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Burna Boy. Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage (via Getty Images).

The 20 Best Nigerian Songs of 2019

Featuring Burna Boy, Rema, Tiwa Savage, Zlatan, Mr Eazi, Wizkid, Teni, Davido, Lady Donli and many more.

2019 was another huge year for Nigerian music.

Zlatan's presence was ubiquitous and powered by the zeal for zanku, a dance which is now de rigueur. Rema led the charge for a group of young breakthrough artists that include Fireboy DML and Joeboy. They all represent an exciting crop of talents that point the way forward for Nigerian pop.

Burna Boy's new dominance, built around his excellent African Giant album, delivered on his rare talents, while the long wait for Davido's sophomore album, A Good Time, paid off in satisfying fashion. Simi's Omo Charlie Champagne Vol. 1 announced her departure from her longterm label. Tiwa Savage also made a highly-discussed move from Mavin Records to Universal Music Group. Meanwhile, Yemi Alade exuded female strength with her latest record, Woman of Steel.

Not to be left out, Wizkid sated demands for his fourth album with a new collaborative EP following a year of stellar features that included his presence on Beyoncé's Lion King: The Gift, an album which also boasts Tekno, Mr Eazi and Tiwa Savage. Mr Eazi also notably launched his emPawa initiative to help fund Africa's promising up-and-coming artists.

Asa returned in a formidable form with Lucid, while buzzing artists like Tay Iwar, Santi, and Lady Donli all shared notable releases. Lastly, the beef between Vector and M.I climaxed and sparked a resurgence of Nigerian rap releases from Phyno to Ycee, PsychoYP and more.

Read on for the best Nigerian songs of 2019. Listed in no particular order. —Sabo Kpade

Follow our BEST SONGS OF 2019 playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.


Zlatan 'Zanku (Leg Work)'

Zlatan ordained himself the originator of the zanku craze in January with the release of "Zanku (Leg Work)," which phased out shaku as 2019's new dance craze. The specific origin of the name is uncertain but the dance itself, says the artist, is one he noticed while visiting The Shrine in Lagos. Zlatan was sensible to capitalize on the attention the dance was getting by naming his single after it, as well as his 17-song debut album, Zanku. —SK

Santi 'Sparky'

A large part of Santi's charm is what he shrouds in metaphors and mystery. "Sparky" runs through strong imagery ("bon chiga with a darkie") layered with unexpected references like "sexy punkie rider," which could be a nod to Sean Paul. The Nigerian artist delivers all of this in a mumbled-patois that draws the listener in to his hazy world. —SK

Rema 'Dumebi'

"There's no actual box I belong to" said Rema in a recent interview with OkayAfrica, " I create different types of sounds. I'm led by my spirit to create." These sounds range from trap, afrohouse, R&B, and the near-perfect "Soco"-style beat heard on "Dumebi." Produced by Ozedikus, the song perfectly presents the musical brain showcased across Rema's three EPs—Rema, Freestyle and Bad Commando—which all have the brilliance of being both promising and fully formed. —SK

Burna Boy 'Anybody'

African Giant saw Burna Boy deliver several addictive shades of his signature afro-fusion sound by blending influences from afrobeat, dancehall, hip-hop, RnB and more. It's nearly impossible to pick just one (or two) tracks to highlight from the album for this list, but we're going with "Anybody." The Rexxie-produced song follows Burna as he sends a message to his naysayers over smooth saxophone riffs and rhythmic percussion. As the second track on African Giant, it conveyed the album's energy perfectly. The song was also Burna's choice when performing on big stages like The Tonight Show, where he could be seen delivering the zanku and several "gbeses" for U.S. TV audiences. —OKA

Lady Donli 'Corner' feat. VanJess & The Cavemen

"Corner" is a tale of an unfaithful lover that cleverly layers soulful harmonies over a rich highlife arrangement. Rather than present a simple throwback, Lady Donli brilliantly retools highlife in her debut album, Enjoy Your Life, which is packed with similar mercurial turns. —SK

Tiwa Savage '49-99'

This pulsating single sees Tiwa Savage referencing Fela Kuti's famous "49 sitting, 99 standing" line from his 1978 song "Shuffering and Shmiling." Throughout "49-99," Tiwa sings about the pursuit of money in her home country, offering commentary on widespread poverty."'49-99' is a term coined from the hard life many Nigerians go through," she explained. "A transit bus serves as a case study. It ought to have only 49 seated passengers, however due to poor economic conditions, we often have nearly twice that number of passengers standing (99)." —OKA

Olamide, Wizkid, Id Cabasa 'Totori'

Producer Id Cabasa scored a massive hit with the help of Nigerian stars Wizkid and Olamide, who once again prove themselves a potent combination following "Kana" and other collaborative hits. "Totori" is a head-nodder that's sure to get stuck in your head. OKA

