The Best Afro Jams of 2022

2022 was a year of good news, as African music is increasingly becoming a hot commodity in the Global market, Leonel writes.
By    December 27, 2022

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African music never sleeps, and neither does Leonel.

2022 was a year of good news, as African music is increasingly becoming a hot commodity in the global market. More and more Nigerian, South African and even Ghanaian artists are racking up big streaming numbers, taking international chart spots, and appearing on Gen Z’ers playlists (thank TikTok, I guess?).

Moreover, the Francophone scenes, historically one step ahead of the rest when it came to getting airplay beyond the continent, are finally catching up to the Afrobeats takeover and they’re trying to attach their best bangers to multiple dance trends across the digital world — and the World Cup was the best time to do so.

The Lusophones, and most importantly, East Africa, had a year so productive, they have achieved a kind of growth rate that would take up to 5 years anywhere else, sharply matching the economic power moves going on in their respective regions.

So in short, 2022 was quite the party in the mother continent, so here are the top Afro Jams of the year, listed in alphabetical order – no podium this time around. Happy Holidays, everyone, and to all a fruitful, blessed 2023.

Afrokillerz X Allis – “Nha Manera”

The atmospheric, nocturnal house masterpiece of the year. “Nha Manera” is a melodic delight thanks to Allis’s velvety vocals, but what’s most remarkable is the way the producers incorporated such a dark, trance-like production in the service of the potent afrohouse beat. I have to take my hat off, even 5 months later.

Yemi Alade – “Baddie”

This year, the undisputed queen of Afrobeats went full dancehall, collaborating with Jamaican star Spice on “Bubble It”, and exploring different forms of Afro-Caribbean fusions, but “Baddie” is where she perfects the formula; the bouncy dembow beat works wonders in her dominion of melodic clarity and effortless sensuality, giving us the Nigerian soca vibes we didn’t know we needed.

Ans-T Crazy – “Pause”

Ans-T Crazy is an advanced skills craftsman. He’s been a part of the Francophone Afropop scene for a while now, but he has always brought interesting sonic combinations, influences and sensibilities. For “Pause”, he takes it up a notch; taking advantage of his knowledge of global electronic trends, he fuses his trademark Guinean beats with programmed drums more reminiscent of European club music. The punctuated electric guitar and the balafon-synths are still there though, and his heavy auto-tune provides a beautiful contrast with the hook’s background chants. That Afro-techno coda with the flute solo shows that he likes to spoil us with greatness.

Bebe Cool – “Boss Lady”

Luga flow is getting bouncier and bouncier lately; yes, the genre has always taken serious cues from dancehall and soca (especially soca in its more melodious elements), but the East African log drum sounds prevail and the artists are getting more committed to fusing their countries traditional sensibilities while making it accessible to continent-wide pop markets. And yes, “Boss Lady” is a textbook example of this trend, in all of its afropop glory.

Benzema – “Kasoro”

Kenyan star Benzema has put out great tunes that straddle the line between refined afropop and straight up gengetone for a while, but for “Kasoro” he has taken a different route and given us a Latin-inspired slice of pure nightly seduction. His hushed, lower-toned raps contrast beautifully with the watery synth chords and the syrupy background keyboards, but the true surprise is in the rhythm. Instead of a genge beat, or the typical afrobeat clave, the production goes for full-blown reggaeton, “pounda” drums and all. And in true Benzema fashion, the backing voices and countermelodies enhance the hooks even further, especially in the way they sing the title. This is a tropical delicacy, and its brevity makes it even more precious.

Boondocks Gang – “Mapeng”

To cap off a really productive year, the Kenyan crew Boondocks Gang released this dirty-as-all-fuck tune that perfectly encapsulates the Gengetone experience this time of year; remember, Kenya is centred at the Equator, so it’s both Winter and Summer over there, so the dark, icy synths combined with the digital ragga beat make perfect sense. Producer Magix Enga should have a bigger name by now; he’s been on fire since last year, and the future looks huge.

