Best African Tracks of 2017

Amadou & Mariam
“Bofou Safou”

Mali. Even if you already know the husband and wife duo of Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia very well, their new album will still surprise you with its dance-oriented dance beats and synth-laden pop straight from the 1990s.

It seems to be their answer to “La Confusion”, as their new album is titled, or the global mess in English. But if you already know Amadou and Mariam, regardless of what styles, instruments and tempos they employ you can be sure of two unchanging elements of Amadou & Mariam’s music: energy and hope.

Amadou & Mariam on Facebook, Twitter, www.

Dear Reader
“I Know You Can Hear It”

South Africa. Cherylin MacNeil is a gifted singer-songwriter who moved from Johannesburg to Berlin where she now lives. Her new album, however, was recorded in San Francisco and thus gathers traces of experiences from three different continents.

As with MacNeil’s previous work, “Day Fever” is beautifully arranged, weaving a plethora of sounds into a refined and poignant work. MacNeil effortlessly juxtaposes minimalistic electronic tapestries with piano, woodwinds and choirs, creating a vivid musical microcosm that brims with emotional immediacy.

Dear Reader on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Soundcloud, www.

Ibibio Sound Machine
“Give Me a Reason”

The 8-piece collective of musicians from very different backgrounds that came together in London – fronted by Nigerian singer Eno Williams – released their new album “Uyai” back in March last year.

Continuing their Afrocentric music with electronic funk and disco influences and lyrics in Ibibio – Eno mother’s native language – on their new release the not only sound better than ever, but they have also managed to move their energy levels even higher than before – which already seemed impossible.

Ibibio Sound Machine on Facebook, Twitter, www.

Janka Nabay
“Santa Monica”

Sierra Leone. Janka Nabay, who fled from Sierra Leonean civil war to America years ago and stopped making music for a while, came back to the mic partly thanks to David Byrne’s acclaimed label Luaka Bop.

Although his new album was recorded in the US, “Build Music” is a very African album since Janka used actual sounds he’d received from the continent, and then added African-infused arrangements.

Once again rewriting the bubu tradition of his mother country, he brings music that is hard to define, but easy to enjoy. The video “Santa Monica” is a great example of the whole record’s kaleidoscopic ambience, soft grooves and – simply – joy!

Janka Nabay on Facebook, Twitter, www.

Kasai Allstars
“Kapinga Yamba”

D.R. Congo. A hard-to-count collective Kasai Allstars is among the greatest gifts music has received from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in this century, united in the capital Kinshasa, but representing a range of Congolese ethnic groups and their traditions.

On their new album “Around Félicité” OST, Kasai Allstars’ already colourful palette of sounds, instruments, rhythms and moods got further enriched by the film’s story, where “a free-willed woman sets out on a breakneck race through the streets of electric Kinshasa to save her son”.

If you like this song, check out the whole soundtrack, which mixes the band’s energy with the stoical music of acclaimed Estonian composer Arvo Pärt performed by the Kinshasa Symphonic Orchestra.

Kasai Allstars on Facebook.

Kondi Band
“Titi Dem Too Service”

Sierra Leone / USA. Kondi Band’s hypnotizing voice belongs to Sorie Kondi, a forgotten and then found blind singer from Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. He’s also considered a master of electrified kondi, a Sierra Leonean version of thumb piano you might recognized as one of the most characteristic sounds of African music.

Chief Boima, meanwhile, is an acclaimed US-based producer and DJ with Sierra Leonean roots. He simply discovered Sorie on YouTube, and soon two of them started collaboration. Its result – after a series of concerts – was Kondi Band’s debut album “Salone“. As Boima explains, it “forges a direct link between techno born in the black cities of the American Mid-West and roots African music.”

And indeed, the album takes you both to the globalized future and the local past of African rhythms, chants and sounds. Just like the sheer meeting of Sorie Kondi nad Chief Boima, this music is something that simply was supposed to happen.

Kondi Band on Facebook.

Les Amazones d’Afrique
“I Play The Kora”

Mali / Benin / Gabon / Nigeria. “We are sick of seeing women suffer because of violence. In the family, in the war zones. We want it to stop,” say Les Amazones d’Afrique.

This group of female artists from West Africa includes Angélique Kidjo, Nneka, Kandia Kouyaté, Mariam Doumbia of Amadou & Mariam and more. Together, they sing against gender inequality in their region, having a mixture of African funk, blues, and rock as the background for their chants.

Every song from their debut album “République Amazone” could be mentioned on this list. But here’s a mesmerizing dub single “I Play the Kora”, which refers to the the historically male-only instrument –
not anymore though.

Les Amazones d’Afrique on Facebook.

M3 “Some of the ways” feat. Kahvinya

Kenya. The East African scene is drawing from a massive breadth of musical inspirations. One of the Kenyan producers doing this with the most versatility is M3 (pronounced M-cubed). He has everything from R&B to folk in his wide roster of capabilities.

M3’s rhythmic tentacles stretch into every genre, blending them together in the most beautiful ways. Aided by frequent, and heavenly, collaborator Kahvinya, these two artists continue to prove that they can do no wrong.

