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The Best Songs of 2017

Here are the 20 best songs of the year. Featuring tracks from Davido, Sarkodie, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, J Hus, Vanessa Mdee, Kwesta and more.

The year—despite its many faults in politics, race relations, climate issues, and more—has at least been good for music.

Though the larger music industry has definitely had its fair share of shake-ups, the music we tend to cover here at OkayAfrica only continues to thrive and spread its reach.


2017 started with notable releases like Mr Eazi's highly buzzed-about (and rightly so) Life Is Eazi Vol. 1, Davido's massive chart topper "If," Stormzy's Gang Signs & Prayer, and Sampha's gem of an album, Process.

Things kicked into overdrive closer to the middle of the year with Black Coffee being sampled by Drake in More Life, Cassper Nyovest releasing Thuto, J Hus dropping his addictive debut, AKA & Anatii sharing their collaborative album and, of course, Wizkid's much-anticipated Sounds From The Other Side finally coming out.

The year would round itself out with subsequent noteworthy releases like Tiwa Savage's Sugarcane EP, Sarkodie's tour de force Highest, and two incredible compilations—one of Burkinabé classics and the other of lost Somali tapes—getting nominated for next year's Grammy Awards. That's not to mention the waves of singles that we had on repeat all year, from "Unforgettable" to "Iskaba" and more.

In the age of playlists and streaming, we decided for our main music roundup this year to highlight The Best Songs of 2017. In an effort to keep the democratic process alive, even in our smallest of ways, we had the entire OkayAfrica staff vote on the following selections below. The ones with the most votes are the picks included here.

So, without further ado, check out our Best Songs of 2017 listed in no particular order.

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

Mr Eazi "Leg Over"

Mr Eazi connected Nigeria and Ghana like no one else in his Life Is Eazi, Vol. 1 - Accra To Lagos mixtape, and the E Kelly-produced "Leg Over" is that mixtape's crowning jewel. The song, built on a brilliantly minimalist fusion of a guitar line and drums, follows Eazi singing about a girl who's playing him—giving him the leg over.

"Leg Over" was actually never meant to be a single, Mr Eazi has mentioned in interviews, but once it started to pick up as a dance hashtag on Instagram with people doing the #legoverchallenge he decided to focus on it. Its accompanying music video shows a group of dancers doing their best version of the challenge and features cameos from Wizkid and Maleek Berry. Don't forget to watch the New Edition video remix.

Wande Coal & DJ Tunez "Iskaba"

The veteran Nigerian singer Wande Coal returned with one of the afrobeats anthems of the year in "Iskaba," a track that was also propelled to massive levels with the help of a dance challenge—it even has its own dedicated Instagram account.

The infectious song was written by Coal alongside DJ Tunez and riffs on its title "Iskaba"—which the artists have mentioned means energy and love—for a potent feel-good jam.

Davido "If"

"If" cemented the mid-tempo pace as 2017's preferred afrobeats groove. The Tekno-produced single was an early sign of what would be a great year for Davido, as "If" quickly gained traction to become one of the most popular songs of the year.

The massive single is one of Davido's most successful releases ever, holding the number 1 spot on the Nigerian charts for weeks and becoming his most viewed music video on Youtube at 54 million views and counting. We've lost count of how many times we heard crowds shouting along to "30 billion for the bank account" when DJs dropped this track.

Sarkodie "Pain Killer" feat. Runtown

We lost it when "Pain Killer" first came out. On paper alone, a collaboration between Ghanaian heavyweight rapper Sarkodie and Runtown—the architect behind 2016's best song, "Mad Over You"—has endless potential. The resulting track, produced T Spize, didn't disappoint one bit.

The syncopated beat and flute accents that kick off "Pain Killer" are fire by themselves—add a silky smooth chorus from Runtown and verses from one of the best African rappers around and you've got an undeniable banger.

Vanessa Mdee "Kisela" feat. Mr. P

It's safe to say at this point that Tanzania has become somewhat of a benchmark for music in East Africa. Vanessa Mdee is the region's 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's 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. —Camille Storm

Tiwa Savage "Ma Lo" feat. Wizkid & Spellz

Tiwa Savage, the 'Queen of Afrobeats,' surprised everyone when she dropped the new Sugarcane EP out of blue in September. The EP featured a collection of six expertly-crafted excursions into love and afrobeats, and one of its clear highlights was the Spellz-produced "Ma Lo" featuring Wizkid.

"Ma Lo" means "don't go" in Yoruba, Tiwa told us in an interview back when she released the song. Its music video follows the Nigerian stars to a party at the Fela Kuti family's New Afrika Shrine in Lagos. The vibe of "Ma Lo" is so good that even Chris Martin was filmed dancing to it.

Kwesta "Spirit" feat. Wale

On his biggest songs, South African rapper Kwesta mixes English and IsiZulu effortlessly while rhyming over kwaito-influenced house beats. That hit-making recipe was proven with last year's "Ngud," one of the biggest SA hip-hop songs of this era, and continues to deliver gold with "Spirit."

