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.
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.
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.
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.
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