This time, we get Latin-inspired reggae. It’s calm music with bounce to it. It feels like sunshine on skin, smells like incense and tastes like honey. (Eric Kariuki)

M3 on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Bandcamp, Soundcloud.

“Find Us A Way”

Kenya. Collaborating with the famed Das Junge Orchestra, Mayonde has penned the closing title track to the award winning movie, “Kati Kati“. Directed by none other than Mayonde’s spouse, Mbithi Masya.

From the perspective of the movie, the song grabs the audience by the hand and lulls them back to their reality, outside the film. Her voice is reassuring, giving us hope that things shall be alright. That ways shall be found.

From the perspective of the song, hope and despair clash like crashing waves. The instrumentation throws you in every direction, but Mayonde’s voice is an island in plain view and steady arms rowing you to shore. (Eric Kariuki)

Mayonde on Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

Mdou Moctar
“Sousoume Tamachek”

Niger. On his latest album “Sousoume Tamachek“, one of Tuareg music’s most prominent writer and performer, Mdou Moctar revisits the desert ballads he’d written long before we heard about him.

While the sound of guitar has been always central to the music of Tuareg people, in the case of Mdou Moctar it’s often the only arrangement he needs to convey his stories about love, religion, and wisdom.

It’s a slow-life music, honest in its simplicity and strong, in spite of the fact – or maybe thanks to it – that the Tuareg guitarist and singer has no intent of imposing his stories on the listener.

Mdou Moctar on Facebook.

“You Are My Luck”

Ethiopia / USA. For the last 10 years, Ethio-American singer and writer Meklit Hadero has been making our life more colourful, joyful and adventurous with her open-minded approach to Ethiopian traditions and global jazz and soul, and her incredible vocals.

On her last year’s new full-length album “When The People Move, The Music Moves Too”, she wanted to bring together “my Ethiopian homeland, and my many years in Brooklyn and the San Francisco Bay Area”.

The whole album is one of 2017’s obligatory listens for anyone who appreciates great songwriting and singing. But you can start with the single “You Are My Luck”, accompanied by a great video directed by Salvatore Fullmore.

Meklit on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, www.

“Loku U Muka”

Mozambique/ Zimbabwe/Norway/Sweden. Mixing traditional African melodies and the cool atmosphere of Scandinavian jazz, Monoswezi’s music is a prime example of how a truly intercontinental fusion should sound like. The band has been releasing albums every two years like a clockwork, yet each time taking their sound a step further.

Their most recent one, called “Ja Ne”, significantly expands their sonic palette by adding new instruments, like the Indian harmonium, Malian ngoni and African-American banjo. Combined with Monoswezi’s artistry, it results in a colorful yet cohesive set of songs with a groovy, organic vibe. Just listen to the wonderful “Loku U Muka.”

Monoswezi on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Soundcloud, www.

Mpho Sebina
“Black Butterfly”

Botswana. After two long years of keeping us in anticipation, last year the young Botswanan soul singer Mpho Sebina finally brought her debut mini album, “NEO”.

This 5-track EP, which deserves at least a few focused listens, demonstrates how mature, professional and incredibly captivating artist she has become.

The single “Black Butterfly” appeared a while before the release of the whole EP, and it’s a perfect starting point that’s on a par with the best neo-soul you could have heard in the recent years.

Mpho Sebina on SoundcloudFacebookInstagram.

Msafiri Zawose
“Pole Pole”

Tanzania. This captivating song was the second single from Msafiri Zawose’s new album “Uhamiaji“, released by Soundway Records in September.

It presented the re-invented music tradition of the nomadic tribe of Wagogo from central Tanzania, whom Msafiri’s proudly represents – just like his father Hukwe Zawose, an accomplished artist who also managed to work with the Real World family.

Gogo music was a mixture itself, but Msafiri Zawose adds an (avant) jazz, sometimes almost as the leading element, and the result is both puzzling and extremely fascinating.

Msafiri Zawose on Facebook, Bandcamp.

Muthoni Drummer Queen
“Kenyan Message”

Kenya. Muthoni the Drummer Queen (otherwise known as MDQ) is here to lead the Kenyan renaissance. But changing the music scene isn’t enough. She knows that a catchy tune behind a dope beat can only do go so far. Muthoni (the Grand Schemer) wants to change Kenya itself.

In the anthem called the “Kenyan Message” she questions everything and everyone. Why do pastors think it right to unjustly benefit from their fervent believers? Why do politicians steal shamelessly from the government coffers?

Why do Kenyans themselves contribute to this grand debauchery with unabashed bribery? It’s like a jungle sometimes, she says. We’re in this with you, Muthoni. Fists raised. (Eric Kariuki)

Muthoni Drummer Queen on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter.

Naomi Wachira

Kenya. Possibly the most soulful voice in the contemporary Kenyan scene, Naomi Wachira came back last year with a beautiful new album, “Song of Lament”.

As a “a stark and heartfelt reflection on the contemporary world and the human experience therein”, it’s a sorrowful experience, but – as you could expect if you know this talented artist – it’s also inspiring.

