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The Best East African Songs of 2017

Our ten favorite East African music this year come from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

It's that time of the year again ladies and gents. 2017 is coming to a close and we couldn't help but reminisce on what an impressive year it's been for African music. We're constantly being bombarded with so much good stuff these days that it's become more and more difficult to properly analyze everything and pick favorites.

As far as East African music goes, the bar has been raised a few inches higher and competition has gotten stiffer as more artists strive to make their mark in an ever-growing industry. This list features the likes of Bongo flava star Diamond Platnumz, Tanzanian diva Vanessa Mdee, and Kenyan afro-pop kings Sauti Sol. In no particular order, these are songs that made a huge impact in the East African musical sphere this year, or maybe they just sound really good.

Listen to our Best Songs of 2017 playlist on Spotify and Apple Music.

Sauti Sol ft Patoranking —"Melanin"

The Kenyan afro-pop band surprised fans with sultry banger "Melanin" which has become the latest anthem in praise of black women. This time they joined forces with Nigerian artist, Patoranking, who added some dance-hall flavor to the track. It starts with the classic Sauti Sol vocals and acoustic guitar riffs and then builds up into a lively club record. The music video was met with some controversy, only just avoiding a ban from local TV stations for being too steamy. Nevertheless, it's still one of the top trending music videos on the continent and the viewership continues to grow. The boys are unstoppable at this point and we have more heat to look forward to from their forthcoming LP "Afrikan Sauce" which will be out in 2018.

Alikiba—"Seduce Me"

Alikiba caught most of us off guard when he dropped "Seduce me" in August. It seemed to be a step in a new direction for the Tanzanian singer who has already been dubbed as the "King of Bongo flava". With a clever mix of English and Swahili lyrics and a more contemporary beat, it's a track that appeals to listeners well beyond East Africa. The song proved that Alikiba is an artist who is ready to experiment and push the boundaries of Bongo flava music. The song is undeniably infectious and it's not hard to see why it has already surpassed 8 million views on Youtube.

WCB Wasafi Artists—"Zilipendwa"

"Ohh hizo ni zama za kale, ohh sanguro na pepe kale". If you live in the region you've probably heard this intro several times. Even though it's been severely overplayed it is still full of punch every time you hear it. The song's distinctiveness stems from the fact that it's a group effort. It features all WCB Wasafi Artists including Diamond Platnumz, Rayvann, Harmoniz, Mbosso, Lavalava, Queen Darleen and Rich Mavoko. It is sung entirely in Swahili over an up-beat traditional style production which enhances its nostalgic feel. The massive success of the single coupled with the popularity of its ensuing music video confirms that Diamond and his troupe are more than ready to take Bongo flava to the world.

Nyashinski—"Malaika"

After a long hiatus in the US, Nyashinski returned to his home country, Kenya, last year and now he's one of the most sought after artists in the country. Chart-topper "Malaika" is a far cry from his Kleptomaniax days as he showcases his softer, more romantic side with the slow-paced love song. The lyrics are powerful and he sings passionately about a special lady in his life. Hearts have been melting all over the place since its release, not to mention all the brides who've walked down the aisle to this song of late.

Harmonize ft Rich Mavoko—"Show Me"

Harmonize is the Tanzanian sensation who made his breakthrough in the East African music scene with "Aiyola" in 2015. Since then his popularity has steadily risen and he's established a solid foothold in the industry. He teamed up with his label mate Rich Mavoko to give us "Show Me", one of the hottest club bangers of the year. With its catchy lyrics and contagious melodies this song has undoubtedly been getting crowds moving on dance floors from Dar es Salaam all the way to Kampala.

Bebe Cool ft Sauti Sol—"Mbozi Za Malwa"

Earlier in the year renowned Ugandan ragga artist Bebe Cool teamed up his East African counterparts, Sauti Sol, for 'Mbozi za Malwa'. The title of the song is a Luganda phrase for conversations that usually take place when friends are having a drink at their local bars. The two parties may be poles apart in terms of genre but their voices blended seamlessly in this song. Needless to say, the groovy afro-dancehall track was one of the biggest East African collaborations of the year.