Tems 'Try Me'

"Wanna lock me away? I'm winning. You wanna add to my pain? I'm shining," belts Tems on "Try Me," a feminist ballad that's equally powerful as a stance against any kind of oppression: physical, mental or existential. "Try Me" is the breakout single by the newcomer, whose other high notes of 2019 include her single "Looku Looku" and a feature on Lady Donli's Enjoy Your Life. —SK

Kizz Daniel 'Fvck You'

"Fvck You" is a marvel of a song about a spurned love: "Na you the cheat na me the beg / make una check ogbanje / shebi na me the find sisi yellow." The repetition of the offensive song title has real bite and could've easily been tasteless if done by another singer. But it's well presented here by Kizz Daniel's supreme delivery, which spawned endless covers as part of the #FvckYouChallenge from the likes of Tiwa Savage, Falz, Sarkodie and others. —SK

Odunsi (The Engine) 'Wetin Dey'

Odunsi (The Engine), one of the leading artists coming out of Nigeria's new wave, came through with a surprise drop of the hip-hop-leaning "Wetin Dey" alongside the hazier "Better Days." "Wetin Dey" samples a classic tune from Nigerian underground rap pioneers Ruff Rugged & Raw. "I wanted to express the youth in Lagos going out and having fun," Odunsi has mentioned. "I was inspired by the Will Smith 'Summertime' video." —OKA

Reekado Banks 'Rora'

Reekado Banks returned after a quiet period with "Rora," his first single of 2019 and the lead track from his upcoming album. "Rora" (translated from Yoruba as 'Take It Easy') offers a highly-addictive production built on mid-tempo beat work, highlife influences, and playful lyrics aimed at a love interest. The song, produced by Tuzi and Altims, "is really chill, it relaxes you," Reekado Banks told OkayAfrica. "The message is quite playful and sexual (laughs)." —OKA

Beyoncé, Wizkid, Saint Jhn 'Brown Skin Girl' feat. Blue Ivy Carter

The global impact of Beyoncé, Wizkid, and Saint Jhn's single "Brown Skin Girl" is irrefutable. From Lupita Nyong'o to the adorable Dream Catchers' viral video, it's clear that this song, and more especially its lyrics, affirms and continues to affirm brown skin girls in every corner of the world. From its minimal afro-fusion inspired beat to Wizkid's outstanding lead verse, this was a major moment that showcased just how far Nigerian music is going. —OKA

Burna Boy 'Killin Dem' feat. Zlatan

"Killin Dem" sees Burna Boy and Zlatan going in over some highly-infectious beat work produced by Kel P. The song is a straight-up banger that seamlessly blends Zlatan's energetic 'zanku' style with Burna Boy's afro-fusion. While the single dropped in early 2019, it later was included as one of the many standouts in Burna's African Giant album. —OKA

Simi 'Ayo'

A psalm for good fortunes inspired by Nigerian jùjú music legend Ebenezer Obey is tastefully crafted here by Simi and the production duo Legendury Beatz. "Ayo" was the third single from the singer's standout album, Omo Charlie Champagne, Vol.1, released in March. —SK

Davido 'Risky' feat. Popcaan

Davido initially dropped "Risky" as a taste from his long-awaited album A Good Time. The single sees the Nigerian heavyweight connecting with Jamaican star Popcaan as they both go in over afrofusion-meets-dancehall production. It was produced by DMW's in-house beatmaker Speroach Beatz. The track notably features Davido doing a cheeky flip of his own freestyle he did on Shade 45 earlier this year, which was made fun of across social media. "What you all laughed at !! You will dance to !! " Davido posted on Twitter. —OKA

Naira Marley x Zlatan 'Am I A Yahoo Boy'

The beat here is a delight and, while Naira Marley is a strong individual presence, tag-teaming with Zlatan adds even more gusto. "Am I A Yahoo Boy" is a song that both disavows internet fraud and heartily embraces it. It led Marley and his cohorts to be arraigned before Nigerian courts. Periods of incarceration and continuing legal cases at the hands of the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission continue to contribute to the rising profile of the newcomer. —SK

Yemi Alade 'Shake' feat. Duncan Mighty

The slink and bounce of twin guitars introduce "Shake," a fine duet between Yemi Alade and Duncan Mighty. The track, which is one the the highlights from Alade's Woman of Steel album, follows the two big Nigerian names as they connect seamlessly in a song filled with sexual overtures. —SK

Mr Eazi, J Balvin, Bad Bunny 'Como Un Bebé'