This couldn’t be better exemplified as in “Mûrathimwo”, the second-last song on the album, one where she puts English aside for a few minutes.

Naomi Wachira on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www.


Nigeria. Here’s a rare track with millions of views we feel need to recommend even if for its impact: 2017 was a new dance craze in Nigeria and that’s all because of Olamide’s viral hit “Wo!!’.

The Lagos-based rapper worked on this track with his long-time collaborator Young John, and while the official video is all about dance it only inspired thousands around the country and worldwide to shoot their own interpratations.

The music itself strikes an rare balance between a street banger and a hypnotizing semi-minimal trance that will work both in the club and on your way back.

Olamide on Twitter, Facebook.

Orchestra Baobab

Senegal. “Foulo” was the first single Orchestra Baobab’s first new album in 10 years, titled “Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng” – who was one of the band’s singers since the early 70s.

Senegalese legends didn’t re-record their past songs though, but compiled this tribute mostly from completely new material, also inviting Dieng’s son Alpha and guest vocalists Cheikh Lô and Thione Seck – the latter one actually used to be a member of Baobab around 40 years ago.

Beautiful arrangements with heavily exposed kora and Afro-Cuban rhythms are the best possible companion to Ndiouga Dieng’s final journey, and for us to bid him farewell.

Orchestra Baobab on Facebook, www.

Oumou Sangaré

Mali. It’s been 8 years since one of Mali’s most prominent singers and Wassoulou music master Oumou Sangaré gave us a new full-length album. And a lot has changed in her sound during that time.

The new sound of her new album “Mogoya” partly comes from France, as now she’s got a French label and French producers, who helped her get a bit of distance from “traditional” influences.

The impressive single “Kalemba” is a great example here, as local instruments – donso ngoni and smaller kamale ngoni – are seamlessly suplemented by thick synth waves.

Oumou Sangaré on Facebook, Instagram.

Sampa the Great
“Rhymes to the East”

Zambia/Botswana/Australia. Following the success of her last year’s EP, “Heroes, Act 2”, Sampa Tembo put out another mixtape, but this time for the iconic Big Dada label.

Incorporating many influences – soul, gospel, jazz – it further develops her unique take on hip hop. With its lush sound and unhurried delivery, “The Bird and the BEE9” highlights Tembo’s keen sense of rhythm and melody, presenting a full-fledged artistic vision of her own.

The results of this process are captivating. This is deeply spiritual music at its very best.

Sampa the Great on: Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, YouTube, Instagram, www.

“Wainan Adobat”

Mali. It’s been more than 10 years since Tamikrest came together, and were discovered by Chris Eckman of The Walkabouts fame. Now, they are among Sahel’s most acclaimed and inspiring groups, and they maintain an above-average quality of their “desert blues”.

Originating from the region near the city of Kidal in northern Mali, they recently returned to the their community to record a new album called, simply, “Kidal”.

It seems coming back to their roots has somehow invigorated the members of Tamikrest, since for the first time their famous melancholy seems to surrender to joy, at least in some songs – with “Wainan Adobat” being a prime example.

Tamikrest on Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, www.

Tetu Shani
“The Void” ft. Fadhil

Kenya. Tetu Shani starts right off in the first second with his neverending mantra: “If the shoe don’t fit, don’t force it to fit”, accompanied only by the acoustic guitar (double here – his own six strings and some additional ones by Fadhilee Itulya).

Yet there’s quite a surprise in the middle part of the song. As Tetu Shani describes the song, it’s “a lush blend of urban folk, electronica and hip hop beats sitting on a soundscape of tribal chants and live percussion.”

Lyrically, the single is dedicated to all those people who chose not to live their lives the way that would bring them lasting joy, but one that leads just to a rather disappointing success, hence the void in their souls.

Tetu Shani on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, www.

Trio Da Kali & Kronos Quartet
“Eh Ya Ye”

Mali. Malian tradition meets contemporary classical music with this fantastic single from Trio Da Kali & Kronos Quartet new album, “Ladilikan”.

Over almost 4 minutes, we can celebrate the one an only vibrato of Hawa Kasse Mady over steady repetitions delivered by her fellow band members, Lassana Diabate and Mamadou Kouyate, and Kronos Quartet’s steady strings, which come out to the front only at the very and.

Lyrically, “Eh Ya Ye” – a song about “a cleric who falsely claims the power to conjur up spirits” – is a lesson and a warning to stick to the truth, and keep away from overestimating (and overadvertisting) your own capabilities.

Trio Da Kali on Facebook, Twitter, www.

Yellow House

South Africa. You’ll get immediately hooked to “Control” the moment your hear it. After some browsing, you’ll discover Yellow House is a solo project of Emile van Dango, a singer-songwriter and producer from Cape Town who is also a member of the indie band The Plastics.

“Control” is mellow and inviting, much like a mild temperature pool in the heat of summer. The description on his Facebook page perfectly sums it up:

“Yellow House obeys and adheres to nothing but the creative mind. This is the beginning of a magical, mysterious journey, and everyone’s invited.”

Yellow House on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp.