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The Best Songs of 2016

The songs we had on repeat this year, from Cameroonian bangers to hits from Solange, Wizkid, and Drake.


Do people still listen to albums? The jury's still out on that one. The strength of the single, however, isn't up for debate, particularly in the days of streaming services, Youtube hits and diminishing attention spans.

This year didn't see any lack of incredible tracks. Below we list the many songs that we had on repeat throughout the year, from lesser-known Cameroonian bangers and Sudanese-sampling beats to hits from Solange, Wizkid, and Drake.

Read on for our Best Songs of 2016, with commentary from our staff and contributors.

Ayo Jay “Your Number”

Earlier this year we called Nigerian singer Ayo Jay’s "Your Number" the official song of the New York summer.

Yeah, there’s a lot of issues with that statement—it wasn’t played nearly as widely as "Controlla" or shoved down throats like that Justin Timberlake mess—and it has the unfortunate baggage of being released last year through a Fetty Wap collabo. Not to mention its original release was back in 2013, three years before America was ready for the melange of Caribbean and African sounds that crowd the charts today.

But it was everywhere this year and it does something every song of summer is supposed to do—it distills “right now” into a sweet afrobeats/dancehall essence that is both catchy and confusing all at the same time. Thank god they took Fetty Wap off of it. —Aaron Leaf

Download on iTunes

Reniss "La Sauce"

Before the phrase “I’ve got the sauce” started showing up in every other rap song and Instagram caption, Reniss made a knocking record that showed how much of it she already possessed. Throughout her song, the singer plays with the double entendre and innuendos of the phrase ‘la sauce’ in Cameroonian culture.

“La Sauce” sees Reniss departing from the bubbly, afro-pop of her previous singles to deliver an infectious dance floor banger, replete with booming percussion, energetic guitar melodies and pounding bass. —Damola Durosomo

Download on iTunes


Maleek Berry "Kontrol"

London-based Nigerian producer Maleek Berry found the perfect formula with "Kontrol," the lead single from his debut EP Last Daze of Summer, and easily its most successful song.

This is where Berry’s more dominant sensibilities—simple and catchy hooks, thumping instrumentals, and efficient lyrics—having honed many hits for the likes of Wizkid, Wande Coal and others, are on full display. It’s about booty shaking and not to be deconstructed any further. —Sabo Kpade

Download on iTunes


Drake "One Dance" feat. Wizkid & Kyla

It'd be impossible to not include this one. Despite the haters and a mediocre album in ViewsDrake still came through with the earworm of the year with "One Dance," which reportedly became the first song to reach 1 billion plays on Spotify last week.

Produced by Nineteen85, Noah “40” Shebib, and Wizkid, the track samples Filipino R&B singer Kyla‘s “Do You Mind”(from this UK funky remix) and (kind of) features Wizkid on the chorus—a lack of shine that many Nigerians were quick to blast on Twitter.

Despite the drama, “One Dance” stands up as catchy excursion into the ‘afrobeats' sounds Drake explored back when he remixed Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba” and the Caribbean textures of “Work.” —Kam Tambini


Sufyvn "Fragment"

2016 was the year in which we found out that vintage Sudanese tapes can make some of the best hip-hop beats we've heard.

Khartoum-based producer Sufyvn caught our attention with his hypnotic productions in Pseudarhythm, Vol. 2. His tracks play like a hazy, mind-bending exploration of classic Sudanese soundscapes through a hip-hop lens. Thoughout the release, and in standout track "Fragment," Sufyvn chops up several traditional Sudanese folk melodies, masterfully laying them over kicks and snares to create some buttery beat work. —KT

Download on Bandcamp


Santi “Gangsta Fear” feat. Odunsi

Santi gave us a refreshing spin on contemporary Nigerian music with his insanely chill single “Gangsta Fear.” The song’s unique fabric, which blends dancehall, afrobeats, and mellow ’90s-tinged hip-hop, offers a departure from ordinary afrobeats production.

Artists like Santi and Odunsi are creating a new wave of genre-bending Nigerian music that we can’t wait to hear more of. Santi calls this emerging group of musicians “New Africa,” and though it’s quite an ambitious title, from what we’ve heard so far, they seem to be living up to it. —DD


Solange "Mad" feat. Lil Wayne

Black people collect microaggressions every day and it’s hard to turn a cheek at the minor things that can grow, fester and turn into bigger problems later on. For some of us, this can weigh heavy for years as we carry the effects of this trauma and pass it onto the next generation.

For others, there comes a time where the heaviness becomes unbearable, and we are motivated to gather around with our misery and unload. That’s what Solange's A Seat at the Table is about—making room in a special space for those who belong to talk about what really matters and begin to heal.  —Gina Cherelus (from A Seat at the Table is Balm for Black Suffering)

Download on iTunes


Sauti Sol and Alikiba "Unconditionally Bae"

Two East African power forces, Kenyan group Sauti Sol and Tanzanian star Alikibalink up for "Uncoditionally Bae," a dance floor track about how hard it is to find love in the modern world.

The East African connection makes for pop gold in this one and its music video—shot across Kenya’s North Coast of Mombasa at the English Point Marina—has racked-up millions of views, and still counting. —KT

Download on iTunes


Tekno "Pana"

Tekno had quite the year with the massive success of "Pana" and his win at the MTV Africa Music Awards for Best Breakthrough Act. The single sees the Nigerian artist condensing and refining the dance style he introduced with past hits like "Duro" and "Wash" into an ever-smooth afrobeats progression. "Pana" was, very likely, the main reason Tekno locked in a deal with Sony before the end of the year. —KT

Download on iTunes

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The 12 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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