Despite the pandemic 2021 could be described as one of the best years for East African Music in a long time.
According to okayafrica.com, artists from the region have broken boundaries, signed better deals, and set their sights higher than ever before. It’s been beautiful to see new East African pop royalty rise in the likes of Zuchu, with her ground-breaking early year hit “Sukari” or Nviiri the Storyteller who nearly always tops the Kenyan charts with his incredibly relatable singles.
Another artist who really solidified his position in Tanzanian pop this year is Marioo and it’s been exciting to watch his steady rise since his 2020 monster amapiano hit “Mama Amina” with Sho Madjozi and Bontle Smith. While our beloved OGs did not disappoint, 2021 was definitely the year for the newcomers.
We also saw an improvement in the quality of production, music videos and more ambitious international collaborations. Diamond Platnumz leveraged a million dollar distribution deal from Ziiki Media Company, a huge feat for his dominating record label WCB Wasafi and for Tanzanian music in general. The Tanzanian and South African connection also brought about many monster amapiano-influenced hits while Kenyans embraced R&B to the max this year with the rise of soulful powerhouses like Nikita Kering and Xenia Mannaseh.
All in all East African artists really challenged themselves this year and did not take “no” for an answer. We can’t wait to see them take more of this energy into the new year and create more amazing music and pop culture moments.
Here are our picks for the Best East African Songs of the Year. Listed in no particular order.
Boutross ‘Yea Yea Yea’
Popular Kenyan shrap music pioneer Boutross came through early in the year with a catchy trap-influenced banger titled “Yea Yea Yea.” With its colourful music video and catchy lyrics, this track captured the mood of Nairobi’s younger generation culminating in a chart-topping, TikTok trending moment for the rapper.
Tanzanian bongo princess Zuchu continued her winning streak with a new hit to start off the year. “Sukari” is a sweet love song about a love that is as sweet as “sukari” (sugar) that you can’t get enough of. This is arguably the biggest hit from the region so far in 2021, transforming Zuchu from promising newcomer to a bonafide bongo flava superstar.
Tanzanian heavyweight Harmonize added another banger to his string of recent amapiano hits with new track “Teacher.” This track is part of his newest album “High School” which saw him widen his spectrum of sounds and collaborate with the likes of Busiswa and Naira Marley with more English-speaking songs.. In “Teacher” he boasts about being the master of this style in the region and that others should continue to imitate him.
Azawi ‘My Year’
Swangz Avenue artist Azawi achieved hitmaker status with her track “My Year.” The track is clearly a favorite in Uganda which is unsurprising with its infectious dancehall-tinged beat. It set the tone for Azawi’s highly anticipated album “African Music” which dropped in October.
Nviiri the Storyteller ‘Niko Sawa’ ft. Bien
Sol Generation artist Nviiri the Storyteller released his debut EP Kitenge earlier this year. His track with label boss Bien Aime Baraza of Sauti Sol, “Niko Sawa,” has remained at high positions in the Kenyan Apple Music chart since its release.
The 6-track EP features other Kenyan heavyweights like Sanaipei Tande, Khaligraph Jones, Sauti Sol and Bensoul and it’s an amazing project from the “Pombe Sigara” hitmaker.
Nikita Kering’ ‘Ex’
Nikita’s first release in the year 2021 gave us a taste of what to expect in her debut EP A Side Of Me.The 7-track EP takes you through a journey that only Nikita, in her own words, can relay to us with a voice of the angels. “Ex” is probably the most recognizable song of the year in Kenya, and it bagged the 19-year-old star two Afrimma Awards this year as well.
Bien x Aaron Rimbui ‘Bald Men Anthem’
Prolific Kenyan musicians Bien-Aime Baraza from Sauti Sol and Aaron Rimbui released their joint single titled “Bald Men Anthem,” a track that boasts how bald men are better lovers. The great chemistry between these two artists ensures that a playful and catchy record is the result. The release is the first off of the duo’s EP dubbed Bald Men Love Better.
Mbosso ft. Diamond Platnumz ‘Baikoko’
WCB Wasafi star Mbosso collaborated with his label boss Diamond Platnumz on a more upbeat single “Baikoko” this year from his new album titled, Definition of Love. The song was an instant hit with its catchy melodies and this is the year Mbosso truly broke out as a bonafide bongo flava star in East Africa.