In "Spirit," Kwesta connects with Wale for another alluring joy ride into one of South Africa's most exciting sounds. You can smell the beer and cigarettes in the shebeens of his hood Katlehong (K1) through your speakers. —Sabelo Mkhabela

Wizkid "Come Closer" feat. Drake

Wizkid's highly-anticipated Sounds From The Other Side pushed the Nigerian star further on the global stage and "Come Closer," his third huge collaboration with Drake, after "Ojuelegba (Remix)" and "One Dance," was its biggest single.

The song had a bit of a confusing release as it was originally leaked in January as "Hush Up the Silence" before being officially announced. Nonetheless it became a massive track on both sides of the Atlantic, with its addictive Sarz-produced beat becoming the perfect afrobeats-meets-dancehall bed for Wizkid and Drake's vocals. Drake was noticeably missing from the official music video, something Nigerians dragged him endlessly for on social media after the "One Dance" debacle.

Kelela "LMK"

Ethiopian-American singer Kelela's debut album Take Me Apart has been getting many spins at the office since it dropped a few months ago. "LMK," its lead single, sees Kelela asking for transparency in a relationship atop synth-filled, dance production.

"The song is directed at a man who's being weird instead of being honest," she's mentioned in interviews. "Does casual have to be careless? Is wifey the only woman who deserves your respect, and why do you think I want more when I demand it? These are my questions." —Damola Durosomo

J Hus "Did You See"

At the top of the year we included J Hus in our list of Black British Artists to Watch, and we're glad we did because the young British-Gambian rapper has only delivered bangers all 2017.

J Hus' debut album, Common Sense, is a prime example of the ongoing musical conversations between West Africa and its diaspora in the UK. Him and producer Jae5 seamlessly blend UK grime with afrobeats and dancehall into a modern style some are calling Afro Bashment. Whatever you want to name it, there's no denying its originality and potency—and "Did You See," the lead track off the album, proves just that.

French Montana "Unforgettable" feat. Swae Lee

"Unforgetabble" was the song you heard blasting from what seemed to be every single street corner and car this year. The highly-addictive single is built on a pitched-down steel drum melody and a syncopated beat that lives at the perfect intersection of an afrobeats and reggaeton rhythm.

Even though its French Montana's song, Swae Lee makes "Unforgettable" his own with a perfectly-delivered chorus. The single's music video was shot in Kampala and features Ugandan dance crew Triplets Ghetto Kids, who were also flown to the U.S. for this amazing Jimmy Fallon performance. We've previously talked to French Montana about his Moroccan background, which you can revisit here.

Olamide "Wo!!"

Olamide sparked Nigeria's latest dance craze with his high-octane single "Wo!!." For the track, the Nigerian rapper teamed up with his in-house producer, Young John, to create an all-out street banger that even Chelsea soccer stars have been filmed dancing to.

There's no doubting that Young John, "the wicked producer" as his tag goes, does some of the heavy lifting here with this monster of a beat. "Wo!!" became both a meme of its own and a bonafide street anthem.

Drake "Get It Together" feat. Black Coffee & Jorja Smith

It's no secret that Drake likes to 'borrow' sounds from across Africa. In his playlist More Life, he remixed South African superstar DJ and producer Black Coffee's 2011 hit, "Superman" for one of the release's standout tracks, "Get It Together."

The SA house pulse of the original is undeniable as Drake and Jorja Smith lay down their new vocals over it (the song was initially rumored to have Jennifer Lopez on vocals, as you can hear in this clip). With songs like this and titles like"Madiba Riddim," the SA influences were clearly felt in More Life, although not all South Africans were impressed.

Sampha "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano"

Sampha's beautiful album, Process, addressed the necessity of vulnerable black masculinity, as our contributor Alisha Acquaye wrote earlier this year. "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano," a song Sampha dedicated to his Sierra Leonean mother, was the delicate centerpiece of that album.

"The more time that passes, the more I see the extent of her love for me," Sampha wrote on Twitter. Process went on to beat Stormzy, J Hus and Ed Sheeran for the UK's coveted Mercury Prize earlier this year.

Davido "Fall"

Davido had such a good year in terms of output that we had to give him two spots on this list. In the middle of the year, the Nigerian star delivered the devastating one-two punch of "If" followed by the supremely well-crafted "Fall."

It was a combo that saw many crown him the new king of Nigerian pop or, at least, the reigning artist of Nigeria's new Pon Pon sound, which dominated airwaves in 2017. The chorus of "Fall" is the highlight here, as Davido drops lines referencing both Cristiano Ronaldo and Nintendo games to simply tell his girl, "I don't wanna be a player no more." The song got so big that it even caught the attention of Ronaldo himself.

Shekhinah "Suited"

After excelling as a guest on massive hits from the likes of Black Coffee, DJ Sliqe, Sketchy Bongo, and a few more in the past two years, Durban singer Shekhinah released her first solo single "Suited" in August.

