From uptempo romance to feelgood dance, politically spicy rap and crowdpleasing pop, the biggest tracks across Africa last year went big on cross-continental appeal.
Naira Marley – Soapy
The multimillion-dollar question that Nigeria’s anti-corruption commission has been asking all year: how do you solve a problem like Naira Marley? In May, the 25-year-old was arrested for an alleged advance-fee scam and related cybercrimes after the release of a controversial song about Yahoo Boys (a Nigerian phrase for internet fraudsters). Upon his release later that month, he caused a ruckus with the track Soapy, a middle finger to the authorities. Accompanied by a dance mimicking prison masturbation methods, it has elevated the Lagos-born, Peckham-bred rapper to national icon status. His grime flow, lewd lyrics, nimble footwork and unfiltered tweets are expanding that cult following internationally.
Big Tril – Parte After Parte
The latest catchphrase in African pop culture was coined by Ugandan rapper Big Tril, although its roots lie in a 2011 sermon where controversial Ugandan clergyman Martin Ssempa – well known for his regular puritanical tirades – laments that his younger compatriots are good-for-nothing hedonists who only know how to party. The video accumulated over 1m views in three months, a symbolic win for the new King of Kampala.
Teni – Power Rangers
Writing for herself and other more established stars, Nigeria’s Teniola Apata has zoomed to enviable heights since 2017 when she achieved first national and then continental relevance. In Power Rangers, she’s dwelling in fantasy, invoking pop culture references from the Marvel Universe, Bollywood and David Beckham to paint a vivid picture of a love that never was. The result? A romantic ballad that brings to mind a cheesy soap opera.
Innoss’B – Yo Pe
Despite following in a longstanding tradition of dishing up rhythmic Congolese music and intriguing dance moves for the rest of the continent, 22-year-old Innoss’B is carving a path of his own by racking up hit after hit. His finest, Yo Pe, has had more than 16m views in under six months. The singer-songwriter plays djembe, sings, raps and dances while weaving Afrobeats into the standard-call-and-response format popular in his country.
Joeboy – Baby
Innocent-faced newcomer Joeboy seems poised to become one of the leaders of Nigeria’s new school. The biggest beneficiary of the Empawa music accelerator programme run by his countryman, superstar Mr Eazi, Joeboy has been described by Billboard magazine as the nation’s next big thing. Baby, the first single off his Love and Light EP released in November, is a already a wedding crowdpleaser. With millions of views under his belt, there’s a case for him becoming Africa’s next big thing, too.
DJ Maphorisa – Amantombazane ft Kabza De Small, Samthing Soweto, MFR Souls
Old and new sub-genres of South Africa’s elegant take on house music collide to great effect in this feelgood song. A poster track for the underground ampiano sound of Pretoria that emerged circa 2016, and piggybacking on the older DiBacardi movement, Amantombazane (Zulu for “girls”) features two of the best known ampiano acts, legendary DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small. The soothing vocals of Samthing Soweto, known for singing on the massive hit Akanamali, also feature alongside deejay duo, MFR Souls.
Burna Boy – Anybody
Burna Boy has had two stellar years, resulting in his emergence from Nigerian superstar to the continent’s leading man on a global stage – plus a Grammy nomination for his album African Giant. An otherworldly mashup of dancehall and Afrobeat, the crossover album channels the rebellious spirit of Afrobeat progenitor Fela Kuti (whose first local manager was Burna’s grandfather). In standout gem Anybody, he poses as a dictator maniacally urging his audience to hit the floor and infect their reluctant mates with the same passion – by extreme means if necessary.
Sho Madjozi – John Cena
Undisputedly one of the best performers on the continent, the 27-year-old South African rapper, singer and actress has energy in spades. John Cena, named after the US celebrity wrestler/actor, has elements of hip-hop mixed with her favoured gqom, a sub-genre of South African house music. The song’s cross-continental appeal comes from having lyrics in English, Swahili and Tsonga (not to mention Cena’s hilarious dance routine to it on Ellen DeGeneres’s talkshow). Madjozi’s adorable reaction to a surprise appearance of the wrestler while she was performing the song on Kelly Clarkson’s talk show also sparked a meme.
Rayvanny – Tettema ft Diamond
Tanzanian superstar Diamond Platnumz has emerged as a sort of Midas in east Africa, turning everything he touches to gold. That run also occasionally extends to consume the entire continent: Tettema is another major hit crafted by him and protégé Rayvanny. In the video (which has more than 35m views), the duo borrow the west African zanku dance and admonish a crush in Swahili to vibrate like a generator or like someone who has just been shot. Tettema only became more popular after the Kenya Film Classification Board outlawed the song for its adult lyrics.
Davido – Risky ft Popcaan
Davido and Popcaan reunited for the infectious Risky, from the Nigerian’s second studio album A Good Time – a star-studded record starring Chris Brown, Summer Walker, Wurld and zanku pioneer Zlatan. The irresistible Risky has rapidly tattooed itself onto dance floors worldwide from Lagos nightclubs and Nairobi street corners to Kingston streets and Harlem bars.