leaps and bounds

Africa: Top 25 songs in 2021, guaranteed to get you on the dancefloor

By Dami Ajayi, Udochukwu Ikwuagwu

Posted on December 29, 2021 08:56

dance club
People dance at the nightclub “Concourse Dance Bar”, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., August 14, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah Beier

2021 has been an eventful year for African creativity. With the world still reeling from the throes of coronavirus and vaccine inequality particularly affecting Africa, there is solace that Abdulrazak Gurnah clinched the Nobel Prize, Damon Galgut won the Booker Prize and the continent’s music is getting its moment in the global space. We count down the top 25 hit songs from the African soundscape this year.

‘Waah’ repurposes Congolese soukous of the Olomide era, replete with the baritone asides, wicked rhythms and colourful choreography.

The hugely popular music video is a testimony to its widespread acclaim. It is another notch in Tanzanian pop star Diamond Platnumz’s belt as an alchemist of international crossover hits.

24. KiDi, ‘Touch It’ (Ghana)

In preparation for summer, Ghanaian singer KiDi released the first single off his sophomore album. ‘Touch It’ is excessively dancehall, playing it safe from rhythms, to cadence to lyrical concerns. Add the allusion to cannabis and you get the sense of substance-induced abandon.

23. Yaw TOG featuring Stormzy & Kwesi Arthur, ‘Sore (Remix)’ (Ghana)

Yaw TOG’s hard-hitting and brash lyrics caught the eyes of the international music community on his debut, ‘Sore’, which featured fellow Asakaa Boys. On the remix, British-Ghanaian rapper Stormzy and home-based rapper Kwesi Arthur hopped on the menacing production for one of hip-hop’s highlights of the year.

22. Zuchu, ‘Sukari’ (Tanzania)

WCB Wasafi artist, Zuchu, returned in the new year with the Bongo hit, ‘Sukari’. Translated as sugar from Swahili, the word ‘Sukari’ is applied in the song as a metaphor for love and romance. Zuchu is adroit at layering her suggestive lyrics with elements of sultry pop.

21. Bella Shmurda featuring Zlatan & Lincoln, ‘Cash App’ (Nigeria)

The immense joy of this relentless and thumping ditty, which focuses on the optimistic spirit of the African youth, is easily the reason it serves both as an alarm clock nudge and party hard reset.

With a music video suggestive of a bank heist and some hint at endorsing internet fraud on Zlatan’s verse, this song – easily dismissed for its irresistible rhythms – has hit it off.

20. Guchi, ‘Jennifer’ (Nigeria)

Guchi’s football love-interest ode, ‘Benzema’, may be flooding our airwaves presently, but ‘Jennifer’, about a love triangle, is her foot in the door, if the statistics from East Africa are anything to go by.

There are enduring examples of such paradoxes like Cynthia Morgan’s ‘German Juice’, but when the homeland eventually catches on, it solidifies gains.

19. Pa Salieu featuring Obongjayar, ’Style & Fashion’ (Diaspora (UK) & Gambia)

It was a triumph for the Diaspora when Gambian-British rapper Pa Salieu met Nigerian-British singer Obongjayar. Off his three-track EP Afrikan Rebel, ‘Style & Fashion’ – the project’s highlight – blends Afrobeats and house for a delicious ditty.

18. CKay featuring DJ Yo! & AX’EL, ‘Love Nwantiti’ (Remix) (Nigeria)

Slow-burning, ear-candy blasting from the past into immediate social currency courtesy Tik-Tok, CKay’s poster emo-Afrobeats song – ‘Love Nwantiti’ – defies categories and reifies itself into the realms of mythical alchemy.

17. Nviiri the Storyteller featuring Bien, ‘Niko Sawa’ (Kenya)

The Kenyan-born, multi-talented artist and songwriter, Nviiri the Storyteller, agonises over heartbreak, insecurity and infidelity on his jazzy ‘Niko Sawa’ song.

However, the crux of it isn’t lost love, but the tricky confluence of romantic expectations and responsibilities.

16. H_art the Band featuring Brizy Annechild, ‘My Jaber’ (Kenya)

‘My Jaber’, the lead single off Kenyan boyband’s third album, Simple Man: Soundtracks of Our Lives, is a soulful, soothing Luo rendition extolling the beauty of a woman.

On the mid-tempo track, the trio invites newbie, Brizy Annechild, to reprise their ode to women of all shapes and curves.

15. Olamide featuring Omah Lay, ‘Infinity’ (Nigeria)

It is not unusual for men to contemplate their sexual prowess and in this case, Olamide and Omah Lay are no different.

Regardless of expectations in the bedroom, ‘Infinity’, a mellow pop song, agrees on the importance of conversations on such expectations and experiences without voyeuristic pleasures of third parties outside the bedroom.

