By Emmanuel Daraloye, Chinonso Ihekire, Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku, Hope Ibiale, Fatiat Saliu, Omowale Bokinni, and Owanate Max-Harry
2022 in African contemporary music could be rightfully heralded the year of the album débutants! From Black Sherif’s The Villain I Never Was, to Asake’s revelatory Mr Money with the Vibe, this year in review was a loud statement. There is a new generation firmly at the cusp of greatness. They have perfected their sound and have a firm grip on their listeners/fans. A new demographic is unleashed, and yes, they must be heard because they matter.
Veterans also came with a rather strong showing this year. Almost sounding rejuvenated as Vector did in Teslim: The Energy Still Lives in Me, and Fally Ipupa’s Tokooos II Gold. Souad Massi also renders a refreshing North African project which speaks to her longevity.
The Afrocritik board has listed what it considers the top 25 music albums out of Africa. Touching every region in the continent, this expansive list explores artistry, innovation and ingenuity as African acts keep pushing the envelope on music projects and sound engineering, the world over.
Chocolate City’s signee, Blaqbonez, joined forces with UK based JAE5 for Back in Uni as lead single to his sophomore LP. While this tune performs what is expected of a lead-off single, it sets the tone for the entire project. Heavily laden with sexual innuendos and braggadocio, it is a Blaqbonez staple. Touted for his creativity and innovation, Blaqbonez litters this project with crisp samples off Styl-Plus (Runaway) in ‘Young Preacher’; Asa’s ‘360’ in ‘I’d be Waiting’ and Paul Play’s ‘Forever’ in ‘Loyalty.’
With insane visuals for the opening track, Blaqbonez again reinstates his penchant for inventiveness and originality in Young Preacher.
24. Johnny Drille
In the Edo-born’s EP, Home, the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ crooner shines best in the tracks, ‘How Are You’ and ‘Only God Knows’ where he employs his signature emotion-laden lyrics to express empathy for loved ones in their seemingly dark/turbulent phases of life. ‘Jumoke,’ a romantic ballad, expresses Drille’s romantic sides more overtly, as he transitions rather smoothly into the superb alternative rock song titled ‘Journey of Our Lives’ which features Adekunle Gold on it.
23. Fally Ipupa
Tokooos II Gold
Multi-talented Congolese star, Fally Ipupa, warmed our hearts this year with the sequel of his 2021 studio album dubbed Tokooos II. Tokooos II Gold houses 37 solid tracks and features appearances from Dadju, M. Pokora, Ninho, Niska, Leto and many others.
Apart from the exhausting length, the record glimmers with a fine splash of Fally Ipupa’s originality. Its soothing aura and listening experience reflects the depth of the album’s track listing. The relatability, production quality and sonic delivery are cohesive and immersing delights.
Two years after the release of his last opus, Dadju made his comeback on long-format on May 13th, 2022. This 17-track LP features a narration from UFC champion, Francis Ngannou in its opener. Dadju reinforces his hold on French urban pop/r&b, giving listeners a lyrical assortment of what Craig David’s ‘Born To Do It’ felt like at the start of the millennium.
Features, Hamza, Ronisia, Gaza and Rema do well to complement the artiste’s intent as they flow seamlessly on this record. Dadju is dominant once again on Cullinan, and proves why he is one of the poignant voices from the Central African Region.
21. Souad Massi
The Algerian politically-conscious sound reverberates through multi-genres in this stellar LP, as Souad employs her signature Arabian and French influences, laced with Justin Adams’ guitar riffs.
The album commences with ‘Dessin-moi un pays’ (draw me a country) where Souad decries the pain of modern adolescents. In this track, the listener is transported almost immediately to the ‘chanson’ genre as though ‘Garou’ was singing resplendently in the alps. Souad’s brilliance is further accentuated by tilts towards folk and classical sounds.
With this project, Souad’s essence is proven undeterred and resolute as ever and proves one thing — she is not stopping any time soon.
