The Best East African Songs of 2018

Here are the 23 best East African Songs of the year featuring Diamond Platnumz, Harmonize, Sauti Sol, Blinky Bill, Sheebah, Navy Kenzo and more.

For East African music, 2018 has been all about pushing boundaries in sound, and boosting the number of Pan-African collaborations.

The year kicked off with major album releases like Diamond Platnumz's A Boy From Tandale and Vanessa Mdee's Money Mondays. With a number of high-profile features from the likes of Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage and Nyashinski, Kenya's top band Sauti Sol continued the roll-out of their long-awaited Afrikan Sauce album. This peaked with the release of "Short & Sweet," which infected the region like a plague.

Diamond Platnumz' WCB Wasafi imprint reigned supreme over the scene this year. The company boasts a roster of the most popular artists in the region like Harmonize, Rich Mavoko, Queen Darlene, Lava Lava, Mbosso and Rayvanny. Their dominance in this part of the continent is undeniable, and with every new chart-topping single released, this impressive ensemble continues to revolutionize the face of East African music.

2018 also saw some exciting offerings from the new wave with club starters from rising artists like Brian Simba, Fik Fameica and Vinka. The year rounded off with noteworthy releases like Wanja Wohoro's afro-feminist Matriarch album and Blinky Bill's Everyone's Just Winging it & Other Fly Tales.

Overall it's been a year full of versatile and forward-looking releases and we can only expect it to get better in 2019.

Below are our picks for the Best EastAfrican Songs of the year. Listed in no particular order.


Harmonize x Diamond Platnumz "Kwa Ngwaru"

It's not at all shocking that this collaboration by East Africa's biggest stars happens to be the most viewed and streamed song in the region this year. By joining forces to assert their dominance, Harmonize and his WCB Wasafi boss, Diamond Platnumz, made a colossal hit with "Kwa Ngwaru," a bongo flava banger that is as endlessly playable as it is danceable.

Sauti Sol x Nyashinski "Short & Sweet"

Kenya's biggest musical acts, Sauti Sol and Nyashinski, joined up for an acapella-driven love song "Short and Sweet," the fifth single off Sauti Sol's Afrikan Sauce LP. The song fueled the "Odi Odi" dance craze and had the most viewed Kenyan video on Youtube this year.

Diamond Platnumz x Omarion "African Beauty"

The king of East African pop dropped his sophomore album, A Boy From Tandale, earlier this year, which for the most part is a collection of his many chart-topping singles. Produced by Krizbeatz, his most successful single of 2018, "African Beauty," exemplifies a new wave of Afropop music. He enlists American singer, Omarion, and has him singing in Swahili which has unlocked a whole new level for the East African music scene. WCB Wasafi's head boss continues to set the pace and raise the bar for all the artists in the region.

Vinka "Love Doctor"

Uganda's Vinka kicked off 2018 with a bang. Her dancehall-flavored pop hit "Love Doctor" cemented her place as one of East Africa's fastest-rising stars. This is one song that just never gets old.

Irene Ntale x Mr Eazi "Post Me"

Ugandan songstress Irene Ntale dropped the first single from her upcoming new album, Ntale Unchained, this month. "Post Me" features Nigerian heavyweight Mr Eazi and has a catchy ring to it. The new album will consist of collaborations with other major African artists such as Banky W, Stonebwoy and Sauti Sol so let's keep an eye out for that.

WCB Wasafi x Diamond Platnumz x Lava Lava x Mbosso "Jibebe"

East Africa's foremost record label WCB Wasafi released another scorcher this year featuring the labels newest signee's Mbosso and Lava Lava. The popular trio brings afrobeats to the East with this infectious club tune.

Mankind "Take and Go"

Mankind is a Kenyan alternative pop duo comprised of singers MANE and the Cloak who are known for their experimental sound. The group recently signed a deal with Pine Creek Records and Sony Music and they do not seem to be slowing down at all. "Take and Go," their newest single, is a funky and sonically-rich step forward for the Kenyan music scene.

Dully Sykes x Harmonize "Kadamshi"

Known as the pioneer of bongo flava music, Dully Sykes has been around since the early 2000s. His latest hit single "Kadamshi" proves that the Tanzanian music legend has still got it. He enlists "Kwa Ngwaru" hit maker Harmonize on this infectious, dance-ready bongo tune dedicated to all the beautiful ladies out there.

Vanessa Mdee x G Nako "Wet"

East Africa's afro-pop queen Vanessa Mdee turns up the heat with her single "Wet" which features GNako. The fiery dancehall-tinged track is accompanied by an exuberant music video which was directed by Justin Campos in Tanzania.

Blinky Bill "Atenshan"

On his debut solo album, Kenya's Blinky Bill reinvigorates his passion for experimental beat making. Blinky surprisingly leans to the mainstream more than ever with "Atenshan." With its towering horns and heavy percussions, this jam is a flamboyant centerpiece that will get the dance floor bubbling.

