2020 is here. An occasion for PAM to revisit the last decade’s best albums. From 2010 to 2019, here are our 80 essential albums of the decade.
It was abundantly clear at the top of the decade that the music ecosystem had changed. What was unclear was how those changes would impact the music industry at large. The old guard was tasked with negotiating a territory of streaming that didn’t play according to their rules. Record labels exerted muscle over streaming giants Spotify and Apple Music in a quest to maintain some semblance of control. Artists, on the other hand, suffered the most.
Still, in a post-2008 crisis economy, and deep into the paradox of a Fourth Industrial revolution, sublime bodies of work continued to be made – both on the continent, and throughout the African diaspora.
Ali & Toumani (2010)
Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté
It would be a crime if Ali Farka Touré didn’t appear on the list of Top Albums of the 2010s. The Malian multi-instrumentalist released his 20th project on the cusp of the decade only to be awarded the 2011 Grammy for “Best Traditional World Music Album”. Ali and Toumani features Ali on the guitar and Toumani Diabaté on the kora (a 21 string West African lute). The album was released posthumously after Touré’s death in 2006 and shows Ali at the top of his game. The two musicians intertwine musical dialectics with the fluid nature of a refined waltz. Touré forever harvesting the seeds of American blues, and Diabaté pulling water from the well of traditional Malian music, creates a luscious sound that sprouts eagerly from the intergenerational collaboration. Ali and Toumani creates an authentic and original sound-space supported by some of the world’s best studio musicians for a true masterpiece worthy of Touré’s musical legacy. – Christian Askin
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
With a bruised ego following 808s and Heartbreak – an album that intrigued its audience yet mostly disappointed its fans – Kanye returned from his Hawaii-based studio in full force, with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a 13-hit album. This album perfectly illustrates, from a clinical point of view, the producer’s megalomania and desire for omnipotence. This tendency would however worsen over the next decade. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy required nearly forty songwriters, from M.I.A. to Jay-Z via Q-Tip, RZA, DJ Premier, Common and T.I. The song “All Of The Lights” alone is co-signed by six authors and contains 14 vocal parts (among them Fergie, Elton John and Alicia Keys). An artistic accumulation typical of ultra-capitalistic logic – for a total amount of more than three million in production costs, a rather uncommon sum – that marked the return of Kanye at the top of his game and his bipolarity in 2010. – Théophile Pillault
Love and Death (2010)
With the afrobeat and psych-funk revivals, Ghanaian guitarist and composer Ebo Taylor eventually re-appeared on the European scene after more than half a century, via compilations where his songs dramatically stood out, and reissues of original albums including Twer Nyame and My Love and Music – two highlife-infused records which illustrated his abilities as “the master of groove” and “the father of funk” (whichever way you want it). Two nicknames further imprinted by the album in its resurrection, for which he teamed up with the Afrobeat Academy and one of the two Whitefield Brothers, for a pioneering label when it comes to these genres revivals. Not necessarily the most outstanding of his efforts, but an important step in the recognition of the artist born in 1936 from Cape Coast. – Jacques Denis
Waka Flocka Flame
