Samthing Soweto. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

The 20 Best South African Songs of 2019

Featuring DJ Zinhle, Tellaman, Sun-El Musician, Flame, Kabza De Small, The Big Hash, MFR Souls, Spaza, and many more

This year saw the rise of the new house music subgenre amapiano in South Africa. Artists like Kabza De Small, MFR Souls and others became household names after years of serving a niche fanbase.

While Amapiano is everywhere, it doesn't mean other genres aren't prospering in the country. From the conventional house of DJ Zinhle, the sung raps of Flame and The Big Hash, and the improvisational jazz of Spaza, among other exciting acts, South African artists ensured 2019 was yet another memorable year.

OkayAfrica contributors Mayuyuka Kaunda and Sabelo Mkhabela pick 20 songs they feel were the best this year.

Read our selections below. This list is in no particular order.

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

​DJ Zinhle "Umlilo" feat. Mvzzle Rethabile

Ably assisted by Mvzzle and Rethabile, DJ Zinhle claims the unofficial "best December house song" throne. For many people's ears, the new year will be ushered in by "Umlilo," another house track with a heavy vocal orientation. In a country spoilt for choice, with great house musicians and new dance crazes seemingly popping up every week, cutting through the noise is a commendable feat. Accordingly,"Umlilo" deserves it's recognition as the nation's go-to party song this summer.

​Tellaman feat. Nasty C & Shekhinah "Whipped"

This '80s pop-inspired jam is just beautifully made, it's the kind of song that clings to your eardrum in the least intrusive way. Featuring perfect vocal performances from both Shekhinah and Tellaman, "Whipped" is a radio bop that no one can deny. With every bop in need of a surefire verse, fellow Durbanite Nasty C comes in for a complementary feature. "Whipped" is guaranteed to have you humming for hours.

​MFR Souls feat. DJ Maphorisa, Sha Sha, Kabza De Small "Love You Tonight"

With the ever-so-talented Sha Sha as the featured vocalist, it's amazing how it's DJ Maphorisa's opening verse seems to make this MFR Souls song. "Love You Tonight" is a great track that lives somewhere between the neighbourhood of soulful house and amapiano. With it's polished songwriting and perfect instrumental arrangement, the song is reflective of what separates this year's litany of amapiano-inspired releases into good and great.

​Flame "Late Nights" feat. Ka$h

"Late Nights" features great performances from both Flame and his guest Ka$h. The track captures the mood of self-medication through the emotion on both artists' voices. It's fun to get fucked up and faded on late nights when you are going through some shit with the homies, but the regret always lingers in your head

​Sun-El Musician and Ami Faku "Into Ingawe"

Ami Faku captures the moment one's dreams come true on "Into Ingawe," a song that is both celebratory and a tearjerker. The chemistry between Ami Faku and Sun-El Musicians's production makes for a perfect track, and one that's danceable, too, which is very important in a country like South Africa. "Into Ingawe" is everything one wants in a good song.

​Samthing Soweto feat. Mlindo The Vocalist and Kabza De Small "Lotto"

Samthing Soweto's referential writing style is one of his hidden tools. Just like in many of his other songs, "Lotto" sees him interpolate a South African classic: "Loot" by Mafikizolo. Samthing Soweto's vocals sound at home over lush amapiano production by Kabza De Small and will send you straight to the dance floor.

​Semi Tee feat. Miano and Kammu Dee "Labantwana Ama Uber"

Every emergent musical movement has a quintessential song to represent it. This is usually a song that not only receives the glory, but the judgement and controversy, too. In many parts "Labantwana amaUber" is considered the poster child for the now ubiquitous sound of amapiano. It has all the ingredients of a viral hit with its simple refrains, obligatory dance routine and accompanying provocation of social commentary. Beyond all of that, it's a very catchy song that captures the essence of South African nightlife with an enviable carefree aura.

​Seba Kaapstad "Breathe"

Consisting of a South African, Swati and German artists, Seba Kaapstad is a bridge-building alternative outfit to behold. The band's music is emblematic of their openness towards cross pollination, both in a musical and intercultural sense. It comes through in their sound, which fuses elements of hip-hop, soul and jazz and distills them into cool framework. With its loose composition and vocally-layered playfulness, "Breathe" functions in much the same way the band's sophomore album Thina does, freely adding rhythmic touches and electronic sounds to jazz-inspired neo soul.

​Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa feat. Sandy MRD and Vigro Deep "Dubai"

"Dubai" combines the knocking amapiano production of Kabza and Maphorisa with Sandy MRD's vocals, which are teeming with personality as she unapologetically declares wanting moneyed men who will take her and her girls on vacations to Dubai. "Dubai" may not be the biggest hit by Kabza and Maphorisa, but it sure makes a compelling argument for being one of their best songs to date.

​Prince Kaybee feat. Msaki "Fetch Your Life"

Prince Kaybee's rich production gets laced by motivational lyrics from Msaki, one of the best SA singers and songwriters out this moment. "Fetch Your Life" encourages the listener to take ownership of their lives, go out there and live to the fullest, but manages to portray that message in a way that doesn't sound corny and preachy. Only a few can do it and still deliver a song that's fit for all occasions.