In Rowlene’s EP, Frequency, she reminds us of how potent love is with the right person. In ‘Frequency,’ she delivers an R&B staple, eulogising a partner’s reliability. On ‘Pretentious,’ with Blaqbonez, there’s doubt hanging around about a partner’s intentions, and the air is tense. On ‘Only,’ Rowlene mashes up with Wurld to deliver a harmonious banger; while the tune with Oxlade delivers endless melodiousness. With this LP, South-African born Rowlene shows her range dexterity and mastery.
Boohle’s enchanting vocals are an ear’s delight. The Afro-House goddess has a unique way of infusing and combining elements from old school funk and psychedelic soul into her music. In this album she demonstrates clearly why she is in a league of her own. Islomo’s replay value is, frankly, otherworldly.
18. Angelique Kidjo & Ibrahim Maalouf
Queen of Sheba
In this eccentric fusion of West African and Middle Eastern cultures, much is sung about the myth of Queen Sheba and King Solomon.
The blend of both cultures is seamless as Kidjo sings in Yoruba and Maalouf, the master of instruments, plays the trumpet which shines through the project. The project is interspersed with elements of jazz, pop and orchestra.
In typical ‘Kidjo’ fashion, the vocals on this project are commanding and sharp from ‘Ahan’ to ‘Obinrin’ as this legend, narrated in the Bible, Holy Quran and Ethiopian folklore is made relevant through contemporary, yet diverse sounds.
Rightfully touted as a pioneer of the Altè movement, Boj’s influence in the African pop space which spans over ten years has come full circle. A third of the group, DRB Lasgidi, Boj utilises Gbagada Express as a cathartic process, fruitfully combining held-up emotions, conversations, and lessons to craft a never dull album even at its 42-minute mark.
While joint Grammy winner, Wizkid, delivers a belated verse on ‘Awolowo,’ ‘Confam’ is a message of hope, an unequivocal submission to a lover with all the necessary adjectives.
Thematically, Gbagada Express is lean. Boj contrives most of the song on love and romance. He however masterfully links up with the right artistes to birth thirteen tracks while he sings alone on three. While Boj’s music takes off from Lagos, he branches out to Ghana, the United Kingdom, and the United States for input from their superstars.
16. Show Dem Camp
Palmwine Music 3
Show Dem Camp (SDC)’s long-awaited Palmwine Music 3 album tops off their trilogy and offers a space to reminisce on love and life while drinking palm wine.
The Nigerian duo rap group accustomed to consistency and birthing immense underground talent since 2010 goes top of the shelf with this one, showing that debonair/suave vibe they have been notorious for. A sultry blend of rap punch lines and luxurious, soulful hooks, the collaborations range from Oxlade to prodigious Tems, linking up with Lojay, Tay Iwar and Moelogo.
Sound production, a key ingredient of SDC’s success over the years, is given stellar consideration on this project, even as Spax and Show Dem Camp prove that they are the fitting examples of perfect collaborators. Palmwine Music 3 is the perfect closure and brings listeners a step closer to the next phase of Show Dem Camp.
Festival of the Sun
The Port Harcourt born ‘Afro-Soul’ crooner brings a sultry blend of fine production and laidback vocals on this six-track EP.
With collaborations from Johnny Drille, Nviiri the Storyteller, Moliy, and Gonzo Blaq, Festival of the Sun does a perfect job of fusing a potpourri of themes — euphoria, remorse and love with top-tier production from Guilty Beatz, Member K, and others.
This incredibly soothing project portrays Ogranya as one with a defined sonic identity, and raises the bar with expectations going forward.
In Becoming Adomaa, the long awaited project from Ghana’s Adomaa, the listener is led on a voyage of sonic accouterments of opulent-feeling vocals that blend from range to range. An album curated without any features, its replay value can best be described as ethereal, and one could say that Becoming Adomaa was worth the wait.
13. Xenia Manasseh & Ukweli
Kenyan R&B sensation, Xenia Manasseh, collaborates with producer, Ukweli, on this 5-song EP, Maybe.
