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African music never sleeps, and neither does Leonel.
This week, the entire continent has been engulfed in the massive celebration that is the Africa Cup of Nations; the football tournament takes place in Cameroon, where 24 of the best squads face each other, and for the first time in more than a decade, there are no clear favorites, as countries like Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, and even small nations like Comoros and Malawi have finally reached their competitive peak. But even in such a momentous occasion, artists from all regions show their patriotism through music, with some of the week’s best tunes serving as anthems for the cheering crowds of their home nations.
These are the Afro Jams of the Week, including two Ivorian fight songs, a Zambian club stomper, an amapiano Don, and some R&B-tinged Afropop. Enjoy the ride!
Nifa Fanafoule – “Tia Tamper”
From Ivory Coast: Creativity needs a dose of humor and playfulness, which is why the most revolutionary music usually comes from joke songs and chaotic jams. “Tía Ramper” is an incredible display of adventurousness, as the Ivorian Nifa Fanafoule pokes fun at people who act as if there’s no global pandemic, and laughing about absurd competitions while cheering for his country at the same time. But the true accomplishment is in the arranging and production; they throw everything to the mix, including coupé décalé drums, batucada accents, traditional drum cascades, and even a start-stop reggae-lite breakdown, while Nifa just rips through it all, cracking jokes and flexing.
VDA – “Tous Éléphants”
From Ivory Coast: Zouglou ambassadors and Cote D’Ivoire’s most vocally advanced pop duo VDA really love their home country’s football team, and this is genuinely audible in their anthemic “Tous Éléphants”, a by-the-numbers, super classy slice of zouglou, with their trademark harmonies and tasteful melodic choices. The soaring guitars offer some necessary counterpoint and the percussion meld with the warm baritone-tenor combination of their voices. This is tasteful, even for the high standards of VDA; any footballer should be motivated by it.
Chef 187 – “Husband Material” (feat. D Bwoy Telem & T Low)
From Zambia: Zambian rap, and especially Zambian club music, are having a bit of a moment in the Southern African musical consciousness, and with extremely good reason, as a big wave of artists are bringing exhilarating, fun jams that are perfect for small clubs where everyone is challenging social distancing measures by grinding so closely. “Husband Material” is the kind of effortlessly cool banger, and you can hear where it’s going from the liquid bass and the reggaeton airhorns. The surprise comes in the hook, where the Chef samples Nameless and Wahu’s “Back it up” (check the archives) before the guest rappers take over. That’s a great use for a certified great hook, and proves that the distinct regions are in conversation with each other.
Ntosh Gazi – “Ubusuku Baizolo”
From South Africa: Time for a legend to step in and show us how it’s done. Amapiano boss Ntosh Gazi has been on top of the entire scene years before it exploded as a global power, and his rough gravelly voice is perfect for dynamic jams such as “Ubusuku Baizolo”. This is no “private-school” beat; the 16-bar percussion-only intro gives way to a sinister industrial synth line, on top of which Gazi leads with his bravado-filled flow. He’s indeed an accomplished rapper with an incredible sense of cadence, and this is the kind of musical setting he’s most at home in. Dude makes it sound so easy.
Bruce Melodie – “Izina”
From Rwanda: This is the kind of R&B-laced Afropop where everything sounds so… well done, so perfect for the other elements to sound their best. True to his stage name, Bruce Melodie is a master at creating powerful melodies, building memorable hooks like legos everywhere in the song. His super smooth tone intersects with the breezy, high-touch production, especially with the way the bass lines flow and respond to the synths and drums. This is pop excellence, there’s no way around it.