The year 2020 will down down in history and in our minds as one of the most tumultuous years to have ever been lived by human kind, however, despite the madness and confusion that came with the year, we have learnt to find our joys in the little things – one of which is music. As the year comes to an end, we all have begun to reflect on the upsides and downsides of it, and for our own reflection, along with our friends at TANGAZA Magazine, we made a collective list of our favourite projects released during the course of the year. Please note that this list is in no particular order, and we would like that you check out any of these projects you haven’t yet.
Maya Amolo’s Leave Me At the Pregame
Maya Amolo made her debut in the music world with a project titled Leave Me At The Pregame. Leave Me at the Pregame (or LMATP for short) is a soulful project through which Maya tells a story of finding hope in revisited places. The project, through beautifully produced vocal and sonic renditions, tells stories of love, loss and lust, thereby exposing – in a positive light – Maya’s ingenuity as an artist. It is by this purposeful ingenuity that it comes with little or no surprise that her first ever project could top the Apple Music African R&B/Soul Chart just some days after its release.
Mau From Nowhere’s Mau From Nowhere (MFN)
When Kenyan artist, Kamau Wainana changed his moniker from “MauWithSunflowers” to “Mau from Nowhere”, it felt, in some way, to fans like myself, that he was treading on stormy waters but with his head held high towards a new direction. His project Mau From Nowhere through how vulnerable, reflective and intentionally pronounced he was with each song on it highlights how much the artiste has been through in finding himself, and how far he sees to go.
The Cavemen’s Roots
If reinventing a sound can be so much trouble, how about reinventing an entire genre?
The Cavemen’s attempt to reinvent HighLife music has been a very patient and intentional journey – working with Lady Donli on her Debut album, Enjoy Your Life in 2019 is a testament to this fact. The Cavemen had spent so much time in the cave tampering with, unlosing and rearranging the highlife sound – and with such patience and experimenting comes mastering. The release of their debut album, Roots did not only put the band on the spotlight, it gave them a year to remember for the rest of their lives!
Paybac Iboro’s Cult!
Paybac Iboro had been pulling a Kanye on his fans (who by the way are the cult!) since 2019 when he first promised the release of his own debut album. Cult! eventually came, and it was worth the wait. The project brought into play many elements of Paybac’s influences, and emphasises on the socio-political landscape of his country, Nigeria – even before the social uprising that came to be later in the year. Paybac’s Cult! typically foreshadowed the mindset of the Nigerian youth, and in turn became a foresight to the Nation’s future. It once again put the artist in contention for the much coveted Headies Award.
Sir Bastien’s Mango Island
With Sir Bastien, music is an easy feeling, a gentle touch to the ears. Sir Bastien’s Mango Album released in 2019 introduced him to a new array of music audience who already had been patiently waiting for an artist who makes the sort of music he makes, so to build on that foundation, He put out Mango Island. Mango Island isn’t just a project that makes you feel, it is one that helps you understand the simplicity of music, and of life. Sir Bastien, as a trait for which he is known, once again employs the help of friends around the continent (and world) on this project.
Amaarae’s The Angel You Don’t Know
The release of Amaarae’s The Angel You Don’t Know came at a point in the year when music lovers were yearning for something new. The project itself flaunts in extravagant flamboyance, the elegant, yet subtle nature of its Creator.
The Angel You Know in some way, opens the listener up to a world of variety; every song on the project is very relatable at some level, which makes it hard to pick a favourite, which further implies that the project is one to listen to without skips, and on repeat.
Tems’s For Broken Ears
On her debut project, For Broken Ears, Tems meditates on love, life and relationships, and weaves subtle melodies with airy R&B production in a cool, yet refined manner. By wrapping emotions in her arresting vocals, she ponders escapism on “Free Mind”, and explores newfound freedom from a love affair on the tropical-sounding “Damages”.
XPRSO.’s groovy debut project, Nairobass, was a definite stand out of the projects coming out of East Africa this year. The group package their lived experiences in the city of Nairobi into a groovy 7 track EP that balances feel-good vibes and politically conscientious content.
Suraj x Winyo x Kato Change’s Sazile EP
Kato Change, Winyo & SURAJ are no strangers to the Kenyan music scene, with each of them forefronting their own unique sounds while representing East Africa to a global audience Sazile is a warm, picturesque feel good project comprising of impeccable production, and sweet, entrancing melodiesThe 5 track EP, predominantly sung in Dhaluo, pays homage to Kenya’s Nyanza province both sonically and lyrically.