Legendary Bongo-flava star Alikiba made his return with a new track titled “Infidele” produced by Yogo beats and under Kiba’s record label Kings Music Records.This came after his highly successful collaborations in 2020 with Tanzanian singer Nandy and producer, DJ Sbu, of South Africa.
Marioo ‘Beer Tamu’ ft. Tyler ICU, Visca & Abbah Process
Young Tanzanian fast-rising artist and “Mama Amina ” hit song maker Marioo released another amazing amapiano banger titled “Beer Tamu ” featuring Abbah Process, Tyler ICU and Visca. “Beer Tamu” is a club banger joint that will definitely get you warmed up at the club.
Diamond Platnumz ‘IYO’ ft. Focalistic, Mapara A Jazz & Ntosh Gazi
Tanzanian superstar and WCB Wasafi founder Diamond Platnumz dabbled in the trendy amapiano sound collaborating with hit-making South African act Focalistic on this fiery banger titled “Iyo” featuring Mapara A Jazz and Ntosh Gazi. This is definitely one of the most popular tracks out of East Africa this year.
SilversTone Barz ft. Boutross – IF IT’S ON
Fast-rising Kenyan rap princess Silverstone Barz dropped a fresh single “If It’s On” featuring shrap pioneer Boutross in August. This track is catchy and great for a party vibe. Silverstone is looking to take over Kenyan rap in the next couple of months and her new “Don Bother” EP really put her in a great spot as East Africa’s freshest face of rap music.
Nimco Happy ‘Isii Nafta (Love You More Than My Life)’
Somalian singer, Nimco Happy, had a career-changing moment when her track “Isii Nafta (Love you more than my life)” went viral on TikTok this year. The upbeat pop track has swarmed online spaces and had people from all over the world lip-syncing the lyrics. The hit single has been around for five years and is popularly played at weddings and other formal events but it’s notoriety on TikTok brought it to the world stage culminating in Nimco even signing a deal with Polydor Records, a subsidiary of Universal.
Spice Diana X Fik Fameica ‘Ready’
Ugandan pop sensation Spice Diana continued her solid run with a new single “Ready” featuring popular rapper Fik Fameica. This collaboration is long overdue for the two peers who are steadily taking over in Ugandan music. Spice Diana has been consistent over the last two years and is definitely looking to be the next big star in Ugandan pop music.
H_art The Band ‘My Jaber’ ft. Brizy Annechild
Kenyan boy band H_art the Band released their smash hit single “My Jaber” this year from their Simple Man album which is a story about love, resilience, following your dreams, and life — the never-ending journey. This track is a favorite for Kenyans of all ages and was definitely a number one pick at many weddings.
Karun ‘Catch A Vibe’
Kenyan singer Karun released her Catch A Vibe EP this year and, in its the title track, she addresses love, blessings and achievements in life. This feel-good tune was definitely one of the favorites off the EP and gave the singer her shining moment in 2021.
Konde music gang artist Ibraah stayed consistent in his latest track,”Hayakuhusu,” which is stirring the streets with its beautiful bongo instrumentation and provocative lyrics, directed at other Tanzanian music industry elite.
Chris Kaiga ‘I Want’ ft. Mutoriah.
Chris Kaiga is one of Kenya’s fastest rising stars. His hit song “I Want” is a feel-good jam that follows a young man’s quest for love and all the challenges he faces along the way. The song also alludes to a common Kenyan playground rhyme “I Want I Want” that brings on the nostalgia for the audience and made the song instantly catchy and memorable. We can’t wait to see what this talented star has in store for us in 2022.
Bensoul ‘Nairobi’ ft Sauti Sol, Nviiri the Storyteller, Mejja
Sol Generation artist Bensoul secured the number one spot on the charts earlier in the year with his popular single “Nairobi” featuring Sauti Sol, Nviiri the storyteller and Mejja. This track tells the truth about the Nairobi dating scene and how everyone is sharing their partner with someone else.
Tanzanian’s Nandy dropped a new single from her amazing “Taste” EP this year. The new track “Nimekuzoea,” produced by Kimambo, is groovy and definitely more upbeat than her previous releases. The smash hit single was accompanied by a vibrant new music video shot in Soweto, South Africa.