Waka Flocka Flame is to Gucci Mane what Wez, the Mohawk-haired biker, is to Lord Humungus in Mad Max II: the crazy henchman, the rabid persecutor, the right-hand more violent than his own mentor. Now retired from the game, Waka brutalized Atlanta like no one else between 2010 and 2013. He left behind a legacy of a million and one incredible stories of beef, clashes and reconciliations around himself, the cartoonesque trap star, and his infamous crew, the Brick Squad, a label / incubator that would create, among others, Young Thug, Future, Fetty Wap, Young Dolph, Mike Will, Migos, Young Scooter, 808 Mafia (a great team of producers founded by Waka), Peewee and even Nicki Minaj. To understand the importance of this quarterback on the trap scene, watch the subtle humiliation of a Vice reporter by Waka – and Gucci, also – listen to the incredible mixtape by LeBron Flocka James 3, listen to Waka rap on the instrumental of Booba’s “Que le Hip Hop Français Repose en Paix” (“May French Hip Hop Rest In Peace”) and most importantly, choose Waka Flocka Flame’s debut studio album, Flockaveli, as your new alarm clock’s ringtone. – Théophile Pillault
The Whitefield Brothers
Nine years after vintage funk and soul album In The Raw, the two Munich-based brothers Jan and Max Weissenfeldt kick-started the new decade with a record that takes you on a tour of planet Music. Or, rather, a scavenger hunt, consisting of oriental flutes to Native American percussions, from afrobeat to hip-hop, from psychedelic arabesque to Ethiopian groove… All are fused together in this nomadic object, revealing aleatory geography and temporary orchestral formulas (Quantic, Antibalas, Dap Kings, etc.)… And despite the rich diversity of sources and guests (from Mr. Lif to Bajka, just to name a few), the project easily creates an irresistible slice of funk and soul with sonic unity. – Jacques Denis
Jamm is the first new album in five years from one of Africa’s great musical mavericks, Senegalese sufi troubadour Cheikh Lô. This is his most distinctive and personal album since his groundbreaking, Youssou N’Dour-produced debut Ne la Thiass in 1996. The dreadlocked singer’s signature blend of semi-acoustic flavours – West and Central African, funk, Cuban, flamenco – has been distilled into his most mature, focused, yet diverse statement to date. And his husky, sensual voice is sounding better than ever. “It’s a melting pot!” says Lo of the album. “It’s like a big basket, with some cheese here, some bread there, some chocolate and a cocktail on the side. There’s something for everyone.” – PAM Team
New Amerykah Part 2 (2010)
Part two of the diptych “New Amerykah” sounds like a peaceful homecoming for the mystical diva of neo soul. She leaves aside the esoteric allusions and other political and identity concepts – that served as the back-bone of the first opus – to refocus on a more personal, sentimental and stripped-down dimension of her music. A dimension rightly served by the best producers on the soulful side of hip hop: the late J Dilla – miraculously resuscitated for a few tracks – Karriem Riggins, Madlib… It is however Erykah who took the lead on these ten songs, with an artistic vision almost as sharp as she applied to her classic album Baduizm. – Simon Da Silva
Widely regarded today as one of the leaders of Tuareg music and also as one of the best guitarists in the world, Omara “Bombino” Moctar is a child of Agadez, Northern Niger’s most important city. It’s there, he started a band to celebrate life and to perform at weddings. It’s where, upon his return to the country in 2010 after yet another exile, he gave a historic performance in front of the Grand Mosque, celebrating the end of a cycle of rebellion. Lastly, it’s where he recorded, in front of a live audience, parts of his first international album. The next would be produced in the US, with North American musicians. The desert blues is rather sparse by nature, yet Bombino manages to play an even more refined version here, piercing his hypnotic songs with subtle yet powerful electric guitar riffs. Two years later, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys produced Nomad, now a contemporary classic. – Hortense Volle
The force of Wizkid’s entry was unprecedented. With his baby looks and voice, the teenager stole hearts of many, singing his way to what would be called greatness.
