Harmonize, Diamond Platnumz, Burna Boy "Kainama" (Youtube)

The 20 Best East African Songs of 2019

Featuring tracks from Harmonize, Diamond Platnumz, Sauti Sol, Irene Ntale, Ethic, Vanessa Mdee and many more.

2019 was a year full of positive growth for East African music. It saw many artists from the region make the necessary strides to take East African music to the next level.

The launch of new independent imprints continued to develop a class of budding stars. Sauti Sol's new Sol Generation label, for example, boasts a stellar roster that includes artists like Bensoul and Nviiri the Storyteller, who have topped the charts this year. =Tanzanian bongo flava heavyweight Harmonize left Diamond Platnumz' WCB Wasafi records and set up his own independent imprint called Konde Gang Music Worldwide. This is a dramatic move from the bongo flava superstar but it's exciting to see what he and his new label will offer in the coming year.

Follow our East African Grooves playlist on Spotify and Apple Music.

2019 also saw the birth of a new Kenyan sub-genre that has taken over the region by storm. 'Gengetone' sensations like Ethic Entertainment, Sailors and Ochungulo Family popularized this new Kenyan fusion of hip-hop and dancehall. Despite receiving some negative reviews from its raunchy style, the genre has become a major part of the youth culture in the country.

Besides that, the year saw several pan-African and international collaborations that resulted in continental hits from the likes of Diamond Platnumz, Harmonize, Vinka, and Vanessa Mdee. There's no doubt that East African artists stepped up the game big time this year.

Here are our top picks for the best East African songs of the year. Listed in no particular order.

 Harmonize feat. Burna Boy & Diamond Platnumz 'Kainama'

Tanzanian bongo flava superstar Harmonize continued his hit-making trend in 2019 with the release of his 4-track Afro Bongo EP. The new EP showcased the artist's impressive blend of bongo flava with afropop elements and featured a top-tier list of collaborators like Burna Boy, Yemi Alade, and Mr Eazi.

The project's main single "Kainama" is an incredibly contagious bongo-pop track that became a massive hit in both the East and West, which was hardly surprising considering it featured three African heavyweights—and even had Burna Boy singing in Swahili flawlessly. This is definitely one of the best songs out of the continent this year.

Big TRIL  'Parte After Parte'

There's no other song that has captured the last quarter of the year like "Parte After Parte" by fast-rising Ugandan act Big TRIL. For a fun-loving East African audience, this is the perfect song to get into the festive mood. The track has recently caught on in Nigeria and other parts of the continent as well. This is definitely the song of the season.

Ethic 'Figa'

Ethic is the popular Kenyan music group that rose to stardom with their hit song "Lamba Lolo" last year. They continued to dominate the Kenyan charts with a track titled "Figa," which was released earlier in the year. The "genge-tone" pioneers certainly delivered one of the biggest party songs of 2019 with this one.

Rayvanny feat. Diamond Platnumz 'Tetema'

Wasafi Records star Rayvanny started the year off with a massive record called "Tetema" which features his label boss, Diamond Platnumz. The dance-ready tune was a huge hit all over the continent and really put Rayvanny on the map as one of the biggest stars in the continent at the moment.

Chris Kaiga 'Zimenice' feat. Tezzla

Chris Kaiga burst onto the Kenyan scene this year with "Zimenice" featuring Tezzla. The feel-good track quickly became a go-to party-starter and established Chris as one of the major artists to watch from Kenya at the moment.

Diamond Platnumz feat. Fally Ipupa 'Inama'

WCB Wasafi boss Diamond Platnumz teamed up with Congolese lingala heavyweight Fally Ipupa on a banger titled "Inama"—a collaboration that was long overdue. With the blend of French and Swahili language and it's contagious lingala rhythm, the song became one of the biggest hits in the Eastern and Central African region this year.

