling issues, while Headie’s solemn verse from Smallgod’s Sinner is transformed into a denunciation against doubters and naysayers.

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Zlatan squashes rumour of Naira Marley fallout

Two years ago, Zlatan and Naira Marley made headlines when they were arrested alongside others by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission unit following the release of their teasing song, Am I a Yahoo Boy, leading to a brief spell in jail which Zlatan described as the worst days of his life. Following the controversial success of Am I A Yahoo Boy and their eventual release from detention, the two stars orbited each other worlds, with promises of more collaborative drops, but since then things have cooled off between them publicly. with rumours persisting of a possible fallout. But while making media runs to support his latest single, Alubarika, Zlatan insisted that all was well between the duo, sharing that they have, in fact, been neighbours in Lagos since last year.

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When Simi dropped her Restless EP in January 2014, she was a gifted singer transitioning from the strict topical boundaries of gospel music. On the five-track project, she refixed a number of classic songs such as Beyoncé’s Halo, Rihanna’s Man Down and Bruno Mars’ Grenade, pushing the songs into the realm of dreamy Afropop with a verve that suited her supple voice. Soon after, Simi was signed to Nigeria label X3M Music and the next time we heard from the songstress, she was breaking into the pop mainstream with Tiff, a pithy ballad that merged her knack for goofy lyricism with a defined thematic focus.

The songs that followed Tiff Jamb Question, Love Don’t Care and Smile For Me – showcased Simi’s increasing aptitude for resolving weighty emotional drama into relatable pop anthems that had the entire country singing along. By the time her sophomore album Simisola arrived, three years after Restless, the singer had fully transformed into an unavoidable pop presence. On Simisola, Simi explored love and affection from a variety of angles, earnestly reminiscing about her life with an old flame on Remind Me before completing a swooning duet with future husband Adekunle Gold on Take Me Back. And, in a show her versatility, Simi made the complimentary Yoruba party starter on O Wa’n Be, sharing an album that catapulted her to the top of the music echelon in the country and won in the album of the year category at the Headies, Nigeria’s foremost music award show.


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