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.
When the signing of Rema was announced by Mavin Records – the imprint run by African music mogul Don Jazzy – on March 22, 2019, it marked a new era for the label after a few years of uncertainty and mixed results. But more importantly, the launch of Rema’s career was a key moment for Afropop in general. Here was a teenage Nigerian star who was talented enough to spearhead the genre’s second wave, ensuring the international growth of Afropop wouldn’t always be the responsibility of more seasoned performers like Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy and Tiwa Savage.
Rema’s self-titled debut EP, released to coincide with the announcement of his signing, offered a vision of what that future of Afropop could sound like, incorporating elements of trap and emo-rap across four tracks. As Rema blossomed, a new generation of singers who either eschewed the traditional sonic palette of Afropop or tinkered adventurously with the DNA of the genre was being established. Fireboy DML, then-23, was seeing his R&B‑soul hybrid smash hit Jealous gain traction, as was 21-year-old Joeboy with his catchy alt-pop bop Baby. Later that year, a 23-year-old names Tems would release her breakout single, Try Me – showcasing a stunning voice that would make her an international star by 2021.
In a conversation with Rema earlier this month, he told me of his strong belief that his three-year stint has produced a post-Rema blueprint of Afropop. It’s a bold statement, but there’s evidence to support it. Recent projects like Amaarae’s genre-agnostic The Angel You Don’t Know, Fireboy DML’s dreamy neo‑R&B tome Apollo, and Focalistic’s fiery amapiano-rap fusions on Sghubu Ses Excellent have marked the sonic adventures of Afropop’s new gen.
Last week, Rema dropped his debut album Rave and Roses, a 16-track effort that subsumes elements from reggaeton, R&B, synthpop and trap into the 21-year-old’s Afropop core. Rave and Roses is the story of a young man navigating the slippery slopes of love, lust and affection while coming of age in the public eye. Addicted expressed his dismay at a female love interest lost to the thrills of the fast life, while Are You There? is a letter to the present generation of young Nigerians jaded by having to constantly protest and criticise bad governance.
Rave and Roses is an album that might not have existed under the conventions that Afropop operated under three years ago. Now, as Afropop’s most exciting generation graduates from rookies to scene fixtures, their next direction is anyone’s guess.
Listen to THE FACE’s Best New African Music playlist on Spotify
Fireboy DML – Playboy
In January 2022, Fireboy DML made history by becoming the first Nigerian act to reach the number two position on the UK Singles Charts with the Ed Sheeran-featuring remix of his 2020 track Peru, which was beaten to the top spot by We Don’t Talk About Bruno from Disney’s animated film Encanto.
Playboy, Fireboy DML’s first official single of the year, is the entry point for a new era for the Lagos-based singer, who is expected to release his third album later this year. Over a bouncy instrumental by Bizzouch, the famously amorous crooner brags about his status as both a roadman and a playboy.
Diamond Platnumz – First Of All
In a career spanning 16 years, Tanzanian superstar Diamond Platnumz has established himself as east Africa’s biggest music star thanks to his distinctive style that borrows sonic elements from across the continent and couches them into his bongo flava roots. On his latest release, a ten-track extended play titled First Of All, the 32-year-old casts his net further across the internet for fresh influences, taking inspiration from Afropop, zouk, soukous, amapiano and R&B.
Sona is the shortest song on First Of All, but it’s the project’s heartbeat. Over smooth guitars and horns provided by producer Blaisebeatz, it pairs Platnumz’s knack for inventive melodies with Adekunle Gold’s pristine songwriting.
Listen to the full project here
Elaine – Shine
South African R&B has been in good health over the last two years, producing fresh acts like Shekhinah, Naye Ayla Hunter Rose and Elaine Mukheli. When Elaine self-released her debut project Elements in September 2019, she won hearts with her smokey sound that’s heavily influenced by trap-soul music. Elaine’s latest drop, Shine, however, is the Pretoria-born at her cheeriest. She’s singing about finding love and being assured of its comfort after previously leaning into the uncertainties of romance. “Baby take my hand, hold on tight, don’t be scared,” she tenderly sings over the song’s balmy production.
Moonchild Sanelly – Strip Club ft. Ghetts
Following her 2020 mini-LP Nüdes, Moonchild Sanelly’s second album Phases is set to be another celebration of women’s freedom. “I want people to relate to the stories I’m telling,” the South African artist said in the announcement. “Liberation for women, in the bedroom, in the boardroom, knowing your power. I need to be heard by a lot of people.”
This single, which sees her reunite with veteran London MC Ghetts, embraces the seductive thrills of the strip club. “Come to the strip club, come watch the girls dance, come give the girls cash, come with the racks for ass,” she sings over a thumping bassline befoere Ghetts cooly slides in to express his admiration for pole dancers and twerkers.
Cruel Santino – Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN
Since emerging in the early 2010s as Ozzy B, Cruel Santino has received praise and acclaim as one of the most forward-thinking Nigerian musicians of his generation, playing a key role in the rise to global popularity of west Africa’s alte community alongside collaborators like Odunsi (The Engine), Tay Iwar and Amaarae.On his second album, Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN – which features the likes of Koffee, Skepta and indie rocker Gus Dapperton – the multi-hyphenate creates an immersive universe to dissect heartbreak (War In The Trenches) and angst (Beautiful Nothing) as well as explore his love for anime (Subaru Boys Ost) and gaming (Own Game). Upon release, FINAL HEAVEN polarised opinions with some commentators claiming that his world-building vision for the project was not reflected clearly across the project’s sprawling 21 songs, while others have praised the project’s sheer ambition and fearless spirit.
Check out the full album here
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Miriam Makeba – Homeland
Miriam Makeba’s music was heavily influenced by the horrors of apartheid. Growing up in Sophiatown, a segregated Black township outside of Johannesburg, the late singer used her music to shine a light on the injustices and torment that she witnessed and experienced. As she grew older, Zenzile developed a reputation as one of the anti-apartheid movement’s most audible spokespersons, recording and performing songs like Ndod’emnyama (Beware Verwoerd) (1965), Pata Pata (1967), and Sophiatown Is Gone (1991), that took aim at the scourge of segregationist policies and called Black South Africans to arm. Ultimately, these repeated calls for a just society and Makeba’s forthright attack on apartheid lead to her being exiled from South Africa for 30 years.
The first album that Makeba recorded in South Africa post-exile was 1994’s Sing Me A Song, released in a climate where the institution of apartheid was being dismantled thanks to negotiations between President F.W. de Klerk and the African National Congress. Her next album post-Sing Me A Song was 2000’s Homeland, an urgent, heartfelt call for unity in post-apartheid South Africa. Almost 70 years-old at the time when Homeland was released, Miriam Makeba’s tone took on the form of stateliness, urging for peace and togetherness at home and on the continent with her soul-infused voice on songs like Homeland and Africa Is Where My Heart Is, respectively. Before her death in 2008, Mama Africa recorded one more album, but Homeland stands apart as her thesis on the ideals that she wanted the Rainbow country to aspire toward.
Listen to Homeland here