Ukweli’s touch on this project feels divine as the production is seamless, underlaying Manasseh’s flawless vocals. A match made in heaven, the duo on this EP fuse neo-soul elements with jazz and R&B, bridging cultures and quite simply making excellent sounds.
12. Cruel Santino
Subaru Boys: Final Heaven
The Altè pioneer had fans waiting years for this LP, and in typical fashion, music critics went ballistic, as expected from Cruel Santino’s project.
Upon the release of this project, Afrocritik wrote that, “With artists, a conceptual representation of life can be a chaotic experience, although one lush with excitement. And this is exactly the same experience that chaperones the sophomore and latest conceptual album dubbed, Final Heaven: Subaru Boys…”
Subaru Boys: Final Heaven is a conceptual sound piece, primarily. Coined from Santino’s obsession with the Japanese culture, the moniker ‘Subaru,’ itself a Japanese name for a cluster of stars in the Taurus constellation, doubles as a popular vehicle brand. Santino’s project is baked in the spirit of teenage Japanese-anime obsession, with Asian song titles and phrases littered across the album. Its sonic direction is very progressive and unique, perhaps apt for the ‘final heaven’ distinction. Subaru Boys: Final Heaven is proof of the musical mad scientist’s relentless urge to remain radical and artistically excellent.
Rave and Roses
The Benin city-bred superstar, a relatively new face in the Afrobeats scene, came with a charisma that could not be easily ignored.
For his debut offering, Rema consolidates his efforts at honing a unique sound, which was wrongly criticised as too “Indian” at the inception of his career. He melds his emotions vividly into this project, creating instant classics such as ‘Divine,’ ‘Wine (feat. Yseult),’ ‘Jo,’ ‘Calm Down,’ among others.
Away from the experimental records that kick-started his career, where he won hearts with free-form pop music in the innuendo-buttered ‘Dumebi,’ and the trap-leaning ‘Trap out the Submarine’ among others, in Rave and Roses, the 22-year-old maverick showcases his depth with conventional Pop/RnB. This version of Rema is more detailed, intimate, intricate, poetic, and also strategic about the love-and-life themes that shape the album.
For a debut album, Rave and Roses shows the growth of Afrobeats as a genre and dispels any doubts as to Rema’s excellent artistry.
Queen of Nigerian Soul and R&B, Bukola Elemide, popularly known as Asa, makes a glorious comeback to the Nigerian music scene with her fifth studio album V.
The ‘Mayana’ crooner appears to be basking in the euphoria of love on this particular project. On tracks such ‘Show Me Off’ and ‘Morning Man,’ Asa reveals vulnerability, with impeccable songwriting as she is known for.
V is not only a testament to Asa’s versatility and supremacy, but also a direct response to clichéd perceptions of her art as impregnable to evolution. The track, ‘All I Ever Wanted,’ with Amaarae dispels every inch of this narrative as both artistes flow seamlessly, one to another. V leaves sentiments of an Asa whose legacy is further solidified without question.
In Outlaw, Victony proves something a bit deeper than what the project’s title suggests. He departs from the obvious expectations of making a project that, perhaps, rebels against socio-political realities; instead, he goes on an inward pilgrimage into the self, choosing to extol the value of self-expression over societal standards, choosing to be a rebel against himself, first, before everything else.
As a project, Outlaw flourishes as a well-arranged body of work. That is its first pleasure point. All tracks neatly transit into one another, with harmonious intros and outros, giving off a very smooth listen. From the opening song, ‘Outlaw,’ Victony sets off a very introspective mood to the project, as he reflects on his life and struggle. Tapping producers such as Ktizo, Blaisebeats, Blind and Frankmoses, Dera the boy, P.Priime and Tempoe, Victony proves his range.
Cohesively, Outlaw is Victony’s neat attempt at defining his artistry with his musical stylistic preferences.
8. Bibi Tanga & The Selenites
The Same Tree
With Bibi Tanga & The Selenites, the audience is almost always amped for an experience of musical excellence. For their latest project, the group delivers a 14-track project that is purely sung in English and Sangho. The album draws from the band’s multiple influences that consist of Fela Kuti, James Brown, Sly Stone and many others.