14. Young Stunna featuring Kabza De Small & DJ Maphorisa, ‘Adiwele’ (South Africa)

If people are burning on dance floors across the continent, ‘Adiwele’ is the culprit.

Zulu-inflected, mellifluous lyrics plus infectious, dance-ready beats are the reference points of this song that works out its dance floor choreography.

13. LADIPOE featuring Buju, ‘Feeling’ (Nigeria)

Following his lockdown hit ‘Know You’, Nigerian rapper LADIPOE mines the nostalgia of unbridled fun of pre-pandemic times with the Buju-assisted ‘Feeling’, his second big hit in two successive years.

12. Rui Orlando featuring Bruna Tatiana, ‘Já Te Conheço (Remix)’ (Angola)

This jewel from Angola is a mid-tempo duet performed entirely in Portuguese without exempting lovers of music and romance who cannot access the language of sheer delight, easy listening as well as memorable turns of phrase and the signalling of desire and despair that the song rallies so eloquently.

11. JAE5 featuring Skepta & Rema, ‘Dimension’ (Diaspora (UK) & Ghana)

With a mellow hook helmed by Rema, ‘Dimension’ is introspective in its exploration of how stardom and street life intersect.

Skepta brings hard rhymes to JAE5’s production, airbrushed to showcase the vulnerabilities that even victories don’t surmount.

10. DJ Tarico & Burna Boy featuring Preck & Nelson Tivane, ‘Yaba Buluku (Remix)’ (Mozambique)

Released as a single off Mozambique DJ/producer DJ Tarico’s sixth major project, ‘Yaba Buluku’, which loosely translates to ‘something is in the pants’, gets support from Nigerian Burna Boy to deliver the biggest chant-driven anthem of 2021.

9. Black Sherif, ‘Second Sermon’ (Ghana)

19-year-old Black Sherif has seen it all. While ‘First Sermon’ offered a grime outlook on his come-up with social commentary on his birthplace, ‘Second Sermon’,  a gritty drill number, pitches him as an articulate street preacher without the sanctimony of a lectern.

8. BlaQ Diamond, ‘Summer YoMuthi’ (South Africa)

South African pop duo BlaQ Diamond’s intention was to release ‘Summer YoMuthi’ as a celebratory, family-friendly season closer to what was a difficult 2020 – and it worked.

Not only did the feel-good ‘Summer YoMuthi’ serve as mood shifter, it turned out to be one of the biggest crossover hits.

7. Omah Lay, ‘Godly’ (Nigeria)

Released shortly after his brush with law enforcement agencies in Uganda, this single from his sophomore EP What Have We Done continues to showcase the lyrical and rhythmic eloquence of this crooner also from Port Harcourt, the city that gave us Burna Boy.

6. Chiké featuring Simi, ‘Running (to You)’ (Nigeria)

One of the breakthrough artistes of the Covid-19 pandemic year, Chike repositions his classic debut album for mainstream accomplishment with strategic remixes and this duet with acclaimed songwriter Simi brings excellent songwriting to emote a song that is already in its feelings.

5. Saad Lamjarred & Zouhair Bahaoui, ‘Lewjah Tani’ (Morocco)

‘Lewjah Tani’, the duet by Moroccan superstars Saad Lamjarred and Zouhair Bahaoui, is standard pop music guaranteed to lighten up any mood. The song’s syrupy lyrics blend perfectly with the honeyed vocals of the pop duo with the thumping drums and strings filling in rhythmic spaces.

4. Focalistic & Davido featuring Vigro Deep, ‘Ke Star (Remix)’ (South Africa)

A masterclass made from the acoustic bones of electronic drums and sparse refrains, this early Amapiano favourite of 2021 – featuring a Nigerian guest verse courtesy of Davido – was made for an army of revellers.

3. Kabza De Small & DJ Maphorisa featuring Ami Faku, ‘Abalele’ (South Africa)

With dreamy house rhythms and a sonorous vocal performance, ‘Abalele’ is that mid-tempo ear candy for starting parties or springing encores on inebriated revelries at wee hours.

It is an apologetic love song, but one that would work out its own choreographic response.

2. Gyakie featuring Omah Lay, ‘Forever (Remix)’ (Ghana)

Ghana-born Gyakie offers the breakthrough song of her debut Seed EP a new lease of life with wordsmith Omah Lay, resulting in a duet reaffirming the tenacity of a romantic proposition. Trust Omah Lay to lay it nice and thick with his aptitude of bending words. It is the rare event of a remix being better in leaps and bounds.

1. Wizkid featuring Tems, ‘Essence’ (Nigeria)

Wizkid, having tried unsuccessfully to break into American pop charts with soca-inflected songs, hired the R&B-spangled Alté-sound princess Tems to deliver what could easily be the biggest Afrobeats song yet if recent Soul Train nominations and this summer parties are anything to go by.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.