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Sauti Sol and Tiwa Savage: Photo: Facebook / Sauti Sol.

The 9 Best East African Songs of the Month

Here's the best tracks to come out of East African this month.

After an impressive year of music in 2017, artists from the East side of the continent kept up the momentum with a string of great releases in January.

From our biggest stars to some of our favorite rising acts in the region, here are the best songs of the month.


Safi Madiba "Fine" feat. Rayvanny

After ceremoniously leaving Rwanda's biggest music group, Urban Boyz, Safi Madiba is now proving himself as a solo artist with hits like "Got it" and more recently, "Kimye Kimye." His latest single "Fine" is quite easy on the ears. The smooth afro-pop track features Tanzanian sensation Rayvanny who is currently on a roll of success with songs like "Makulusa" and "Siri." Despite all the speculation regarding his solo career, Safi Madiba is letting all the doubters know that he's here to stay.

Sauti Sol "Girl Next Door" feat. Tiwa Savage

Kenya's most popular band Sauti Sol followed up the massive success of "Melanin" with the more laid-back, Maleek Berry-produced single "Girl Next Door." The song features Nigerian afro-pop queen Tiwa Savage and has a cool reggae style beat. Fans are already anticipating the band's next release from their forthcoming Afrikan Sauce album which will feature collaborations with artists from different parts of the continent. So far so good, Sauti Sol!

Mr Blue "Mbwa Koko"

As you can see from our article on 14 Bongo Flava Classics You Need In Your LIfe, Mr. Blue has been around for a long time. We knew he could rap but his new banger "Mbwa Koko" is a testament to his lyrical mastery. The song has definitely gotten his long- time fans buzzing but with its contemporary beat and his legendary status it easily cuts through to a younger generation.

Otile Brown "Tamu Sana" feat. Shetta

Kenyan rising star Otile Brown started the year on a good note with a sizzling single "Tamu Sana," which features Tanzanian rapper Shetta. The song's infectious beat and catchy lyrics will get you nodding your head regardless of whether you understand the words or not. A wonderful fusion of bongo flava and afro-pop, this song is set to be a regular in the club circuit for the next few months.

Fik Fameica "Mafia"

Fik Fameica is the popular Ugandan urban rap star who's been riding the wave of success from his hit single "Kutama" which was released in 2017. He kicked off the new year with "Mafia," a full-toned trap single that is quickly rising to the top of the Ugandan charts. The young rapper has previously been criticized for sounding too similar to many Western rap artists. Nevertheless, he's already gained a large fan base in the country who seem to really enjoy his Ugandan twist on trap music.

Aar Maanta "Halaalee Dhaanto"

Veteran British-Somali musician Aar Maanta continues to keep Somali music alive with his latest release "Halaalee Dhanto," a captivating and modern take on the traditional Somali folk style music called Dhaanto.

Lava Lava "Kiilio"

WCB Wasafi's catalogue includes artists like Harmonize, Rich Mavoko, Diamond Platnumz and Rayvanny who, in recent times, have dominated the East African music scene. Their new signee Lava Lava has already experienced his fair share of success but it seems he wants to take it up a notch in 2018. His song "Kiilio" is about a poor man who has lost his girlfriend to a richer man who can shower her with material things. In a time when many Tanzanian artists are choosing to make afro-pop, "Kiilio" is a classic bongo flava tune.

Awate "Brutalism"

Camden-based Eritrean rapper Awate dropped the visuals for his song "Brutalism," a tasty appetizer for what's to come in his forthcoming album Happiness, which is due February 16. The song is a powerful piece of storytelling as the rapper paints a picture of his experiences growing up in London. The video is collaboration between award-winning filmmaker Penny Woolcock and designers Block9, filmed at the Utopia installation at The Roundhouse.

Aslay x Nandy "Subalkheri Mpenzi"

After the split of Tanzania's beloved Yamoto Band, Aslay won the hearts of fans as a solo artist with "Hauna" in 2017. He continues to win our favor in the new year with his brand new song "Subalkheri Mpenzi," featuring Tanzania's fastest rising female artist, Nandy. With the duo's beautiful Taarab-influenced vocals and the traditional bongo instrumentals, this is the perfect love song to get you warmed up for Valentines Day.

Op-Ed

Op-Ed: Kanye West In Africa Is Music Marketing At Its Worst

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing.

One of the most interesting parts of the music industry is the marketing of an album. In developed music markets, accomplished professionals and creatives sit in a room and decide how best they want to sell the music. It's the norm. Many people deliberate and develop a roll-out plan that is improved until it's perfect for execution.

When JAY-Z rented out billboards for 4:44, with everyone wondering what it meant around the world, that is marketing. Mr Eazi drawing a towering mural of himself and Giggs in London, was another marketing tactic to push his single "London Town." Falz created an entire movement filled with conventionally attractive men, and named it the 'Sweet Boys Association,' because he had a single that needed to be sold to fans. Perhaps, what takes the cake in the world of African music marketing is one crazy move by a little known Nigerian artist named Skibii. You see, this guy died and rose again from the dead, just like sweet biblical adult Jesus. He had a single somewhere that needed the attention. Death and resurrection was his thing.