'Como Un Bebé,' featured on Latin superstars J Balvin and Bad Bunny's collaborative album Oasis, was built on Nigerian framework. The beat, produced by Nigerian duo Legendury Beatz, is an ear-catching blend of a dancehall bass line and afro-fusion percussion, over which Mr Eazi delivers the song's best verse. "Como Un Bebé" is an exciting example of the many musical conversations between West Africa and South America that we could be seeing in 2020. —OKA

Teni 'Power Rangers'

Teni continued her ascension in 2019 with the release of her Billionaire EP and standout loose singles. "Power Rangers" was produced by JasSynths, the man behind her previous smash hit "Case." Her strongest single of the year, the track follows Teni as she sings about how much she cares for her man. —OKA

Adekunle Gold 'Kelegbe Megbe (Know Your Level)'

Adekunle Gold's "Kelegbe Megbe ("Know Your Level") is as spirited as it is absolutely beautiful. The mellow high-life track, which was produced by Sess, showcases some clear Fela Kuti influences. Its accompanying music video, directed by Clarence Peters, shifts between shots of Adekunle Gold and his performers in both couture and quirky clothing. It's a stunning visual that feels like a high fashion photo-shoot in motion. —OKA


Follow our BEST SONGS OF 2019 playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.



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Photo by Michael Kovac/Champagne Collet for Getty Images.

Cynthia Erivo Responds to Stephen King's Tweet on Diversity

The British-Nigerian actress begs to differ with the veteran author's tweet on diversity and 'quality' in this year's Oscar nominations.

British-Nigerian actress Cynthia Erivo has responded to veteran author Stephen King's recent tweets on the issue of diversity and this year's Oscar nominations.

King has been subject to considerable backlash since his controversial tweet about how he would "never consider diversity" when it comes to evaluating art of awards citing that, "It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong."

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Photo: Tjeerd Braat. Courtesy of Marieme.

The 11 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Bas, Ycee, Major League, Moonchild Sanelly, Niniola, Indigo Stella, Fireboy DML, Marieme and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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5 Women Doing Amazing Things Behind the Scenes in South African Hip-Hop

Behind every successful South African rapper of the last decade is a woman helping to get ish done. Helen Herimbi spoke to a few of them.

South African hip-hop had a great run in the last decade. As we start a new era, it's important to highlight the women who have played a pivotal role in the growth of the genre.

​Thuli Keupilwe

Thuli Keupilwe is the founder of LAWK Communications, an artist booking and representation agency that now works closely with the likes of DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small.

But she's not all about the yanos. Thuli has worked with urban music brands like Dreamteam SA and Homecoming Events, but in 2016, she cast her booking agent net wider and started LAWK Communications where she worked with DJs Capital and Sliqe.

The following year, Thuli received a phone call that would force her to level up. "Boom," she exclaims. "February 2017. PJay from B3nchMarQ called me. I was the one that pushed A-Reece to get onto his first Maftown Heights around 2014 and we're all from Pretoria so I'd known them since forever."

B3nchMarQ and A-Reece were gearing up to leave Ambitiouz Entertainment and when she agreed to be their booking agent, Thuli hadn't anticipated how much it would stretch her. Partly because the artists weren't initially permitted to perform their own songs—problematic for an agent who is meant to book them for gigs.

"I didn't see that coming at all," she says. "I was going up against the big guys, people I looked up to. I realized I needed to get a lawyer." Eventually, the artists were legally permitted to gig. "I had one of my biggest years with Reece after that. I am still with him till today."

A-Reece had managed to amass an enviable fan base size mostly from his online and streaming presence. Thuli works closely with him and counts using A-Reece's "Rich" song in a sync deal with the gambling website BET.co.za as a milestone in their partnership. "It was a good check," she chuckles. "And he was being himself and that's the most important thing to me."

Kay Faith

Authenticity has been the drive behind Kay Faith's work. The Cape Town-based engineer, producer and budding vocalist began her career behind the boards during sessions for the likes of Yasiin Bey, Nasty C and E-Jay.

She put out her own EP, In Good Faith, in 2017, and in 2018, she became the first female producer in the world to be featured on Apple Music's New Artist Spotlight.

She has also given us hip-hop bangers like "Slam Dunk" by Da L.E.S and YoungstaCPT. The latter is a frequent collaborator of hers. So much so that when his album 3T won the Best Album category at this year's South African Hip Hop Awards, she felt it was a win for her too. Especially since projects she'd worked on had been nominated and lost before.

Read: Meet The Woman Engineering Your Favorite South African Hip-Hop Releases

"When we started [the song] 'YVR,' I had this emotional feeling that it would be something big for Cape Town," Kay excitedly says. "From recording to mixing to mastering and featuring as a vocalist on 'The Cape of Good Hope' and 'KAAPSTAD NAAIER,' I was behind all of 3T. I even co-produced the 'Pavement Special' intro and the 'Outro' with Chvna.

