2020 has without a doubt been a tough year but luckily our artists did not let us down. In some ways, the great music that came out of the continent this year kept many of us afloat. This has been one of the strongest years for East African music. After the onslaught of Big Tril‘s massive hit “Parte after Parte” last year, 2020 saw East African music receive a lot more international love. It’s been an impressive year musically—the growth and innovation exhibited by the artists from the region as a whole was unprecedented. New stars were born, Tiktok helped make hits, and there were more pan-African collaborations and certainly more experimentation.
Our top act Diamond Platnumz didn’t let anything or anyone threaten his top spot. Not only did he embark on releasing a trail of hit songs like “Jeje” and “Gere” but he announced the new addition to his label, Zuchu. With the departure of Harmonize from Wasafi Records, Diamond knew he needed a killer replacement and his new angle with the female songbird Zuchu has certainly done the trick. Almost overnight she became a chart-topping sensation and one of Africa’s major breakout acts of the year.
Harmonize kicked off the year by establishing his own imprint, Konde Gang Records and releasing his sophomore project , Afro East, a star studded album featuring Burna Boy, Phyno, Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi and more. It’s been a busy year for the bongo flava heavyweight, as he also announced the first signee on his label, a young singer named Ibraah. Together they released one of the biggest songs in the region this year, “One Night Stand.”
This year also saw some big East African acts undertaking very elaborate roll outs for their bodies of work. Tanzanian duo Navy Kenzo dropped their highly anticipated album Story of the African Mob and Kenya’s foremost band Sauti Sol also released their fifth studio album Midnight Train and their first under Universal Music Group, while bongo-flava star Rayvanny ventured into R&B with his Flowers project.
It’s looking very positive for East African music going forward. 2020 saw a new wave of young East African pop stars emerge with Femi One, Kahu$h, Chris Kaiga, Zuchu, Spice Diana and more taking the reins. The only way is up from here.
Here are our top picks for the best East African songs of the year. Listed in no particular order.
Diamond Platnumz “Jeje”
East Africa’s biggest export Diamond Platnumz asserted dominance with this release early in the year. “Jeje” has to be one of the grooviest tracks ever released by the bongo flava boss. The Afro-Caribbean instrumental by Nigerian producer Kel P, coupled with his golden delivery and romantic Swahili lyricism makes it easily one of the best tracks from the African continent this year. Directed by Kenny, the music video was set in the lush island of Zanzibar with steamy scenes featuring the talented dancer, Malaika Salatis and it certainly fit the summery, and sultry feel of the track.
Spice Diana “Kokonya” feat. Harmonize
Spice Diana is already one of Uganda’s fastest-rising stars. This year, we certainly saw her take a different direction with her style and music clearly positioning herself to take over the top spot in the Ugandan charts. She released the infectious party starter “Kokonya” featuring Tanzanian heavyweight Harmonize in July and their amazing chemistry was evident on the track and in the vibrant music video. The track put many people onto the Ugandan pop princess and we can’t wait to see what she’ll be upto in 2021.
Femi One “Utawezana” feat. Mejja
Kenyan rapper Femi One dropped a track titled “Utawezana” (“Can You Handle It?”) featuring rapper Mejja this year and it quickly became one of the top trending songs in East Africa. With its suggestive lyrics and a dancehall-influenced production, the track’s success was fueled by viral videos on Tiktok which translated to the charts, making it a massive hit.
Zuchu “Cheche” feat. Diamond Platnumz
Zuchu is easily East Africa’s breakout star of the year. We saw her team up with her label boss, Diamond Platnumz, yet again for a hot single titled, “Cheche.” The pair bring forth an effortless fusion of cultures on this groovy Swahilli love song topped off with Afro-Caribbean rhythms. With Tanzania’s full support behind her as well as the force of East Africa’s biggest label Wasafi Records, Zuchu’s future is looking very bright in the scene.
Rayvanny “Te Amo” feat. Messias Maricoa
Tanzanian hitmaker Rayvanny released a romantic love ballad titled “Te Amo” right in time for Valentine’s Day this year. The song features Mozambican act Messias Maricoa, making it the perfect crossover hit for the bongo-flava star.
Sauti Sol “Brighter Days” feat. Soweto Gospel Choir
Kenyan band Sauti Sol released their album Midnight Train this year and one of its clear standout tracks was “Brighter Days” which features the Soweto Gospel Choir. “Brighter Days” is an uplifting and optimistic track combining Sauti Sol’s signature style and gospel rhythms. The track couldn’t have come at a greater time while the world was still in a lot of confusion and despair regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.