Navy Kenzo x Diamond Platnumz "Katika"

Tanzanian music duo and power couple Navy Kenzo released "Katika," a fiery banger which features WCB Wasafi boss, Diamond Platnumz. The track is incredibly catchy and dance-ready and is accompanied by a topnotch music video directed by Justin Campos.

Mbosso "Hodari"

"Hodari" is the latest hit single by highflying Wasafi records signee Mbosso. Produced by Lizer and Rash Don, this song flawlessly blends the seductive melodies of Bongo and Taarab music. What a jam!

Emmanuel Jal x Nyaruach "Ti Chuong"

This year South Sudanese artist Emmanuel Jal dropped his 6th album, Naath, a stunning joint collaboration with his hugely talented sister, Nyaruach. "Ti Chuong actually means you have the right. Basically, it's talking about the fact that if you're hiding something that's suffocating, you shouldn't. Just bring it out," he tells us about the album's incredible lead single.

Brian Simba x Vanessa Mdee x Michael Love "Silence"

Rising Tanzanian rap sensation Brian Simba released his highly-anticipated single, "Silence," which features the East African diva herself, Vanessa Mdee, and newcomer Michael Love. Jamaa Flani will surely get you out of your seat with this upbeat dancehall-flavored tune.

Muthoni Drummer Queen "Lover"

"Lover," is a buoyant, synth-lead anthem that tells the story of a proud and unapologetic transgender woman who, as Muthoni's team writes, "is experiencing the power and beauty of womanhood while basically having the sex of her life."

Yvan Buravan "Oya"

Rwanda's fast-rising R&B artist Buravan dropped another heartwarming love ballad called "With You" this year. His forthcoming album is set to be released soon and, if this single is anything to go by, it's surely going to have our hearts melting.

Ykee Benda x Reekado Banks "Time Table"

Popular Ugandan singer, Ykee Benda, teams up with Mavin Records' artist Reekado Banks for "Time Table," a dance-ready and modern afrobeats jam that will quickly get you hooked. We really love this Naija-Uganda collab!

Nandy "Ninogeshe"

Tanzanian pop princess Nandy continues to do what she does best with "Ninogeshe," another romantic bongo-flava track. With her charming vocals and the traditional style production, this song has a timeless feel.

Victoria Kimani " Wonka"

The Kenyan afro-pop singer continued to up her game in 2018 with the release of her EP, AFROPOLITAN, which is the first project under her own independent label. The first single, "Wonka," is a steamy and seductive pop rendition produced by Nigerian producer Gospelondebeatz.

Maua Sama x Hanstone " Iokote"

"Iokote" is the newest offering from the talented Tanzanian songstress Maua Sama and Hanstone. This bouncy afro-pop track will definitely get you in a carefree mood.

Cherrie "Det Slår Mig Ibland"

Swedish-Somali R&B; singer, Cherrie, returned in May with a poignant new single "Det Slår Mig Ibland" from her sophomore album Araweelo. According to the singer, the song is a testament to her strength as a woman.

Sheebah "Mummy Yo"

Sheebah is one of East Africa's most consistent artists, and she's well-loved for always pushing the boundaries in Uganda's music scene. "Mummy Yo" is just one of the stunning releases she gave us this year.

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 continued to win our favor this year with his cover of "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 Swahili love song.

Follow our Best Songs of 2018 playlist on Spotify.

Interview
Photo: Shawn Theodore via Schure Media Group/Roc Nation

Interview: Buju Banton Is a Lyrical Purveyor of African Truth

A candid conversation with the Jamaican icon about his new album, Upside Down 2020, his influence on afrobeats, and the new generation of dancehall.

Devout fans of reggae music have been longing for new musical offerings from Mark Anthony Myrie, widely-known as the iconic reggae superstar Buju Banton. A shining son of Jamaican soil, with humble beginnings as one of 15 siblings in the close-knit community of Salt Lane, Kingston, the 46-year-old musician is now a legend in his own right.

Buju Banton has 12 albums under his belt, one Grammy Award win for Best Reggae Album, numerous classic hits and a 30-year domination of the industry. His larger-than-life persona, however, is more than just the string of accolades that follow in the shadows of his career. It is his dutiful, authentic style of Caribbean storytelling that has captured the minds and hearts of those who have joined him on this long career ride.

The current socio-economic climate of uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrusted onto the world, coupled with the intensified fight against racism throughout the diaspora, have taken centre stage within the last few months. Indubitably, this makes Buju—and by extension, his new album—a timely and familiar voice of reason in a revolution that has called for creative evolution.

With his highly-anticipated album, Upside Down 2020, the stage is set for Gargamel. The title of this latest discography feels nothing short of serendipitous, and with tracks such as "Memories" featuring John Legend and the follow-up dancehall single "Blessed," it's clear that this latest body of work is a rare gem that speaks truth to vision and celebrates our polylithic African heritage in its rich fullness and complexities.

Having had an exclusive listen to some other tracks on the album back in April, our candid one-on-one conversation with Buju Banton journeys through his inspiration, collaboration and direction for Upside Down 2020, African cultural linkages and the next generational wave of dancehall and reggae.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

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