"We spent 11 months crafting and him trying to get it to be perfect so it was a surreal feeling when we won Album of the Year. I even sent out a tweet saying: 'Can we just take a moment to realize that the South African Hip Hop Album of the Year was entirely engineered by a woman?'"

Kay's upcoming album, Antithesis is slated for a 2020 release. "It's going to be the first album of its kind, I believe," she says. "And I'm really trying to play with that idea of being the antithesis of hip-hop. I am a woman, an Afrikaans kid, in hip-hop. When I walk in, people don't expect me to be an engineer or a hip-hop producer and when I roll out my accolades, then they're like, 'damn, Kay's got game.' That reaction is what this album is about."

Phindi Matroshe

For Phindi Matroshe, the outside reaction to her work is not the most important thing. Phindi is a publicist and talent manager who owns At Handle, a PR and social marketing solutions firm. She was there before Nadia Nakai became a Reebok or Courvoisier ambassador and before she had sold-out ranges with Sportscene's Redbat.

She was also there when Nadia bagged a Best Female pyramid at the 2019 South African Hip Hop Awards. And she was right beside her when she scooped awards at AFRIMA 2019 for Best Artist, Duo or Group in African Hip Hop as well as Best Female Artiste: Southern Africa.

"Winning awards was never the mission," Phindi confesses. "Honestly, we have never done things to try and get awards. Nadia truly loves what she does and it feels great when that is acknowledged and someone pats us on the back for work we've done. I really love and respect what I do and don't see it as a job."

Having handled publicity for the likes of JR, Tumi Masemola (of Gang of Instrumentals), Shane Eagle, Major League DJs and more, Phindi pivoted to managing Nadia. She says: "Seeing the things we talk about come to life or when we're in the boardrooms signing those deals, those are personal milestones for me."

​Ninel Musson

Ninel Musson has been brokering some of hip-hop's biggest deals for over a decade. She co-owns Vth Season, a boutique full-service entertainment marketing agency with Raphael Benza.

A former party promoter and publisher of the wonted.co.za website, Ninel helped start a record label wing of Vth Season where AKA was their first signee. Together, they turned AKA into a mainstream success that the artist could bank on when he started the now defunct BEAM Group independent record label with Prince Nyembe in 2016.

Recently, Ninel and Benza, together with the Sony Music team, presented AKA with diamond and platinum plaques for several songs at a surprise dinner. "The music we went on to create became some of the best-selling records of all time in South Africa," Ninel says matter-of-factly. "When we started with him, the major labels said SA hip-hop would never go this far. We said we believed it would and then we did."

​Sibu Mabena

Cassper Nyovest seems to make it a point to work with women. In addition to Cassper's sisters running his Family Tree store, several Fill Up dates have seen PR maven, Sheila Afari at the helm. And while it's clear that the Fill Up series was always the brainchild of Cassper and his longtime friend and business partner, T-Lee Moiloa, bringing it to fruition has also included the skills and power of women behind the scenes. Women like Sibu Mabena, a multi-hyphenate creative entrepreneur who owns the Duma Collective.

"The day I landed back home from the EMAs, I went straight to The Dome," she remembers. "I said: 'yo, T-Lee, give me a job. I want to work on this thing.' He was like: 'bra, there's nothing for you to do.'" Sibu stuck around at the Dome, watching the production come together when a lightbulb went on in her head.

Read: Sibu Mabena Works Behind The Scenes in South African Hip-Hop, And She's Kicking Ass

"I thought: 'Cassper has 11 outfit changes. Who is helping him with those?' So Gareth Hadden from Formative, who was building the stage, said they needed someone to help with those changes. I forced myself into the Dome, and the next year I pitched to T-Lee to run the stage at Orlando Stadium. The following year was Fill Up FNB Stadium and there, I got a bigger job to run the talent operations. That's how we started doing the Fill Up Intern Search."

In the next decade of Mzansi hip hop, Sibu has her heart set on parties with a purpose. "All the things I have learnt along the way have led me to contribute to AKA's Fees For All Mega Concert," she shares. "I'm not coming on as just a creative or event organiser or marketer. It's demanding all of me. We're all tapping into a more philanthropic and less commercial role than we usually have so the pressure is that much greater."

There are plenty more women who've got game. From Lerato Lefafa, who has been a part of the team that brought us the SAHHAs and Back to the City to Bianca Naidoo who is a big part of Riky Rick's triumphant trajectory to women like Spokenpriestess, Caron Williams, Azizzar The Pristine Queen, Loot Love and way more who have, in the last decade, used their media platforms to lift up Mzansi hip-hop. In the next decade, women will still be a huge part of hip hop. It'll be interesting to see where that contribution takes the movement next.

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Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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