With this album, Bibi Tanga & The Selenites hope to ignite the spirit of brotherhood and to also influence people’s attitudes towards their roots.
Teslim: The Energy Still Lives in Me
In Teslim, Vector makes an obvious but poignant attempt at bridging 3 generations as seen in the album title, ‘Teslim,’ a clear reference to his father. He introduces the project with a conversation with his daughter, and delivers a momentous 16 tracks filled with emotion-laden lyrics that are deeply introspective.
How Vector manages to deliver catchy hooks even using his vocals in the entirety of this body of work is intriguing, as it explores the multi-faceted talent pool of the veteran Nigerian rapper.
Thematically, the album ranges from activism-laced lines in ‘Insomnia’ to ‘Mercy,’ a gospel infused/inspirational track where he features Seyi Vibes. Erigga shines on the track, ‘You don’t Know,’ a pointer to the fact that Nigerian street rap still retains its potency.
In summary, Teslim: The Energy Still Lives in Me delivers a Nigerian rap masterpiece; a classic, if you will.
The Brother’s Keeper
Chike’s sophomore album opens with Amapiano-laden, up tempo rhythms in ‘On the Moon’ which sets the pace for a thoroughly melodic record.
‘Tell Am’ properly opens the album for Chike’s fans. An R&B tune built on admiration for a girl, it serves as a romantic letter to her. On this particular track, Chike combines Igbo and Yoruba languages to sway the girl to his side.
When the power figure of Highlife collides with R&B’s juggernaut, you expect the best. And truthfully, they deliver. Flavour becomes the sauce to Chike’s pie on ‘Hard to Find.’ The love ballad is an assurance of faithfulness to a partner, and a resolution of commitment. It is a record created deliberately for weddings.
30 months after the Boo of the Booless album, there is no doubt that Chike has lived life, grown, and surmounted life’s challenges. The outcome of this growth formed a large chunk of this album, and is observed in the way he dealt with topics. The production was successful in bringing out his pristine vocals and superb songwriting. The A&R of the project makes for a seamless storytelling and articulation of Chike’s efforts.
5. Omah Lay
Boy Alone is Omah Lay’s fruit of sonic flavours, a piece of novelty that chronicles the persona’s quest for love and stable identity. First impression: the album title suggests to us a doubtful break into the entertainment industry. Given the circumstance, one expects that being in the limelight equates to being happy, gregarious and worries-free. But Omah Lay, it appears, presents a contrary position, suggesting to us that celebrity status does not render him immune to hiccups, too.
This album comes in a parcel of fourteen songs all taking turns to pay homage to selfhood and tumultuous love. Most of the lyrics in the album are laid out effortlessly, and they act in unison to mollify the senses. Spiced with imagery here and there, they offer the getaway momentum for mental cruising.
A thoroughly enjoyable fusion of mid-tempo harmonies, Omah Lay’s debut LP is addictive and shows a remarkable eye for cohesiveness for a first LP.
4. Black Sherif
The Villain I Never Was
Mohammed Ismail Sharrif was born two decades ago in Konongo-Zongo in the Ashanti region of Ghana. At a young age, he was exposed to different cultures, and all reflected in his art.
The Villain I Never Was reads like a coming-of-age story, the trajectory of a nomad. It starts with an ode to home in ‘The Homeless Song.’ In his quest to make it out of the ghetto, Sherif bids goodbye to home, arranges his clothes, and leaves in search of greener pastures. It is a raw and emotionally-riveting track. By starting the album with this track, Black Sherif eases the fans into his state of mind.
In The Villain I Never Was, Sherif creates an album for his ‘sad boys.’ Here, he becomes their teacher, hope enabler, and energizer, all in the same breath. With strong vocal chords and uncanny lyrical depth, Sherif shows range from Highlife to Trap, to Reggae. It is a debut that shoots the young Ghanaian straight into the mainstream.
