D’banj, we’re waiting.
2012, amazing year that it was, is firmly behind us. We turn our attention now to the next 12 months in which we hope to hear from the following artists, some debutantes, others old favourites and all African descended.
When you have champions from Mark de Clive Lowe to Mark Ronson in your corner, you know you have something special.
Beverly Tawiah’s skater girl-meets-soul siren charisma always radiated from the back of the stage where she stood supporting the likes of Eska and Corrine Bailey Rae. Not long after she alighted from the conveyer belt of talent that is the Brit School (alumni include Floetry, Adele, Amy Winehouse, Shingai Shoniwa), Gilles Peterson’s World Wide Awards named her Best Newcomer. Inevitably, Warner music offered her her first record deal.
Prior to that, Tawiah had independently put out her debut EP In Jody’s Bedroom, now something of a cult classic for fans of the UK independent soul music scene, especially for tracks like Every Step.
The hope was that a full-length album was not far behind, but it’s been over three years since that EP, and it’s intermittent nuggets like these that have kept all-out despair from her fans at bay.
That and the confirmation from reliable sources that she has lined up a collaboration with…wait for it…FOKN Bois!
Viviane Chidid (Senegal)
Viviane Chidid is a former in-law to Senegalese music ambassador and sometime politician Youssou N’dour. That’s probably the link that eventually led her to Wyclef’s Grammy Award-winning cousin and frequent production collaborator Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis.
In Francophone Africa you will certainly have come across Viviane’s name. In the rest of the continent, not as much. But it looks like with Jerry Wonda’s signing her to his label, things are looking to change somewhat.
Viviane features Mavado (with some Final Cut magic to include Busta Rhymes near the end) on this remix of Soldier Girl.
But her recent track with Ghanaian Hip-hop marvel Sarkodie is a more believable fit she needs for that all-important crossover, which hopefully can translate on her forthcoming album.
Angolan house music has been on the bubble in the last 3-5 years. Riffing off some elements from its cousin scene in South Africa, and from its local-turned-global dance phenomenon, kuduro, this is a house music capital on a steady come-up. All it needs is a dependable ambassador. Someone to kick down the doors continent-wide in the same way that Cabo Snoop did for Angolan dance culture in Africa. If anyone can be this, it’s Portugal-born, Angola-based Djeff Afrozilla. He often operates in a tag team with fellow producer/DJ Sylvi, but, a label owner and artist himself, Djeff also stands impressively on his own as one of the most exciting talents in the Angola right now. He is visually polished, and, as a credited architect of Angola’s style of house, has the substance to boot.
If Djeff’s recent remix for Weeknd’s Enemy sounds a lot like something from Boddhi Satva’s catalogue, it’s because he, along with Louie Vega and Black Coffee – stalwarts from the soulful end of house music – are his influences.
Ajebutter 22 (Nigeria)
It might have been nice to see how far Soyinka’s Afro (best name ever, or what?), the Afro-Hiphop-Soul brother-sister duo of Ajebutter 22 and Socialajebutterfly (taymii), would have gotten. Formed in 2009, they were cute and a little different from what was on offer on the Naija pop scene. But when something is meant to be, it’s meant to be. And in this case, that’s Ajebutter as a one-man act. Only 3 songs - all of them hits - and just over one year into his solo career, Ajebutter’s unique languid, melodic delivery is a winner.
In the pipeline for over a year, there has been a collaborative mixtape with his go-to team of producers Studio Magic, which is exciting enough. But we’d like to fast forward to an official debut album which could quite easily be the rookie Naija rap album of 2013.
Tiwa Savage (Nigeria)
When Tiwa Savage – former backing singer for Mary J. Blige, Sting, George Michael, Kelly Clarkson and Spice Girls – entered UK singing TV talent contest X-Factor in 2006, she couldn’t possibly have predicted her path to glory would go the way that it has: the Grammy nod for a song she wrote for Fantasia and the vocal performance credit on Whitney Houston’s I Look To You are old news for the Nigerian SONY/ATV-signed singer songwriter whose star now towers above her labelmates’ at Don Jazzy’s Mavin Records.
To be honest, Tiwa is not just the first lady of the stable as is popularly bandied about. She is to Mavin what D’Banj was to Mo'Hits – the main event. From Kele Kele, the break out solo single that heralded her strategic move back to Naija, through her flawless pairing with the likes of Flavour N’abania, she has not hit a single bum note. But she’s also yet to drop her debut album, though the word from her camp is that 2013 is the year.
Oh yes, Tiwa Savage is also the first African female Pepsi ambassador, so when she sings Folarin, trust she means every word.
http://content.omroep.nl/ghettoradio/musicblog/tiwa_savage_folarin.mp3 Tiwa Savage – Folarin
If there’s any justice in the world, one day the definitive list of Britian’s best singer/songwriters will include Zimbabwe-born, London-raised vocalist, arranger and force of nature Eska Mtungwazi.
Zero 7, Ty, Bugz in the Attic, Cinematic Orchestra, Bobby McFerrin, Grace Jones are some of the names ESKA has been associated with over the years. There were once whispers of an album called The Great British Songbook, on which ESKA would pay tribute to the greatest who ever put pen to paper. Presumably this incredible version of the Police’s Walking on The Moon would have made the cut.