Afro-fusion crooner Ayrosh delivered sensual Kikuyu R&B with Fire. Over lo-fi, trap-infused tracks crafted by producer Mura the DJ, Ayrosh proves that Kenyan men are not as unromantic as stereotyped to be.
Jaydabliu’s Square One
Multi-dimensional artist Jaydabliu blessed us with his debut project, Square One mid this year. The 7 track project is an alternative, soulful listen that oozes feel-good and oft-hypnotic vibes.
This project stands out as being one of the more unique offerings of the year.
Nabalayo takes us on a meditative and reflective trip on Changanya. The project is a perfect blend of eclectic African instrumentation, entrancing vocals and hypnotic lyricism.
Trabolee’s S a D F A
Nairobi-based rapper Trabolee’s S a D F A, a project created alongside frequent collaborator Akili Blaq, is a conscientious offering equally steeped in lethargic nostalgia and the chaotic urgency of our modern times
On 9 track EP Mirage, Maryland-based, Nigeiran-American Mannywellz takes us on a journey through the push and pull of letting go of a toxic relationship over his unique fusion of R&B, pop, jazz and hip-hop with afro-beats influences.The project’s arrangement is soaked in intentionality as Manny crafts a fluid narrative from start to finish.
Mucyo’s The Waters
Rwandese singer/songwriter & poet Mucyo’s brand of R&B is a hazy and alluring fusion of neo-soul, hip-hop and jazz. On The Waters, Mucyo opens up about battling to find inner peace. The project is both an ode to those of us navigating adulthood and fighting to stay afloat and a letter of encouragement, imploring us to hold on to hope and find gratitude even in the toughest of times.
Jonah Mutono’s GERG
LA-based, Ugandan artist Jonah Mutono laid himself bare on his debut album GERG. Centered on his first and most formative relationship, the album displays never before seen vulnerability. Equal parts dazzling and haunting, his warbly baritone floats atop moody arrangements that fuse R&B, pop and indie.
Wakadinali’s Victims of Madness
Wakadinali – consisting of Scar Mkadinali, Munga Domani and Sewersyda – have had a phenomenal year that has cemented their position at the top of Kenya’s rap game. Their witty, tongue-in-cheek lyrics are packaged in quick, razor-sharp bars delivered in Sheng – Nairobi’s urban slang. Victims of Madness is a presentation of the take on drill, a style the group has characterized as NaiDrill or RongDrill, a uniquely street, Kenyan take on genre.
Swami Sound’s It Is What It Is
Bronx-born producer and multi-instrumentalist Swami Sound’s It Is What It Is is a celebration of the black diaspora. Inspired by a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, Swami enlists a squad of up and coming East African creatives across Nairobi and NYC: musicians Mr. LU* (Nairobi), Chevy Kev (Nairobi), mau (Kenyan-born, NYC based), Maya Amolo (Kenyan-born, NYC based), and mwami (Ugandan-born, NYC based); and Nairobi based digital artist Akiba Haiozi. The EP serves not as a reshaping of African musical narratives, but as an example of the unbridled versatility of East African artists.
Barbara Wangui’s Shorts
Singer-songwriter Barbara Wangui’s Shorts is a gem that offers much needed comfort and serenity following a chaotic year. The Nairobi-based artist’s voice drips honey as she delicately weaves relatable stories of feeling lost, grappling with anxiety and finding hope.
MR LU*’s Nairobi Lost Tapes, Vol. 1
Nairobi Lost Tapes, Vol.1, is a mesmerising offering that takes you on a journey through some of Kenya’s most iconic sonic landscapes as Kenyan producer/DJ MR. LU*flips samples from different parts of the country, infusing his signature contemporary hip-hop, bass-lead production. The project pays homage to Kenyan classics and was inspired by his desire to highlight local Kenyan music whilst giving them a modern twist.
Other projects that created a buzz, made an impact, and/or during the course of the year include:
Tangaza Magazine’s Full Full condition vol.1, Bakhita’s CHAMO MILLE: PYE, MR. LU x Lukorito’s Gweztapes, Akoth Jumadi’s Ere Yo, Shungudzo’s i(Motsi), Waithaka Ent’s BLK2451, Gabbie x Timothy Arinaitwe’s Empty Spaces, and Efe Oraka’s Magic. You should check them out too.
As the year comes to an end, we hope that you are ready for the New Year, and that it would be a beautiful ride for us all. Happy New Year!