Irene Ntale 'Nyamba'

Ugandan singer Irene Ntale dropped "Nyamba" as her first single under a new deal with Universal Music Nigeria. The song has sweet vocals and a catchy melody. It clearly represents a new start for the popular singer—we are loving this new direction.

Sauti Sol 'Extravaganza' feat. Bensoul, Nviiri the Storyteller, Crystal Asige & Kaskazini

After launching their Sol Generation imprint this year, Kenya's most popular band Sauti Sol set off to introduce their new label to the world. They did this through a catchy hit single called "Extravaganza," which featured all the newly signed artists: Bensoul, Nviiri The Storyteller, Crystal Asige and Kaskazini.

Harmonize 'Uno'

East African heavyweight act Harmonize did not disappoint with his newest banger "Uno." The track is the first single under Harmonize's new imprint Konde Music Worldwide and, as expected, it rose all the way to the top of the charts. The success of the single was a show of power and strength, proving to any doubters that he can do things on his own now.

INNA & Vinka 'Bebe'

With various chart-topping singles and pan-African collaborations, Ugandan pop singer Vinka truly made her mark this year. But nothing can top her latest collaborative single with Romanian superstar Inna. The song is called "Bebe" and it's a dancehall-infused pop banger sung in French, Swahili, English, Luganda and Romanian. This international hit is set to skyrocket Vinka to a new level of stardom.

Bensoul 'Lucy'

Sauti Sol protege Bensoul burst onto the Kenyan scene earlier this year with his debut single "Lucy." With it's unique blend of rock and dancehall, it captured Kenyan audiences pretty quick and placed the talented singer and multi-instrumentalist on the "ones to watch" list for the year.

Vanessa Mdee 'That's For Me' feat. Distruction Boyz, DJ Tira & Prince Bulo

Tanzanian pop star Vanessa Mdee kicked off the year with the major release "That's For Me," a collaboration with DJ Tira, Distruction Boyz and Prince Bulo. Since then, the gqom-infused banger has remained a popular club party-starter in the East African region and beyond.

Jux 'Sugarcane' feat. GNako & Tommy Flavour

Tanzanian R&B star Jux came through with a standout track called "Sugarcane," a collaboration with GNako and Tommy Flavor. The S2kizzy-produced song is the main single off his new record, The Love Album.

Le Rú 'Forbidden Fruit'

Fast-rising Kenyan R&B singer Le Rú (formerly RU.BY) dropped "Forbidden Fruit" as her debut release under a new name and identity. The vocal delivery from Nairobi's 'sweet and spicy hummingbird' is raw and persuasive on this upbeat alternative R&B rendition. It carries a sultry yet pure vibe to it, from the lyricism to the groove of the tune.

Nandy feat. Sauti Sol 'Kiza Kinene'

Tanzania's pop princess Nandy's "Kiza Kinene," which was dropped recently, features popular Kenyan band, Sauti Sol. The romantic bongo flava track is a perfect blend of both acts' sounds. This collaboration between these East African A-Listers has been a fan favorite.

Miracle Baby 'Wamlambez'

"Wamblambez, Wamnyonyez" has probably been the most popular phrase in Kenya this year. The sheng phrase means "licking, sucking" and it was popularized by rising gengetone sensation Miracle Baby with his song titled "Wamlambez." The song dominated the streets and quickly took over the charts, making it one of the biggest hits of the year in Kenya.

Nviiri The Storyteller Pombe Sigara'

The Sauti Sol protege Nviiri the Storyteller delivered a smash hit this year with "Pombe, Sigara" which translates to "Alcohol, Cigarettes." The track resonated well with the Kenyan audience and easily topped the charts.

Kagwe Mungai 'Miss Obi'

Kenyan act Kagwe Mungai showed off his versatility with his debut album Spectrum, released earlier this year. The album includes jams like "Miss Obi," "Good Times," and "Till the End" featuring Niniola. "Miss Obi" in particular is a well-liked track with a catchy sample from a classic tune.

