Audio
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.


Audio
Zero12Finest &Thamagnificent2 "Baby Are You Coming?" (Youtube)

The 10 Best Amapiano Songs of 2019

2019 was the year of the yanos.

Amapiano, South Africa's new dominant electronic music movement, oozes through mobile and car speakers, sound rigs and shopping mall PA systems throughout the country.

Amapiano borrows from the music that's been popular in South African townships for decades: kwaito, jazz and house are just some of its raw ingredients. Started in Pretoria, SA's administrative capital, the rising genre is a sophisticated hybrid of deep house, jazz and lounge music characterized by synths, airy pads and wide basslines. What each producer does with these is as much evolution as it is chemistry.

The word "amapiano" translated to English is "pianos." It merges an isiZulu plural article (ama) with an English noun (piano). Hundreds of new amapiano songs are released through messaging apps and free file-sharing sites every day. Few become popular, a handful become anthemic and even fewer become ubiquitous, as they're heard ringing out at countless clubs and parties across South Africa.

Read ahead for The Best Amapiano Songs of 2019. Listed in no particular order.

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Ayanda Jiya. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

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We highlight 10 noteworthy albums & EPs from a new generation of vocal talent in South Africa, featuring Elaine, Ayanda Jiya, Ami Faku and more.

The South African music scene has seen an uptick in youthful, vocally gifted artists over the years. Much of this is owed to the recent global resurgence of R&B, as well as the increased significance of streaming sites, especially SoundCloud.

From internet-savvy artists creating jazz, alternative soul and house-infused spoken word to radio friendly iterations of pop and Afro-soul, 2019 has been the year of impactful debut performances.

This year ushered in the voices of a new generation of South African female artists announcing themselves to the world.

Here's a lowdown of 10 great releases from talented female vocalists, songwriters and composers marking this new era.

Read ahead below. This list is in no particular order.

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Justice Mukheli. Courtesy of Black Major/Bongeziwe Mabandla.

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We speak with the South African artist about his captivating new album, iimini, love cycles, and the unexpected influence of Bon Iver.

"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

Two weekends ago, Mabandla was meant to be celebrating the release of his third album, iimini, at the Untitled Basement in Braamfontein in Joburg, which would no doubt have been packed with some of the many fans the musician has made since his debut release, Umlilo, in 2012. With South Africa joining many other parts of the world in a lockdown, those dates were cancelled and Mabandla, like many other artists, took to social media to still play some tracks from the album. The songs on iimini are about the life and death of a relationship—songs that are finding their way into the hearts of fans around the world, some of whom, now stuck in isolation, may be having to confront the ups and downs of love, with nowhere to hide.

The day before his Instagram Live mini-show, Mabandla spoke to OkayAfrica on lockdown from his home in Newtown about the lessons he's learned from making the album, his new-found love for Bon Iver, and how he's going to be spending his time over the next few weeks.

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Lueking Photos. Courtesy of emPawa Africa.

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The Ghanaian producer talks to us about his debut EP, Different, the massive success of "Akwaaba," producing for Beyoncé and more.

GuiltyBeatz isn't a new name in the Ghanaian music scene. A casual music fan's first introduction to him would've likely been years ago on "Sample You," one of Mr Eazi's early breakout hits. However, he had scored his first major hit two years before that, in the Nigerian music space on Jesse Jagz' and Wizkid's 2013 hit "Bad Girl." In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists.

In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists, having worked with the likes of Efya, Pappy Kojo, Sarkodie, R2Bees, Stonebwoy, Bisa Kdei, Wande Coal, Moelogo and many more over the last decade. The biggest break of the talented producer's career, however, came with the arrival of his own single "Akwaaba".

In 2018, GuiltyBeatz shared "Akwaaba" under Mr Eazi's Banku Music imprint, shortly afterwards the song and its accompanying dance went viral. The track and dance graced party floors, music & dance videos, and even church auditoriums all around the world, instantly making him one of Africa's most influential producers. Awards, nominations, and festival bookings followed the huge success of "Akwaaba." Then, exactly a year later, the biggest highlight of his career so far would arrive: three production credits on Beyoncé's album The Lion King: The Gift.

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