Kanye West is in Africa for marketing. The US rap superstar is holed up at the Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, surrounded by his friends, colleagues and family. He is here because he has an album to release named Yandhi, and somehow, he found his way to the Motherland, where's he's built two outdoor domes, as his working studio. He isn't working from inside a house like a mere mortal. He's in the wild, connecting to Mother Nature and nourishing foliage. This is Africa, Kanye West is an African-American. His ancestors came from this part of the world. He has a claim to this soil.

Kanye West was supposed to drop his ninth studio album on Saturday, September 29. After two days of waiting, three Saturday Night Live performances, one tweet from Kim Kardashian-West and an appearance on TMZ Live, Yandhi was pushed back to Black Friday, November 23. West admitted that he "didn't finish" the album in time, and a member of his management staff suggested pushing the release back.

"I started incorporating sounds that you never heard before and pushing and having concepts that people don't talk about," West said. "We have concepts talking about body-shaming and women being looked down upon for how many people that they slept with. It's just a full Ye album and those five albums I dropped earlier were like superhero rehabilitation and now the alien Ye is fully back in mode… We're going to Africa in two weeks to record. I felt this energy when I was in Chicago. I felt the roots. We have to go to what is known as Africa."

In Africa, Kanye West hasn't laid low. Photos from his arrival hit the internet, and somehow, he was filmed listening, dancing and vibing to African music. Those songs include Mystro's "Immediately," and Burna Boy's "Ye." The videos have gone viral, Africans are wowed by Kanye's interaction with their music, reactions and takes, Africa is moved by Kanye West interacting with our music. Somehow, I used to think we are over this type of event. The event where an an American superstar, who has a huge fan base in Africa, dances to our music, and we lose it. But I was wrong. This content format still has power.

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing. His album is about to drop, and he's publicly alerted the world that he needs to be in Africa and its strong cultural influence to complete the project. Everyone is watching, the conversation has global traction, and Africans are supporting him. Since Kanye got heat for his infamous "Slavery was a choice," comment, I knew Africa will become a part of that story. The past week has seen him visit President Donald Trump at the white house, and further moved away from the love of his African-American base in the US. Black people are not behind Kanye West right now. The media is tearing him to shreds. Celebrities are in a social media race to dissociate themselves from him. Many fans aren't proud of their icon. But he is in the Motherland, dancing to its native music, and we can all cheer.

"I'm in Africa recording," he says in a 9 minute video on Twitter about mind control free thinking and his greatness. "We just took them to the future with the dome. The music is the best on the planet. I am the best living recording artist. We, rather, because the spirits flow through me. The spirit of Fela, the spirit of Marley, the spirit of Pac flows through me. We know who the best. We know."

On the surface, Africa appears to be a gimmick. A play by a great artist to expand the story of his album for marketing talking points. Yandhi is already anticipated, and generations after us will study his art and point to this project as the one where Africa played a direct role. This black continent is a marketing tool for Kanye. Son of Fela Kuti, Seun Kuti, has already disassociated Fela Kuti's spirit from Kanye's claims. "On behalf of the Kuti family, I want to state that the spirit of Olufela Anikulapo Kuti isn't anywhere near Kanye West," Seun announced on Instagram.

Perhaps marketing isn't Kanye's only reason for his African trip. Maybe, the world is too harsh on Kanye West and his new level of introspective vibrations. Maybe we aren't seeing the bigger picture. Oh gosh! We might all be victims of this grand mind control programme that West talks about! What if Kanye West is on these shores for some actual influence? Africa has a rich spectrum of sounds, laden with enough culture, soul and character to influence any type of music. From Cairo down to Lagos, there's enough music to add colour.

A clear way for justification of his African trip is perhaps for Kanye West to give back. He is connecting to the 'roots' after all. He is soaking in the energy for inspiration. Perhaps he might actually get to work with an African artist while on the continent. Already, Perhaps Africa's contributions to the project will be anchored by an African. Already, in his creative dome, Ugandan producer extraordinaire, Benon Mugumbya, has been pictured. If he gets some of that Yhandi shine, it wouldn't hurt.

Kanye officially has to be the first hip-hop star to make a trip to the continent for direct inspiration since Africa began to hug the spotlight as an interesting market for global music players. Recent years have witnessed the penetration of African music into global pop spaces. Africa has become the new cool. And as her sonic influence grows, more artists would continue to find new ways to interact. Kanye is making a splash with this. Perhaps, he will be the inspiration for more exchange between Africa and Europe.

Perhaps, his music isn't his true reason for this trip. Maybe Ye just wants to get away from the madness from the USA, and go find Wakanda. Maybe he will discover Ye-Kanda. Either way, only the final version of Yhandi will contain the answers that we seek, and Kanye West's true intention. For now, he is already winning. All those marketing points are already helping the project.

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