3. Burna Boy
From the experimental debut album, L.I.F.E (Leaving an Impact for Eternity), to the ‘second album slump’ On a Spaceship Ship, down to the genre-blending Outside album, Burna Boy has been on a transformative journey. His current global trajectory might have been amplified by the African Giant album; however, Twice as Tall took it to a greater dimension.
The album opens with the anthemic and choir-led ‘Glory.’ On this track, Burna Boy invites the listener on a journey through his story. The song is assisted by South African all-male band, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Burna Boy let out some secrets in the second verse: about his time in a prison in the United Kingdom. It is a vulnerable trip, a stark imitation of ‘Level Up.’ The album swiftly segues into the second track, barely leaving room for interruption. The party kick starts with the throbbing ‘Science.’ It recalls elements of the African Giant album. Cocky and thrilling in the same breath, the percussion collided with Burna Boy’s lyrical prowess as he called people to the dance floor.
Love, Damini is a diaristic, cathartic love letter from Burna Boy. At the age of 31, he has undergone the rollercoaster of life; fell in love, got heartbroken, been happy, depressed, has been to prison, lived a life of opulence. This album sees Burna Boy in a reflective mood. It gives the markings of an elder statesman advising the youngins with little slides of parties in between.
Where Burna Boy shines on this project is thematic brilliance and range. ‘Glory,’ ‘Whiskey,’ ‘Common Person,’ ‘Last Last,’ ‘Wild Dreams,’ and ‘How Bad Could It Be’ explore a thematic range typically unavailable from the works of his contemporaries. This sets the project apart as a diversely themed body of work, an encyclopedia of sorts, while retaining fundamental harmonics.
Some Nights I Dream of Doors
On Obongjayar’s Some Nights I Dream of Doors, experimentation is the order of the day. He combines Afrobeat and other alternative as well as mainstream genres while exploring love’s tricky politics, liberation, resilience, existentialism, and happiness.
In ‘Message in a Hammer,’ you detect an obvious Fela influence. Even in the lyrics, “You can beat me, shoot me, throw me in jail/You can strip me, use me, abuse me till nothing remain/We won’t take it kindly, take it smiling,” there’s a message for people holding public offices.
In tracks like ‘Try,’ ‘My Life Can Change Today,’ ‘New Man,’ Obongjayar tries to inspire and encourage people who have been going through a tough time or rough patch in life. In Some Nights I Dream of Doors, the artiste battles existentialism, and ‘doors’ is his figurative expression for his depression.
Some Nights I Dream of Doors is an expression of what bothers modern-day Nigeria, and while many fall into the trap of othering its sound due to its eccentricity, it presents art in its purest form, giving an experience to the listener. This album feels like a journey, an exotic one that should never come to an end.
Mr Money with the Vibe
Born in the 1990s, Ololade Ahmed Asake finally had his much anticipated break in 2022. Right from the Olamide-aided ‘Omo Ope’ and to the recently-released ‘Loaded,’ Asake has kept his name in conversations, and his music has become synonymous with chart topping bangers.
The Asake phenomenon has defied all odds and formulae for success in contemporary Nigerian pop as this might perhaps be the shortest time frame within which any artiste has ever been propelled into international success. A combination of deep Yoruba lyrics, a style made resplendently for choirs and percussions, backed with seamless transitions have made this project a tour de force.
Asake manages to fulfil all prescriptions of musicality in one fell swoop. And more than it all, his music is enjoyable and ‘unputdownable.’ Only rarely in successive generations is a prodigy able to unite both urban and rural listeners without any hassle. Asake fulfills all of these and is amped even for more.
The exquisite track sequencing and dominant themes on this album are a reminder of Wizkid’s Superstar album, a classic debut. On Mr Money with the Vibe, Asake skillfully leverages on his Fuji background to craft out a potential seminal work. There is only little wonder most of the tracks dominate the charts. Mr. Money with the Vibe sees Asake finally galvanise his success, and in a way, is a grand opening to African mainstream acclaim, the kind we may never have seen before.