Hawa Boussim – “Kouwan”

The Burkinabé musical landscape is having a big moment lately, and veteran Hawa Boussim has joined the party with one of the strongest Afro-fusion tracks of the year so far. On “Kouwan” she reconnects with her Mossi and Fula roots through the strength of their melismatic, earth-shattering melodies, underlined by the airy synths and xalam. But the main focus should be on the rhythmic fusions; we get a 4:3 polyrhythm that lies more on the three for the first two verses and hooks, but it slowly become a full 4/4 as it transitions to the bridge, only to completely explode into a full coupé décalé pace by the end. You can feel how every step takes you to such a satisfying climax, where Hawa’s voice sounds the most triumphant.

Bruce Melodie – “Izina”

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.

Burna Boy – “Vanilla”

Jazzy afropop at its finest; it doesn’t get any better than Nigeria’s best melodist trying his hand at this sensual sax-led ditty. Burna’s voice, equal parts dancehall seductor and gospel truth-teller, glides effortlessly through this elegant production, a perfect companion to afternoons on the beach. The Southern hemisphere should adopt this right now.

Cabo Snoop – “Controlla”

Cabo Snoop is a somewhat atypical artist for the Angolan scene. With a career shaped by the sounds of Anglo Africa rather than by the Lusophone countries, Snoop presents us with a pop amapiano song in which he shows his immense melodic abilities, his auto-tuned croon moving smoothly in this summery production. The instrumental is also somewhat atypical even for amapiano, mainly because it is sonically closer to the Namibian variant than the South African we all know, especially in the sparseness of the production, and the apparent lack of song structure, but that is what makes “Controlla” so striking; being so familiar and so foreign at the same time.

Chelsea Dinorath – “Sodadi”

Angolan upstart Chelsea Dinorath is a one-of-a-kind figure in the kizomba scene; thanks to that gossamer voice, she has stood out for her delicate and moving tunes, but “Sodadi” has completely exceeded expectations. Built around a well-played guitar progression and a looped vocal sample, the song captivates us with melancholic melodies and a chorus that perfectly develops its emotional core. This is a theme about that long-distance relationship that “is wrong but tastes so good” and leaves us “with a headache and sodadi (saudade) in the heart.”

Cysoul – “Je Tombe Aussi”

This exquisite afro-soul piece, anchored by Cysoul’s impressive baritone shows the value of good percussion arrangements. Just listen to that very subtle polyrhythmic bit in the chorus, a bikutsi-indebted flourish that turns this homage to women from great to iconic.

Safi Diabate – “Aw Ni Sou, Aw Ni Sou”

It’s impressive how Safi, one of the youngest members of the Diabate clan of griots, has consistently updated her sound while taking the quality in her productions up a notch and giving us some of her absolute best tunes yet. “Aw ni sou aw ni sou” is a song-of-the-year-quality masterpiece; based around the Malian pentatonic and a killing 4:3 polyrhythm, Safi delivers some of her catchiest, most joyful runs, and when it reaches the final third it just blows the f*ck up, resulting in an intense, ecstatic experience.

Dieyla – “Diayoulen”

“Diayoulen” is closer to the sounds of the mbalax of yesteryear, both in structure and on a vocal level, although the current production gives it a boost in the low end and a lot of brightness. There is only one tempo variation here, but the rhythmic patterns of the Sabar are equally complex (and difficult to play even for a veteran, believe me, I tried) and Dieyla brings the elegance in her voice that we know and love. Bonus points for the short guitar solo at the end.

F Jay x Slap Dee – “Balotelli”

The World Cup is the perfect time to find passionate bangers; Africans are some of the craziest football fans in the world, and from Cairo to Cape Town, life seems to stop and everything can happen for a whole month. The surprise here is that the best Cup anthem came from non-qualifying country Zambia. “Balotelli” (of course named after the iconic Italian-Ghanaian striker) is a full street celebration; the bouncy beat is undeniable, turning up the BPM kind of like the Francophones, but with a clear Southern highlife feel (listen to those guitar stabs), and the F Jay – Slap Dee exchange is right on the money, never too much, always making the rhythms shine brighter.