Harmonize “Bed Room”
Earlier this year, bongo flava heavyweight Harmonize, released an 18-track album titled Afro East, the follow-up to his 2018 EP Afro Bongo. The album, which is the Tanzanian artist’s first project since leaving Diamond Platnumz’ record label, features Burna Boy, Phyno, Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi, Falz, Skales and several others. Afro East is another of Harmonize’s projects that showcases his ability to seamlessly fuse afropop with R&B and bongo flava. One of the standout joints “Bedroom,” shows off a different side of Harmonize, with it’s sensual lyrics and laidback production. He later released a star-studded remix of the track. All in all it’s been a great year for the Konde Gang leader.
Fast rising Tanzanian artist Marioo dropped a dancehall-tinged club banger called “Tikisa” and it’s one of the most replay-worthy tunes we’ve heard this year.
Nadia Mukami “Jipe” feat. Marioo
Kenyan singer Nadia Mukami finally dropped her long-awaited African Popstar EP this year. In this project she expands her audience and sound by working with new producers to create a unique sound in every track. She enlisted fast-rising bongo star Marioo on the afropop track “Jipe” which is about a couple finding love and telling off their exes. This quickly became a fan fave off the EP.
Willy Paul “Coco” feat. Avril
Kenyan artist Willy Paul releases a sentimental love song, “Coco,” alongside female artist Avril. Willy Paul delivers a stellar performance professing his undying love for his loved one. The stars each give us a glimpse of their love lives and how deeply smitten they are. Willy and his “love interest” get intimate as she combs his hair while he is seated at her feet singing “if you love someone pull them a little closer.”
Navy Kenzo & King Promise “Only One”
Navy Kenzo is a Tanzanian afropop duo consisting of Aika, a female singer and rapper, and Nahreel, a male singer and major award-winning producer from Tanzania. The dynamic duo had one of the most elaborate album roll outs this year for their sophomore album Story of the African Mob. One of the best offerings on the project is “Only One,” an uplifting afrobeats-infused love track featuring Ghanaian superstar King Promise.
Bongo flava legend, Alikiba ,released a new single “Mediocre” after another period of silence. The Tanzanian star flaunts his “king of bongo flava” status and sings about how he’s managed to be relevant over the years while other “mediocre” artists struggle to do the same.
Naiboi & Nyashinski “Black”
Kenyan rap stars Naiboi and Nyashinki teamed up for “BLACK,” a much anticipated collaboration.The upbeat banger celebrates the beauty in being black in a world where everyone is fighting the rights of black people.
Nandy turned heads in 2020 with hwe provocative banger titled “Dozi.” The bongo flava queen shows off a new side of herself on this flavorful track produced by S2kizzy. We love to see how the singer has grown into her own and become such a powerful force in the Tanzanian music scene.
Diamond Platnumz & Tanasha Donna “Gere”
They were East Africa’s most talked couple at a certain point in time. Kenyan singer Tanasha Donna and Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz, wowed fans when they released their long-awaited collaborative track “Gere.” The music video went viral within a couple of hours and it isn’t the least bit surprising—even though it faced criticism for plagiarising Brazilian singer IZA’s “Brisa” music video. Despite the couple going their separate ways soon after, “Gere” is definitely one of the standout East African tracks of the year.
Zuchu “Nobody” feat. Joeboy
After being signed to Diamond Platnumz prestigious Wasafi Records, Zuchu has been topping charts with various hit records. One of her loveliest songs of the year, “Nobody,” featured Nigerian pop star Joeboy, and the two came together to create a sensational blend of bongo flava and afrobeats rhythms.
Vinka “Love Panic”
Uganda’s top pop sensation Vinka showed off a softer side of herself with her track called “Love Panic” which explores why she always panics in the company of her lover.
Kahu$h & Chris Kaiga “Mastingo”
Kenyan hit makers Chris Kaiga and Kahu$h teamed up to release a new single and music video of “Mastingo.” In Nairobi slang, ‘stingo’ means ‘style.’ “Like that’s my style that’s my stingo. That’s how we do,” explains Chris. The duo write and deliver while blending unique rap styles on this feel-good trap anthem. This track hasn’t left the Kenyan charts since, and the pair are doing a great job ushering in the new wave of young Kenyan popstars.
Ibraah “One Night Stand” feat. Harmonize
Konde Gang’s first signee Ibraah released a new single “One Night Stand” featuring his label-boss Harmonize. This single is off Ibraah’s debut EP “Steps”, which did amazingly well in the region. The stellar EP has features from Joeboy, Skiibii and Harmonize.
Masauti & Tanasha Donna “Liar”
Masauti and Tanasha Donna’s released a massive hit song this year titled “Liar,” which samples “Liar” by Wahu, a Kenyan pop classic. We loved this powerful pop collaboration from the two breakthrough Kenyan artists.