It is on his first album, ‘Superstar’ where his immense potential is recognized. In a time when older Afro Pop artistes like P’Square and D’banj ruled the scene, Wizkid proclaimed himself a superstar. A leap of faith, the album would later go on to be both commercially and critically acclaimed, with all its songs turning hits, and Wizkid being hailed as Nigeria’s next big thing. – Wale Owoade
Buraka Som Sistema
More accessible than its predecessor Black Diamond, the mad Lisbon-based crew Buraka Som Sistema’s second album is no less wild and galvanizing. Komba draws its inspiration from an Angolan funeral ceremony bearing the same name, the purpose of which is to honor the deceased through a seven-day intensive celebration following their death. The exacerbated celebration of life, movement and festivity creates the essence and intrigue of this album blending kuduro, techno, breakbeat and hip hop in an almost uncontrolled gesture. Featuring the insanely contagious singles “Hangover (BaBaBa)” and “(We Stay) Up All Night”, Komba has enabled “BSS” to make a lasting impression on music history, exported worldwide. – Simon Da Silva
Super Nova Samba Funk (2011)
Banda Black Rio
The mythical Rio de Janeiro-based band then led by William Magalhães (the son of the group’s first leader, Oberdan Magalhães) breathes a new air of funk and soul into Brazilian music territories with Super Nova Samba Funk. A major agent of the 1970s “Movimento Black Rio”, the band served justice to the samba-funk fusion and more broadly to Rio’s Afro-Brazilian music on this sixth feel-good album. Connecting Rio, New York and Paris together, BBR serve up hip-hop by inviting Flame Killer and GOD PT3, affiliated members of the legendary Queens-based duo Mobb Deep, while reconnecting with its samba and bossa nova roots with the additions of national icons Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Elza Soares and Seu Jorge to create bold and impressive pieces. – Simon Da Silva
Lost in Time (2012)
Khuli Chana made history with his Album of the Year win at the South African Music Awards in 2013, the first South African hip hop album to achieve that feat. This in turn heralded a mighty, four-year run during which the entire scene stretched itself further than it had before. It wouldn’t be talking out of turn to say that Khuli’s win, and the soaring moments which surrounded the album, his sophomore attempt following an uncharacteristically victorious form with his crew Morafe during the 2000s, were pivotal for that to happen. – Tseliso Monaheng
The alter ego of the Luso-Angolan Pedro Coquenão, Batida dug deep into ’70s Angolan music and extracted samples to offer a modern reinterpretation – the frenzied kuduro version. The man who defines himself neither as an artist, nor as a musician, nor as an activist but above all as a citizen of Angola and Portugal, combines the best of traditional and tribal Angolan music revised, re-edited and updated for Lisbon’s electronic music era today, a city where he has long been a resident of now. You just have to let yourself be carried away by the transcendent “Alegria” and “Bazuka” to feel the pulse of this relentless album that builds bridges between Lisbon and Luanda. – Simon Da Silva
Noir Désir (2012)
Youssoupha challenged the racist, separatist establishment in France and still maintained his razor-sharp flow. His third release, which some called “the most impressive French hip hop record of the year” when it got released in 2012, is as region-specific as it is universal. Noir Desir has it all – from bops, to genre-transcending chops, to earth-shattering flows delivered like a critical attack upon a system determined to keep oppressed people worldwide displaced and silenced. Songs like “Vienne” display his ability to ride a beat with ultimate swagger, while “Les Disques de Mon Père” (featuring his father Tabu Ley Rochereau) are a victorious re-imagining of past sounds, and a regal demonstration on how cross-generational collaboration works when one’s heart is in the right place. – Tseliso Monaheng
The genesis of this album dates back to 2007, a time when Sinkane experimented with toys that allowed him to record albums on his own. It was not until the end of 2011 and this third opus that the Brooklyn-based Sudanese refugee dared to send one of his high-energy hits to 200 people. “Jeeper Creeper” went viral and opened the doors to the label that would release Mars. Sinkane invented Caparundi, an imaginary land of refuge for all stateless people in the modern world, dispossessed of their own cultural identity. Seven years and a few albums later, he has become one of the ambassadors of his country, shaking up the worlds of jazz, pop, afrofunk, world and hip hop. An extraterrestrial voyage! – Elodie Maillot
African Time (2012)
Bra Herbie Tšoaeli is a gift and a treasure. After tunneling his distinctive bass tones on many a jazz recording of the 2000s, he released his maiden take on the sound in 2012, with a line-up that consisted of the then-emerging voices of Nduduzo Makhathini on piano, Ayanda Sikade on drums, and the crippling melodies of South African jazz’s secret weapon, Mthunzi Mvumbu, on alto saxophone. African Time is a philosophy for the future, a tribute to the past, and an urgent call to be present in the present. It transcends space and time; it lives in its own head while maintaining a close relationship to its roots – from church-inspired melodies, to songs of the mountain, to polyrhythmic patterns of the Easter Cape province. The 2013 South African Music Awards-winning offering remains one of the best albums to have emerged in recent times.