Fally Ipupa – “Formule 7”

Fally Ipupa is making a statement here; this 8-minute monster of a track single-handedly shows the enormous stylistic range and the production depth of the Congolese, going from one rhythm to the next with ease, and displaying some of the most brilliant rumba arrangements this side of Koffi Olomide. “Formule 7” works as a centerpiece to his new record of the same name, which itself is an AOTY candidate; a journey through the immense diversity of the uniquely Congolese genre. Masterpiece.

Loony Johnson – “Lambuxa Na Bo”

Holy fuck is this sexy. Cape Verdean seductor Loony Johnson is back with a nocturnal, atmospheric kizomba tune with love-making vibes for days. His voice gives me an early aughts R&B feel, and the production combines those sensibilities with the bounce of today’s bedroom anthems. That “chega, chega” vocal loop should qualify as sex noises.

K. Pamba X Murasta Master – “Haiwezekani”

Breezy afropop with the right touches of Kenyan percussion sure is a formula that works most of the time, but you still need talented performers that bring skill and personality on top, which is why this meet-up of K. Pamba and Murasta, who operate on different fronts but are equally drawn to give some bite to their vocals, work so well. “Haiwezekani ” is the kind of jam that is simply pleasant in all of its length, but it’s especially soothing in Pamba’s first verse, where her summery flourishes dance around the two-chord sequence. Murasta’s performance brings some necessary earthiness and even matches Pamba melodically at times. This is what we usually need from a rap-sung collaboration.

Laura – “Djèdjè”

I love the use of afrohouse sonic trends in the service of pop music. Togolese upstart Lauraa presents “Djèdjè”, undoubtedly her strongest, most gripping performance to date. Her heavy singing voice gives the beat some needed punch, but it’s the rapped flow that truly surprised me here. Lauraa’s flow brings out the best in the airy, guitar-led production, her aggressive, intense tone contrasting beautifully with that lightness. She’s slowly establishing herself as one of her country’s best.

MPR – “Makambu”

Last July, Congolese rap crew MPR gave us exactly what we needed: a good throwback tune. In “Makambu” MPR takes us back to one of their country’s most treasured traditions: old orchestral rumba. Those brass arrangements give me 70s vibes in all the right ways.

NIXO X Golden – “Criminel”

Hailing from Reunion Island, Young afro-trap upstart Nixo captured my attention with ‘Criminel’, a slow, dirty, sensual pop tune that takes some cues from both Caribbean zouk-love and the sorts of afropop you find in French-speaking scenes like Cameroon or Benin. His hyper-thick, autotuned croon makes the ears tingle, and when guest star Golden brings her dulcet tone to the mix, you can feel the sparks flying. We can’t help but love that slow, painfully sexy beat.

Pérola x Cubita – “Não Vai Lá”

This is by far one of the most exciting Lusophone songs of the year; this combination of kizomba bounciness, sophisticated chord progressions, synth-flutes that betray some Latin American influence, and the glorious melding of Pérola and Cubita’s voices, make for a stimulating audio experience. And the production choices — the spacing and the vocal layering in particular — enhance this miraculous encounter of musical ideas.

Pongo X Tristany – “DÉGRÁ.DÊ”

The GOAT of Kuduro just raised the bar; we’ve seen her dominate the style since her days with Buraka som Sistema, but here Pongo shares the spotlight with crooner Tristany, whose chants provide atmosphere for her astonishing flows, where she strongly denounces the racial prejudice against the black populations that still abounds in Europe. The song is produced by DJ Marfox, a consummate explorer of the frontiers of the Luso-African batida, who shines from the intro with the irregular piano to the glitchy percussions. But the center of attention, like everything in her universe, is the spectacular energy and vigor of Pongo, who is able to link her vocal acrobatics with a choreographic precision like very few in her territory — she dances spectacularly while rapping in a different root metric, kind of like a living polyrhythm.

The track was originally premiered in the second semifinal of the Festival da Canção, the most important musical show in Portugal, and where the country’s representative in Eurovision is chosen — Pongo could participate because of her dual citizenship. And there we could see the true power of “DÉGRA.DÉ”, Pongo’s impressive and almost hypnotic live presence. This was created for the live show, the natural environment of a generational talent like her.