RIMON 'dust'

RIMON broke into the scene last year with her debut single, "Grace," a soulful RnB track that gets you hooked with its nostalgic feel. Her debut EP, BBYGIRL FOCU$, was released last year with a major single titled "dust." "The track is a continuation of a once very sweet love story which turned out to not be so sweet in the end. It's a song showing the pain, rage and confusion that I've experienced when someone who I really loved, broke my heart," says RIMON via e-mail. Rimon's style and voice are undeniably captivating and equally promising.

Bey T 'Wololo'

Fast-rising Kenyan rapper and singer Bey T gave us an impressive club banger with "Wololo" earlier this year, a refreshing tune with a bouncy beat and infectious chorus.

Follow our new East African Grooves playlist on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Nikita Pearl Waligwa, one of the young stars of Disney's Queen of Katwe, died on Sunday after a 4-year battle with brain cancer. She was 15 years-old.

The rising actress played Gloria in the 2016 film, based on the life of Chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, which also starred Madina Nalwanga, Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo.

Waligwa stood out in a scene in which she taught Phiona—who went on to excel in several international chess tournaments—the rules of the game. A pleasant presence on-screen, she delivered the memorable line: "In chess, the small one came become the big one."

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Interview: Kenya's Xenia Manasseh Has Arrived

We talk to the fast-rising Kenyan artist about her debut EP, Fallin' Apart, being chosen for Mr Eazi's emPawa program and her two latest singles.

I meet Xenia Manasseh at a café as she apologetically explains that she needs to send off some songs, "you don't have WeTransfer do you?" It's about 4:20 in the afternoon and she recaps how her day has been going so far. "I haven't eaten all day. I've been trying to find a personal assistant." I ask her if things have gotten busier since her debut EP, Fallin' Apart, dropped in October, she looks up, pauses, and simply nods in relief as she finally manages to send off the tracks.

In the last year, Xenia moved to Nairobi from Atlanta. She completed and released her EP, was chosen to be part of Mr Eazi's emPawa program this year, opened for Rema's Nairobi show, recorded with Extra Soul Perception and performed on the same stage as Blinky Bill and GoldLink. As she recaps the year, you begin to realise that her stories are all rooted in meeting the right people, manifesting what she wants and gratitude.

The vulnerable-yet-soulful presence you come to know on her EP is a contrast to the bubbly and funny 23-year-old at the beginning of a promising music career. Signed as a songwriter with the Atlanta-based The UpperClassmen Music Group, she recalls taking a songwriting class at Berklee College of Music, "I couldn't write a single song, all those assignments never happened." She credits her place burning down in Boston to breaking her seven-year writing hiatus, and her subsequent move to Atlanta allowed her the change of environment she needed to continue writing.

This fast-rising Kenyan artist sat down with OkayAfrica to speak about her EP, her powers of manifestation and her two latest singles.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Shirazee. Photo: Tiara Marei. Courtesy of the artist.

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The new music video follows Shirazee and Saint Jhn to New Orleans.

Shirazee is back with his latest single "Juju."

The new song sees the Benin-born singer-songwriter linking up with none-other-than Saint Jhn for a highly-addictive tune built on afro-fusion beat work. The striking new music video for "Juju," which was directed by Tiara Marei, follows Shirazee and Saint Jhn to New Orleans, Louisiana.

"This one is special to me 'cause the song was recorded at a time I needed to break a love-spell that I felt was put on me by a serious crush of mine [laughs]," Shirazee tells OkayAfrica. "Shooting this video in New Orleans, a city with historical ties to my Benin, was such a privilege and does so much justice to the song and theme.

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For more on him, revisit our interview with Shirazee on his journey, taking risks and going independent. As you remember, Saint Jhn featured on Beyoncé and Wizkid's "Brown Skin Girl," one of our favorite songs last year.

Get into Shirazee and Saint Jhn's "Juju" below.

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