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.
There was no definitive anthem for last year’s detty December – an annual extravaganza of parties and hangouts planned around Christmas in Accra – but it was nigh-on impossible to escape Black Sherif’s gravelly voice. At bars, raves and beach fronts, the Konongo native’s music was on regular rotation. With a hyper-charged delivery that can almost feel like a preacher’s address, Blacko’s lines are delivered with an overwhelming sense of certitude that marked him as a star from the beginning.
Where rappers from the asakaa scene, based primarily in Kumasi, turned heads for the communal feel of their gritty, collaborative drill singles, Black Sherif, who was born in Konongo – a little over one hour’s drive from Kumasi – has emerged as a lone star, punctuating his own drill-adjacent flow with spurts of catchy melody that’s attracted more casual listeners. First Sermon, released in May 2021, was the single that made him a talent to watch out for. But it’s his Burna Boy-featuring remix of Second Sermon that has catapulted him to regional fame, bringing widespread attention to the 19-year-old’s work.
Keen to make the most of his newfound visibility, Blacko has collaborated with a selection of local and international stars. Late last year, he anchored hook duties on Holy F4K, a collaboration with African music mogul Small God, Vic Mensa and UK rapper Ivorian Doll, while recently he teamed up with London Afropop artist Darkoo on Always.
But recent allegations of broken deals and sneakiness have threatened to disrupt Blacko’s momentum.
Ghanaian socialite Snap Chavis Wayne, who is rumoured to have financed Black Sherif’s career, has accused Blacko of failing to honour a contract with him. He claimed Black Sherif instead signed with US-based distributor, Empire, despite Chavis’s misgivings about that deal. According to reports, Chavis is considering a lawsuit against Black Sherif. But Blacko’s manager, Madonna, insists that their involvement with the reported investor is only farcical, claiming that Chavis only came on board after the success of Second Sermon, and that he didn’t actually buy a house for Blacko, as reported in the Ghanaian media.
This development represents another chapter in the history of contractual disagreements in the West African music industry, which still lacks structure despite the surging global popularity of its artists. While details of Black Sherif’s deals are still sketchy, the deep entrenchment of the artist’s hits in Ghanaian music culture means that he is set to be a fixture on the scene for a while yet.
Listen to THE FACE’s Best New African Music playlist on Spotify
DJ Lag – Meeting With The King
A little over ten years ago, DJ Lag started to experiment with a darker, more energetic variant of South African house music while still a teenager in Clermont, Durban. That experiment has mutated to become gqom – the guttural sound that became the signature of SA dancefloors for much of the 2010s. DJ Lag is one of the most respected names operating in the game, revered for his hip-swaying music and energetic sets as well as his collaboration with Beyoncé on her The Lion King: The Gift compilation album
Lag’s long-awaited debut album, Meeting With The King, plots a new path for the gqom, infusing it with elements from Afropop and amapiano and dropping the BPM from 127 to 124 on several tracks. That tempo tweak creates a slicker, sexier sound that is brought stunningly to life by celebrated amapiano singer and songwriter Lady Du on Lucifer. The track builds ever so slowly before Lady’s teasing vocals, Lag’s bouncy beat, and sirens come together for a hypnotic experience.
Check out the full album here
Blaqbonez – Commander
On the Sunday before the release of his latest single, Commander, Blaqbonez held an open-air concert in Lagos that he tagged ‘Breaking The Yoke Of Love’. Publicising the anti-love concert like a typical Nigerian religious crusade – complete with church-themed posters and Instagram-ready infomercials – the vent also boasted support slots from acts like Ladipoe, Bella Shmurda and Oxlade. Keen to get his Young Preacher era underway, Commander is the first glance at Blaqbonez as a pop star and he’s only dialled up the antics and raunchiness that made songs like TGF Pussy must-listens from last year. Over a groovy instrumental by Type A, he goes back and forth between promising sexual pleasure and his more wholesome feelings towards his lover.
Asa – V
Despite meandering between wistful romance and doubt-fuelled bleakness, Asa’s latest body of work, V, is the Paris-born Nigerian musician’s most colourful body of work – it’s also her first project that features anyone. For the first time in her over 15 year career, the singer has opened her world to some of the most innovative musicians from West Africa – Amaarae and The Cavemen. But it’s her collaboration with Afropop supremo Wizkid that has hogged most of the headlines. On the song titled IDG, both musicians sing about living in the moment and going where the love resides.
Listen to the full project here
Blxckie – 4Luv
2021’s B4NOW established Blxckie as one of Africa’s most gifted wordsmiths as he skillfully recounted his experience in lockdown and the tensions of being apart from his family across the album’s 12 tracks. His new project six-track 4Luv serves up the 22-year-old’s candid reflections on love and heartbreak. The soundscape of 4Luv is pensive and free-wheeling, as Blxckie leans more into his melodic side to express the multiplicity of emotions he’s feeling. umoya, sung mostly in Zulu, is a gentle slow-burner about meeting with the perfect partner for one’s life.
Listen to the EP here
Superjazzclub – Mad
Ghana music is primarily known for upbeat hiplife tracks, amorphous Afropop offerings, and gritty rap anthems. Indie collective Superjazzclub, therefore, stand out in a crowded field. Across their mid-tempo songs, the Accra-based group explores the murky intersection of guilt, anger, love and angst over feather-like instrumentals that are backed by the faintest hint of percussion. Their latest single, MAD, is an acoustic-bossa nova-inspired track that dissects rage and all the negative emotions it can trigger. Keen to decenter the brash tendencies of fury, the song is recorded with a contrast of the innocence of childlike vocals over chill guitars and mellow drums.
ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE… ONE FROM THE ARCHIVE…
Youssou N'Dour – The Guide (Wommat)
Youssou N’dour is one of the most popular Senegalese musicians of all time. His first five albums defined the scope of mbalax – a genre of dance music that emerged in Senegal and The Gambia in the 1970s. Singing almost exclusively in Wolof, the icon merged the poetic essence of Islamic music with the griot lessons of his heritage. Together with the Le Super Etoile de Dakar, N’Dour wrote a golden age in Senegalese music with albums like Ndiadiane Ndiaye and Mouride.
As his reputation grew, it started to ascend beyond the shores of Senegal, leading to global interest in his work. In May 1994, N’dour released 7 Seconds, a collaboration with Swedish singer, Neneh Cherry, that memorialised the first moments of a child’s life and the peaceful bliss of not knowing about the problems and violence in our world. The trilingual track became a global hit, charting in several European countries and in the US.
The album that followed mere months after 7 Seconds – The Guide (Wommat) – is widely recognised as the singer’s most internationally-successful album, distilling N’Dour’s earthy brand of activism into critiques on the state of Africa at that time on songs like How Are You and Without A Smile, while songs like Tourista and Love One Another pulsate with funk energy, urging for people to come together and look out for one another.