Azawi’s Sankofa finds strength in its unique mix of poignant ballads, up-tempo grooves, and powerful collaborations from across Africa, making it well-rounded and wholesome.
By Emmanuel Okoro
The enduring impact of a music genre is often measured by its ability to transcend geographical boundaries and to inspire international artistes to incorporate it into their sound. In recent times, the Nigerian music scene has cross-pollinated Amapiano – a South African sonic sensation – releasing chart-topping records. Likewise, Afrobeats, with its infectious rhythm and universal appeal, has been embraced by artistes from diverse backgrounds who are eager to experiment with the sound. Uganda’s talented singer, songwriter, and dancer, Priscilla Zawedde, who goes by Azawi, is an example of an artiste who has adopted Afrobeats and Amapiano into her sound. Her latest project, Sankofa, beautifully explores both realms.
Azawi’s album title draws its inspiration from the Twi and Akan tribes in Ghana. Sankofa means “To go back and get it”. It carries a profound meaning, reflecting the sense of responsibility and introspection imbued in the album.
The project opens with evocative crackling sounds, giving a feeling of being outdoors late at night around a central campfire. Mild chants and rhythmic thumps provide an atmospheric background as Azawi delivers a reflective spoken verse. She poses thought-provoking questions through these lines, “How can I know where I am going if I don’t know where I came from?/ How do I get to the market if I can’t remember which house I left from?” The intro serves as a fitting prelude, setting the stage for a sonic journey rooted in heritage and personal exploration.
The second track, “Champion from Africa”, is a spirited Amapiano tune characterised by up-tempo log drums, hints of xylophones, and bassline riffs, to create a dynamic and engaging backdrop. Azawi’s voice carries a sense of pride and resilience as she delivers the catchy refrain, “I am made from Africa, champion from Africa/ Bwengenda ebweru myaasa byeeru/ I’m a winner for life, for life, for life.” Hints of Amapiano also appear on the fourteenth track, “Money”, as she delivers most of her verses in a local dialect.
On “Egaali”, Azawi delivers a heartfelt rendition of love and an unwavering devotion to a lover. Over the track, she expresses her surprise at finding love once again, and she conveys the sentiment of being caught off guard by the powerful emotions that have overwhelmed her. Lines like “Now bad girl heart is stolen/ The mastermind is you, bae/ For the streets, I’m off, I’m taken” showcase her willingness to surrender to love completely.
Azawi taps the assistance of Jamaican singer and DJ, Konshens, on “Summer Bae”. Their vocal chemistry adds more colour to the track, treating listeners to a feel-good sonic atmosphere. Sankofa gets better with “Brand New”, backed by soft chords, electro-guitar plucks, and staccato drums. Here, Azawi happily reflects on her relationship and the rejuvenating feeling that accompanies new love.
“Njagala Vibe”, featuring the Kenyan Afropop band, Sauti Sol, is a proper, mid-tempo Afrobeats tune. Their collaboration delves into the realm of lewd desire, a subject both are familiar with. The lyrics, with lines like “I’ve been waiting for you tonight/ Baby let me feed your appetite”, speak to the urgency of a passionate encounter.
She collaborates with fellow Ugandan artiste, Elijah Kitaka, on “Harder”, a groovy tune characterised by lead guitar strings and mild shakers. Their vocals synchronise in harmony on the chorus, as they deliver verses laden with devotion and commitment. The production on “Infinity” faintly echoes Tekno’s 2019 hit single, “Skeletun”, where Azawi, once again, delivers a ballad of devotion to a love interest, showcasing her penchant for capturing the essence of love and longing.
Deep cuts of Afro-Pop permeate “Elevated”, a steamy and desire-laden song. The artiste features Rwandan singer-songwriter, Mike Kayihura, fellow countryman, Elijah Kitaka, and Kenyan artiste, Bensoul. This ensemble injects dynamism into the song’s narrative, making it one of the album’s best offerings. Azawi’s knack for romantic renditions isn’t in short supply, as she rides on an Afrobeats tune on “Lucky Day”. Here, she explores the significance of the day she crossed paths with her lover, evoking a sense of gratitude.
Sankofa takes an intriguing turn when “Married Man” comes next. The electro-guitar strums and sonic elements on this track bear a resemblance to Daft Punk’s 2013 sensation, “Get Lucky”, albeit at a slower and less-funky pace. Here, Azawi reflects on the disappointment of giving her love and devotion to a lover who is now married to someone else. Her passionate delivery makes the regret in her voice palpable. Lyrics such as “I knew I was wrong to give you my devotion/ The love making is so sweet/ I thought we had some chemistry”, explore the complexity of intimate relationships, and the bittersweet emotions that accompany them.
Azawi obsesses over a lover’s body on “Worship”, blending her verses between English and her native dialect. Her intoxication is evident in lines like “You’re a work of art, yeah classic by Picasso/ Let me worship your body”. On “Outside”, her desperation for commitment is evident as she pleads with a lover to meet her halfway. “Omwenge”, one of Sankofa’s lead singles, sees Azawi exploring the implications of being inebriated, confessing her feelings to someone, while also recognising that such emotions might remain unspoken when she’s sober.
The album winds down with the penultimate track, “My God”, marked by acoustic guitar strings and low-tempo kicks. While she delivers most of her verse in her native dialect, the lyrical narrative revolves around reliance on a higher power during challenging and dark times. Sankofa closes with the bonus track “Ten Over 10”, a lively tune that fuses Dancehall and Afro-Pop elements. Here, Azawi expresses her admiration for her partner, emphasising their perfection in her eyes and her contentment with their love.
Sankofa is a delicious project that sees Azawi seamlessly weaving elements of Afrobeats and Amapiano into her East African sound. Throughout the album, Azawi effortlessly explores themes of love, desire, devotion and self-discovery, showing her versatility as an artiste. Sankofa finds strength in its unique mix of poignant ballads, up-tempo grooves, and powerful collaborations from across Africa, making it well-rounded and wholesome. This might be Azawi’s best project yet, and a promising indicator of the exciting future she has in store for her audience.
Lyricism – 1.4
Tracklisting – 1.5
Sound Engineering – 1.5
Vocalisation – 1.4
Listening Experience – 1.8
Rating – 7.6/10
Emmanuel ‘Waziri’ Okoro is a content writer and journo with an insatiable knack for music and pop culture. When he’s not writing, you will find him arguing why Arsenal FC is the best football club in the multiverse. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads: @BughiLorde