​Elaine "You're the One"

Elaine's arrival changed things up for new school R&B in South Africa. Her EP Elements is a smashing success that keeps getting discovered by fans online. "You're the One," a highlight from the seven songs on the near flawless EP is the quintessential Elaine track, as it showcases her effective writing and control of her voice.

​Tshego "No Ties" feat. King Monada

On "No Ties," Tshego and King Monada meet each other halfway. The beat's suitable for both artists' singing style and doesn't compromise either's vibe. "No Ties" doubles as a pop and house song, it's a perfect example of a collaboration between two artists from different walks of life and music.

​Ayanda Jiya "The Sun"

Zeph Beats creates a bright environment with the use of a lively bass line, playful percussion and digital sounds that twinkle like birds on a sunny day. Fittingly titled "The Sun," the song sees Ayanda Jiya crooning effortlessly about patience and perseverance in what is essentially a motivational song. She also plays with the listener's emotions by interpolating a South African house classic.

​Beat Sampras "Stop & Go"

The Cape Town-based singer-producer duo Beat Sampras released their debut album Cruise this year. The project is packed with smoothies that would make the perfect soundtrack for cooling out in the summer. One such song is lead single "Stop and Go," which combines soft electronic production with equally mellow vocals. The track resembles a sea breeze, it's calm but can't be ignored.

​The Big Hash "Circles"

The Big Hash made serious strides in his career this year. Apart from the business moves, he also released a notable project, Young. When The Big Hash raps, sparks fly. The same thing happens when he sings. "Circles," a single from Young, showcases both of these traits over pulverizing bass and pounding kicks as he tells the story of a woman who disappointed him.

​Spaza "Magwinya, Mangola neWhite Liver"

This improvisational ensemble creates spiritual jazz by playing on the duality of the Spaza Shop (or bodega). Musically, the ever-evolving collective Spaza frames notions of the communal against the contestation that happens in those spaces. With the spectre of commerce firmly at the centre of their art, the band fluidly highlights a range of themes associated with these iconographic spaces. On "Magwinya," we're delivered into a transcendent nine minutes built upon each member's tool of choice. On their self-titled project, Spaza offer an engrossing listen. It's at times linear, sometimes disjointed, but always striving for a semblance of unity, much like life in and around Spazas themselves.

​Zu. "Nguwe"

Making the move from fronting the Zuko Collective to releasing a trilogy of solo projects has been a revelation of growth for Zu. With her husky voice and jazz-referencing soul music, she offers the listener a journey into feeling. On "Nguwe," her own destination is a soulmate whose serenade is worthy of their dream romance. Zu. is a time-bending artist who draws the essence of ourselves out through music.

Manu Grace "Saturday Night"

Manu Grace is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who injects reasoned sensitivity into her iteration of alternative pop. The Cape Town-based artist is always reflective, oscillating between darker themes and illuminating moments. "Saturday Night" fits into the latter box with its light, nostalgic feel and deftly folded harmonies. On her debut EP June, Manu balances her melodic expression with a lyrical elegance that's hard to ignore.

​Ntsika "Awundiva"

A member of acapella group The Soil, Ntsika's debut solo outing I Write What I Dream celebrates love and spirituality. Literally based on inspiration gleaned from his dreams, Ntsika's music feels as personal as you'll ever hear. His duet with Vusi Nova, "Awundiva," is a romantic ballad about re-declaring love for one's partner. Both artists were born for power ballads and it's quite a treat to hear their voices complement each other here. Warning: this will get you in your feels.

The Us "Magwala"

This visually striking duo The Us are the embodiment of experimentation as they put a progressive spin on the range of genres they draw from. You'll hear elements of electronic music and their unique twists on kwaito and hip-hop on their debut offering Welcome To The US. In the case of "Magwala," the duo fuses dubstep with a cacophony of tribal chants that are intertwined between seSotho lyrics. It's a rousing assembly of sounds and only the beat-breaks will give you a chance to take it all in.

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


Watch the First Episode of Flame’s Documentary Series ‘Welcome To My Life’

Flame takes fans behind the scenes in his new documentary series.

From interviews to smoking sessions, performances, studio sessions and a visit to the hair salon, Flame gives fans a glimpse into his life and adventures.

The South African hip-hop artist and producer shared the first episode of an ongoing documentary series titled Welcome To My Life. The first episode, which he shared today, shows Flame and his affiliates—the likes of Ecco, Mellow and others—going about their business.

Keep reading...

uSanele Releases a New Project ‘uMvelase’ Featuring ASAP Shembe, Windows 2000, Manelisi and Others

Listen to uSanele's new project 'uMvelase.'

South African hip-hop artist uSanele's recently released project is titled uMvelase. "This project," says the artist, "is in honor of my father and family, abakwa Mthembu; all my siblings, extended family and my roots in the heart of KZN, kwaNongoma. It is a calling—if you will—a completion of my journey and all things coming full circle."

Keep reading...

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 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 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.

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.

Keep reading...

get okayafrica in your inbox