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African music never sleeps, and neither does Leonel.
African music never sleeps, so you shouldn’t sleep on it.
2023 started with quite a bang. The year is only 10 days old, but between the deluge of releases that occurred at the tail end of December and the New Year comebacks, there’s a lot to enjoy from all regions of the mother continent. And remember, the Southern Hemisphere is at the very height of summer right now, so you can safely bet that January will not be short on bops. Here are some of my current faves…
From Senegal: The big Senegalese diva strays from her usual path of mbalax rhythms and sabar drums and goes for an amapiano/afro house approach, but the hypnotizing, melismatic vocal runs are still here.
From Rwanda: Beat Killer is a very ambitious Producer name, but this fun, busy rumba-fied tune, complete with vibrating sounds and chipmunk voices, proves that he got the beats to back it up.
From Congo-Brazzaville: Come for the remarkably wonky amapiano-meets-makossa beat, stay for the brooding techno synths and Diesel’s whispered adlibs.
From Cabo Verde: Is it me or kizomba is sounding more and more like its Caribbean cousin Zouk-love (itself in an interesting transitional period), with all the 2000s r&b melodic references and soca synths? I’m fascinated to hear what the genre has in store this year.
From Zambia: Xaven is a force of nature; her early Nicki Minaj-meets-La Atrevida flow makes any track instantly dirtier. Zambia’s urban music scene is undergoing a period of raw sexuality and nasty flows, and I can’t be more grateful for it.
From Rwanda: Romantic Afropop tracks rarely sound this bouncy; that accentuated secondary percussion and the steel drum synths are just addictive.
From Senegal: This one mixes Mbalax, trap, dancehall, and there’s even a son clave in there. And on top of that, a super cool performance from Akhlou Brick. Insanely good.
From Tanzania: The production is a perfect indicator of where the Bongo Flava scene is going, log drum sounds and all, but the big thing here is Ibraah’s feature, serving all the right melodies and making the right moves. He rarely misses, and he killed it here.
And now, a section dedicated solely to Kenya, that started the year with banger after banger…
Old-school gengetone is almost minimalistic in production, and here is tune bop for the nostalgics, courtesy of one of the scene’s most enduring veterans.
Modern gengetone, on the other hand, is taking all sorts of crazy directions; balafons, soca synths, roots reggae sampled snares, handclaps, you name it.
Masauti is a straight up popstar by now, and Timmy a gengetone powerhouse, but the star here is producer Hamadoo. The Arabic sample, combined with the melodic pop guitars and synths, fit so perfectly in both vocalists’ camps, they even threw in a ‘Sim Simma‘ reference in there. Such a confident, cool jam.
This kid is racking up hit after hit, and his unique high-pitched flow is why. This tune is all him, exploring different cadences and just having fun.
Khali is by far Kenya’s best rapper alive, and this double feature shows that he’s already becoming a mentor, taking young upstarts under his wing that take cues from his fluid flow and penchant for switching between English and Swahili.