Her website promises that her solo debut album will arrive at last in 2013 and “reveals ESKA as an outstanding contemporary folk singer-songwriter whose music, whilst sitting within the English folk tradition, wears the influence of psychedelia, jazz and choral music proudly on its sleeve.”
Not only did the documentary Hip-hop Colony draw the curtains back on Kenya’s younger Hip-hop scene, it cast the spotlight squarely on Simon Kimani aka Bamboo. Based on his starring role, Bamboo was the Kenyan Hip-hop artist unanimously deemed most likely to make it internationally. But his mixtape, a directionless blend of euro-pop and Southern rap beats, fell dismally short of expectation.
Occasionally, the odd track surfaces to offer glimpses of what Bamboo the beast of old is capable of, but not big or often enough.
Then there’s the stint writing for Akon’s Konvict Records, which may or may not turn into something. Either way, Bamboo is back in Kenya now and if his new Friday mixtape series means that there’s still some hunger left in him, then now is the time to drop that album and seize the moment before it finally fades for good.
Any artist will tell you that there’s nothing like a change of scene – particularly one that takes you out of your comfort zone - to get the creative juices flowing. When faced with the “where next?” question, it was Somi’s mentor Hugh Masekela, a renowned musical migrant himself, who prompted her leap of faith. (‘He said to me "Somi, stop thinking about it as a move. By nature as a musician, you are a global citizen”’). So off to Lagos Somi went, where of course Naija’s gaudy and ubiquitous pop music stands like a Goliath to her earthier, more subtle Jazz-influenced David. Still she held her own, using a teaching artist residency at a university in Ilorin to conduct the research for an album she has now recorded in New York, and that’s due for release this year. Check out a snippet of her showcase at Drom NYC just last night!
Tumi and the (new) Volume (South Africa)
On new year’s eve, Tumi Molekane took to social media to announce that he and the Volume – the band that he and drummer Paulo Chibanga, guitarist Tiago Correia-Paulo and bassist Dave Bergman formed in the early 2000s – was no more.
With that dramatic tweet, Tumi confirmed the end of the golden era for Joburg’s live music scene for which defunct venue Bassline was a hub. A time and a place when catching a show by Blk Sonshine, Moodphase 5ive and McCoy Mrubata on the same day was not uncommon.
Recorded over two nights, TATV’s 2004 album Live at the Bassline became their definitive work, although they would later release two studio albums, one self-titled and 2010’s Pick a Dream, to critical acclaim and amass followings in places like Reunion Island and France.
There is no doubt that Tumi, at the helm of his newly formed ensemble, will make it his mission to prove with the next album that it’s still high quality business as usual, and as soon as possible.
The end of an era
At the moment, the difference in impact between Oliver Twist, D’Banj’s first true global breakthrough hit, and the three subsequent singles seems a difficult one to erase.
Oliver Twist coincided with the upsurge of African urban music ("Afrobeats" as some call it) in the UK, and by default he became something of a poster boy for it. The truth is D’Banj – “the Michael Jackson of Africa” (Wyclef’s moniker for him) – has never made a memorable album. His position as one of Africa’s highest paid entertainers is due largely to the singles masterminded by his famously estranged producer and business partner Don Jazzy.
But now, after the infamous fallout and those big announcements – signing to the UK’s Mercury Music and more recently to Sony Music Africa – everyone seems to be waiting, arms folded, to see what D’banj will do next.
He says in this interview that his next song is with Kanye (11.37 mark). Remains to be seen.
Africa must be the only place on the planet where the term ‘neo-soul’ is still an actual thing. That’s the genre often used to classify Ghanaian singer Efya’s style. Formerly Jane, one part of the musical duo, Irene and Jane, and without the benefit of a complete body of work as a solo artist, Efya remarkably commands one of the most sizable followings of any recording artist in Ghana. Tellingly, all her best work has been collaborative. Compare the song with M.anifest (below),
for instance, to her debut solo song Little Things.
What Efya possesses in abundance is a smouldering star power, which, if harnessed well, and coupled with carefully A&R’d co-writing and production, can result in an album that warrants the deafening buzz around the singer.
K’Naan (Somalia/ US)
When K’Naan practically apologised for his latest album in the New York Times, and effectively dissuaded everyone from buying it, he raised some eyebrows and maybe even more questions. But everyone deserves a second chance, and he’s more than earned it with his first two albums.
Far be it for me to dictate the direction of any artist, but if he can give us something approaching the production values of Troubadour and the raw urgency of Dusty Foot Philosopher within the next 12 months (while the iron is hot and what not), all will be forgiven.
Various (Red Hot + Riot)
These days there is no shortage of Fela Kuti remixes, re-hashes, re-interpretations, re-releases etc. The runaway success of the musical about him - which Jay Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinket bankrolled - which debuted on Broadway before hitting Europe and Nigeria, may have something to do with it. Suddenly Beyonce was crediting the Nigerian Afrobeat legend for inspiring her album 4. And, who would have thought it, Swizz Beatz.
Before American pop music’s Felagate though, was the Red, Hot + Riot series. The first instalment featured versions of Fela classics and original songs by artists like Macy Grey, D’Angelo, Dead Prez and Sade. The follow-up promises to bring things even closer to home with Spoek Mathambo, Just a Band, Zaki Ibrahim among the names billed. Yes please!