Soraia Ramos – “BKBN (Bu Ka Bali Nada)”

“BKBN” is a sincere exercise in melodrama, a song about the heartbreak stemmed from a relationship with a manipulative man, but instead of posing as an empowerment anthem, instead of taking the easy “good riddance” posturing that so many similar songs have done recently, it focuses in the immediate pain and stress of realizing who your partner really is — and if you don’t speak Cape Verdean creole, the English subtitles in the music video help a lot as well. The production gives Soraia a bopping beat with enough space for her to get all the emotion out of her chest. And that a cappella coda is pure fuckin’ beauty. High melodrama done right.

Riderman X Peace Jolis – “Bulletin”

As some of you already might know, we’re in the middle of a period of interesting musical exploration in Rwandan music; artists like Riderman are finding avenues where they feel comfortable to deliver quality. This dark afro house-tinged tune is a successful result of this process, the song makes you move, the loud synth bass hypes you up, and the hook is simply undeniable. Plus, Peace Jolis is already a proven afro-dance banger maker, and this one solidifies that status.

Rosa Ree X Gigi Money – “Emergency”

Rosa Ree is one of the sharpest rhyme spitters in both Bongo Flava and Gengetone (being born in Tanzania and raised in Kenya, she incorporated both styles into her music), and her ability to inject tracks with attitude and flow has cemented her status as one of both scene’s best. In “Emergency,” she and upstart Gigi Money turn the Dancehall up to eleven; the combination of sinister synths and Ragga pianos provide space for both to pour some of their nastiest lyrics yet. And listen to those manipulated voice samples on the hook — the whole dancefloor gotta howl.

Oumou Sangare – “Wassulu Don”

“Wasulu Don” is one of those musical pieces that provokes total joy from the first second you hear it; not every day that you get a perfect wassoulou-blues fusion from the greatest singer of the genre. The opening riff is simply undeniable, with a sonic character that equally reminds of the highlands of Northern Mississippi as well as the desert landscapes evoked by Ali Farka Touré. But the great force that puts this over the edge is obviously Sangaré herself, whose deep melisma brings in beautiful and expressive melodies that break the percussion space and stimulate the senses.

Ramses Tikaya X Mix Premier – “Enjaillment”

These guys somehow always find exciting new ways to present their brutal bursts of dance energy. “Enjaillment” is more than just a banger; is an assault of pure rhythm, and because these two are masters of the form, they built it around a distorted electric guitar playing something that feels like either Tishoumaren or like a wicked metal/décalé hybrid. Brilliant.

Vivian X Sosuun – “Chachisha”

The Gengetone scene never fails to bring something bouncy, rollicking and interesting every single week. “Chachisha” is perhaps the most immediate example of how the greatness of a tune can reside on an undeniable, unstoppable hook, which, in the land of Khaligraph Jones and Matata, is no small feat. Both Vivian and Sosuun bring very unusual rhythmic sensibilities to this mix, and their attitude and delivery melds perfectly with the brass arrangements and that buzzing, earwormy synth. But the real iconic moment is that chorus, the way they fit the phrase “Chachisha/Tumekuja tu kuchachisha” into that tumpa tumpa just rolls off the tongue. Maybe the entire banger was constructed on the delivery of that line. Oh yeah, and Sosuun casually throws a Nelly reference to spice things up.

Valter Artistico – “Chora Mais”

I love Valter Artístico’s silky, airy voice more and more, especially because he uses it in lyrics that deal with issues that require providing some nuance. In “Chora Mais” (“Cry More”) the Mozambican shares a bittersweet story, singing partly out of spite but with a few moments of irony, and his voice works wonderfully to give us the full spectrum. Besides, what a good melodist he has become over the years.

Yannick Afroman X Nanuto X Filho da Zua – “Familia e Familia”

This one is such an incredible amalgam of contemporary and retro; “Familia e Familia” marries the Angolan semba tradition, complete with beautiful brass arrangements led by jazzy sax, with rapped verses and a n Afrobeats feel. The concept is great by itself, but the execution has been simply masterful. The Santana-like guitar solo feels like icing on the cake. Impressive.

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