The Tel-Aviv Session (2012)
The Touré-Raichel Collective
Israeli superstar Idan Raichel and Malian guitar virtuoso Vieux Farka Touré first met at an airport in Germany in 2008 while both were on tour. From this chance encounter an artistic kinship was born, culminating in an unscripted recording session that took place one afternoon in November 2010 in a small Tel Aviv studio. Joined by Israeli bassist Yossi Fine and Malian calabash player Souleymane Kane, Idan and Vieux improvised a masterful selection of songs that capture the unbridled creativity and inspired collaboration of these four brilliant musicians. The Touré-Raichel Collective was formed and the songs they recorded are the foundation of the album The Tel Aviv Session – PAM Team
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012)
2012. All eyes were on the kid of Compton who has been climbing the popularity charts rapidly. Even though Kendrick Lamar released two other excellent records during the decade, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is definitely the one that opened the doors to hip-hop’s wall of fame. The multi-atmospheric album casts aside the West Coast’s stereotypes and restores the image of a scene then in need of rejuvenation. Kendrick Lamar speaks of his adolescence in the Compton district and settles down into a comfortable soulful and jazzy universe to deliver his flow, today instantly recognizable among thousands, propelling him into the coveted circle of contemporary rap’s greatest voices. – François Renoncourt
Chatma is Tamikrest’s third album, and also the band’s first album to be wholly written around a defined theme. In Tamashek “Chatma” means “Sisters” and the band has dedicated the album in their own words to: “the courage of the Tuareg women, who have ensured both their children’s survival and the morals of their fathers and brothers. Chatma deftly navigates these experiences and fashions them into a fully persuasive and poetic musical document. The album is filled with sober reflection, moral indignation, musical experimentation, cultural celebration and the kick of rock and roll. Fittingly for an album so lyrically evocative, Chatma also delivers Tamikrest’s most wide-screen and wide-ranging sonic statement to date. – PAM Team
Double Cup (2013)
Released in 2013, Double Cup is the first studio album by footwork musician DJ Rashad, and the sole full-length released during his lifetime. It features collaborations with DJ Spinn, Taso, DJ Phil, Manny, Earl and Addison Groove. Double Cup is a landmark Footwork album that sees traditional 808 footwork workouts throwns into collision with more recent mutations of the sound, presenting Dj Rashad most comprehensive showcase of the diversity and scene of the footwork scene.
Between rap, jungle, house, hardcore techno, and R&B, Rashad crashed down the austere barriers of genres. – PAM Team
Hôtel Univers (2013)
Jupiter & Okwess
Jupiter & Okwess international debut album Hotel Univers takes you right into the heart and onto the streets of modern day Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a politically and economically troubled country. Band leader Jupiter Bokondji is the charismatic and outstanding representative of the innovative scene of street musicians in Kinshasa. His idea is to reactivate the forgotten rhythms and melodies of Congo, by injecting the urban groove of the city. Through his music Jupiter tries to encourage people to take the future into their own hands. Instead of seeking a better future and immediate wealth by emigrating to the west, common expectations shown in many local pop music video clips, he wants people to draw from the talents they already have. “I saw how immigrants struggled in Europe and didn’t want this for my life. I wanted to make something for my country. I realized that it is my mission to bring a new sound into the Congolese music.” – Hortense Volle
Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moochile (2013)
The second part to Matana Roberts’ adventures in the land of “Coin Coin”, forming the lead character in a fresco that promises twelve chapters. The young Chicago-based saxophonist and clarinetist navigates the ghosts of American history, starting with those of her own family, to recompose a soundtrack for the future. Between the lines, she still challenges current affairs of the world in light of those past, through a resolute aesthetic. And as a solid practitioner of DIY, she signs the artwork, and of course the soundtrack, including three traditional and transfigured songs. Poignant, creative, radical… Words fail to testify the urgency of this prophecy in music, much like the divine songs of Jeremiah Abiah and the cosmic breath of Matana Roberts. – Jacques Denis