Vanessa Mdee ft Mr. P—"Kisela"

It's safe to say at this point that Tanzania has become somewhat of a benchmark for music in the region. Vanessa Mdee is our very own afro-pop princess whose efforts have helped give Swahili language music a more global appeal. She lands on the list with "Kisela" featuring Mr. P of Nigerian duo P-Square. It is an emotional, mid-tempo track that tells the story of a woman heartbroken by a man who is playing games with her. The E. Kelly produced single shows a different side of the singer who confesses the lyrics were inspired by her own personal experiences.

Eddy Kenzo—"Jubilation"

The upbeat dance track was released by Ugandan hit maker Eddy Kenzo, in promotion of his latest album "Biology" which dropped in July. It's a really energetic song, not the kind to get you rushing to the dance floor but it certainly gets your spirits up. The song was followed up by an exuberant music video as his aim was to communicate a feel of happiness and love for one another. With all the patriotic and celebratory vibes this song exudes, it's no wonder they call him the "King of Happy Music".

Victoria Kimani ft R.City—"China Love"

It's no secret that Victoria Kimani has been putting in work. Her single "China Love" features award-winning American duo R.City who have worked with an endless list of pop stars including Rihanna, Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus. In the bouncy track the Kenyan singer implies that she only wants real, authentic love and not fake love, hence the China reference. It's ironic that she later shot the video in China but hey.... her colorful outfits and the stunning scenery make it worth the view. The chorus and the hook are very catchy and her vocal delivery is on point as usual. "China Love" is easy on the ears and perfectly tailored for a wide audience.

Bruce Melodie—"Ikinya"

It's been a good year for Bruce Melodie. The R&B; star made history for his country by being the first artist from Rwanda to appear on Coke Studio Africa. His stint on the show definitely earned him a larger fan base outside Rwanda but before that there was a song called "Ikinya". The afro-dancehall tune became a summer anthem in his home country and dominated the airwaves for weeks on end. With its organic and dance-ready production, it was not long before the tune had crossed over to the rest of East Africa.

Listen to our Best Songs of 2017 playlist on Spotify and Apple Music.

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From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

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There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

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Still from Emmeron's "Good Do"

Following Government Suppression, Sierra Leone's 'People's Popstar' Is Finally Allowed to Perform

Emmerson's music has influenced past elections in Sierra Leone. Here's why his performance at the National Stadium is a win for artistic freedom.

Early December 2017, a flyer was circulating on Whatsapp in Freetown announcing one of the most exciting concerts of the year. Sierra Leonean superstar Emmerson Bockarie, stage name Emmerson, was going to perform live alongside two other popular artists. The concert was to be held at the National Stadium, Freetown's foremost and largest concert venue where the likes of Timaya and Wizkid have performed in the past.

One week later, with no further explanation, the concert was cancelled.

Rumours went wild. The then ruling party, All People's Congress (APC), was seen by many as the culprit. Elections were just around the corner and Emmerson, with government-critiquing lyrics, was not to perform to an audience that could reach 36,000 people. It was a recurring story; Emmerson has not been able to perform at the National Stadium since 2012, all during the APC reign.

Now, a month after the change of government, Emmerson held his concert, called Finally, on the April 28.

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The Prince and Princess of Lesotho Were the Only Foreign Royals At Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Wedding

The Basotho and British royals have a long-standing bond.

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle avoided inviting politicians and foreign royals to their wedding on SaturdayBarack and Michelle Obama were noticeably absent—the couple made an exception for one pair of royals: Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and his wife Princess Mabereng.

The two were amongst the 600 guests present for Saturday's festivities at Windsor Castle. Princess Mabereng donned colorful traditional attire for the ceremony, and stood out in the best way possible.

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