"Suited" hit a million views in no time and became the cornerstone hit of Shekhinah's debut album Rose Gold, a record that's essential listening. It's very special," Shekhinah told us in our in-studio interview with her earlier this year. "I'm hoping it can be an R&B/pop album from Africa that actually stands out everywhere." —Sabelo Mkhabela

Praiz "Me and You" feat. Sarkodie

The second the beat drops to "Me & You" and that string melody hits you're in a trance. Nigerian R&B singer Praiz connected with Ghana's top rapper Sarkodie for this absolute jam of a song. "Me & You" makes for a killer Nigeria-meets-Ghana concoction—one that we had on constant repeat all year.

Ycee "Juice"

YCee connected with Maleek Berry for the infectious "Juice," a massive hit produced by Adey that became one of Nigeria's biggest songs of the year, topping the charts for weeks. The single was included in Ycee's excellent First Wave EP, an 8-track collection of prime afrobeats with endless replay value.

Adekunle Gold "Only Girl"

Adekunle Gold's "Only Girl" is pure magic. The single, which rode high in the Nigerian music charts, saw the hit-making songwriter team up with the buzzing Moelogo and producer Lekaa Beats for an addictive marriage of romance and shiny guitars.

Maleek Berry "Been Calling"

British-born Nigerian Maleek Berry followed his solid Last Daze of Summer EP with "Been Calling," a catchy afrobeats-meets-dancehall concoction about longing for a girl. Its music video follows Berry as he explores virtual reality love in a desert haze.

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

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***

"We should burn these girls!"

"No, let's take them with us!"

"Why not leave them here?"

The men were still arguing, dozens of them trading verbal blows while Saa and the other horrified girls looked on. None of the men seemed particularly troubled by the fact that the lives of almost three hundred schoolgirls hung in the balance. Amid all the yelling, the girls had been divided into groups. Each batch would burn in a different room in the school buildings that were aflame just a few feet away. Tensions were escalating when a slim man with outsize eyes suddenly appeared. Saa had never seen him before. Like many of the insurgents, he too looked young and was just as scruffy. But when he spoke, tempers seemed to cool for a moment.

"Ah! What are you trying to do?"

"We wanted to burn them!"

"Why not take them with us, since we have an empty vehicle?"

His suggestion triggered a fresh round of quarreling. The same positions were expressed, and the newcomer continued to calmly repeat his idea of taking the girls with them, till he finally got his way. The girls later discovered his name was Mallam Abba. He was a commander.

"Follow us!" the men shouted.

None of it made any sense to Saa. Why? To where? As the insurgents shuffled her out of the compound, she felt as if her whole life were on fire. All Saa could see was the ominous orange glow of flames consuming every one of her school buildings. With every step, the fears within her grew. She struggled to make sense of the competing thoughts throbbing in her head. This isn't supposed to be happening. The insurgents had asked about the boys and the brick-making machine; they'd systematically emptied the school store, carrying bag after bag of foodstuffs and loading all of it into the huge waiting truck. With everything now packed away, Saa had thought the insurgents would simply let the girls go home. After all, that's what had happened during their previous attacks on schools—they'd always let the schoolgirls go, after handing out a warning to abandon their education and strict instructions to get married. Saa had simply expected the same thing to happen once more, not this.

She scanned the crowd of faces surrounding her; the creased brows and startled expressions of the others made it clear that everyone was equally confused. Whatever the turmoil they were feeling, they kept it to themselves. No one said a word. Saa fell into a sort of orderly scrum with the men corralling and motioning her forward with their guns, each weapon held high and pointed straight at the girls.

Saa and Blessing moved in unison, along with the hundreds of others, snaking along in the dark through the open compound gate, past the small guard post usually occupied by Mr. Jida, which now sat empty. Yelling came from nearby Chibok town. Saa could smell burning, then heard the sound of gunshots and people running. It was bedlam.

Just beyond the compound walls sat a crowd of bushes. As she and the men moved out into the open, Saa felt their thorns spring forward, eager to pull at her clothing and scratch and pierce her body. Careful not to yell out in pain, she tried to keep her clothes beyond the reach of the grasping thicket with no time to pause and examine what might be broken skin.

Saa retreated into herself and turned to the faith that had anchored her entire life. Lord, am I going to die tonight, or will I survive? Desperate to live, unspoken prayers filled her mind and she pleaded, repeatedly, God save me.

She was still praying as they walked down the dirt path away from the flaming school. The shabby-looking men with their wild eyes gave no explanation or directions. They simply motioned with their heads and the sweep of their rifles, making it clear to keep moving. As the reality began to sink in, Saa felt her chest tightening. Her heart was going to beat its way out of her body. But she couldn't allow herself to cry or make any sound. Any kind of display would make her a target, and who knew what these men might do?

The insurgents walked alongside, behind, and in front of her; they were everywhere. Every time Saa looked around, their menacing forms filled her view. Initially, all the girls were steered away from the main road and onto a rambling path overgrown with bushes; the detour was likely made in an attempt to avoid detection.

Parents lining up for reunion with daughters (c) Adam Dobby


***

This excerpt was published with permission from the author. 'Beneath the Tamarind Tree' is available now.

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