Jama ko (2013)
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
Jama ko is the title of his new offering. It means ‘big gathering of people’. Any important event in Mali be it birth, marriage or death has been accompanied by the music of the griots and Bassekou and his family are at the heart of this tradition. Jama ko is a call for unity, peace and tolerance in a time of crisis. “Jama ko, c’est pour tout le monde”, says Bassekou Kouyate, griot and celebrated ngoni player, explaining the title of his third album, “There are over 90% Muslims in Mali, but our form of Islam here has nothing to do with a radical form of Sharia: that is not our culture. We have been singing praise songs for the Prophet for hundreds of years. If the Islamists stop people music making they will rip the heart out of Mali.” No matter who you are, let us come together and enjoy life, and celebrate the true spirit of Mali. – Vladimir Cagnolari
Born and raised in the Saharawi refugee camps lining the frontier between Algeria and Western Sahara, Aziza’s music adeptly travels the expanse between her Western Saharan roots and Barcelona, the European cosmopolis where she now lives. Aziza is both a contemporary sonic poet and a prominent and eloquent spokesperson for the Saharawi people and their ongoing struggle for recognition and justice. Aziza’s debut album Soutak (“Your Voice”) is her first recording to predominantly focus on the cadence of her majestic voice and the soulful critique of her lyrics.The music on Soutak is a powerful and nuanced mixture of musical cultures and features Malian, Spanish, Cuban and contemporary Anglo-European motifs all held together by Aziza’s deeply rooted knowledge of traditional Saharawi song and sound. – Elodie Maillot
Project Elo (2014)
British label Jazzman Records has forged a reputation for itself through releasing select reissues. This does not prevent them however from also releasing new material worthy of the same interest. This was the case with the young South African drummer who follows lineage with his great elders. With In The Beginning, we cannot help but think of early 1960s Max Roach, when the North American percussionist would compose his vocal suites. Mary Lou Williams’ Black Christ of the Andes, and Yusef Lateef’s unique visions also come to mind. These influences are well assumed, as well as that of modal, polyphonic and spiritual jazz. It makes sense, with the title of the album that refers to Elohim. This does not mean that the young artist just falls into the “good disciple” category: just listen to the cry of “Slaves Emancipation” for proof. – Jacques Denis
MetaL MetaL (2014)
In the Yoruba language, Metá Metá means “three at the same time”. In the music world, it’s also a trio hailing from São Paulo, the equally crazy and creative Brazilian megalopolis: guitarist and main composer Kiko Dinucci, singer Juçara Marçal and saxophonist-flautist Thiago França formed this equilateral triangle in 2009. Between them emerged a syncretic candomblé temple updated for the post-psychedelic era, with Afro-sambist roots cooked in afrobeat sauce. Put simply, they break the conventions in the great tradition of Brazilian anthropophagite artists – the so-called Manifesto Antropófago – and ride the spirits of the orixas, drawing from them a vital Afro-punk energy, via free jazz trance excursions. – Jacques Denis
Black Messiah – (2014)
Pitchfork described this album as “a study in controlled chaos, and D’Angelo is the rare classicist able to filter the attributes of the greats in the canon into a sound distinctly his own.” The album, which was the artiste’s first since 2000’s ‘Voodoo’ was a wielding of his musical skills, employing Funk, Jazz and R&B into one sound which is robustly beautiful.
On songs like ‘Ain’t That Easy,’ ‘Really Love,’ and ‘Betray My Heart,’ D’Angelo’s mastery is confirmed, as he fuses the conventional with the experimental, fashioning a sound so uniquely his. Little wonder why music critic Robert Christgau once dubbed the man the “R&B Jesus”. – Wale Owoade
We already had a taste for the magic of rock’n’roll-fed Tamacheck guitars polished by the spirits of the desert, but Mdou Moctar pushed the genre into a new dimension! A virtuoso and bewildering left-hander, the Nigerian guitarist is also an actor (he played Prince in a “Purple Rain” of the dunes). Anar is not his first album, but it revealed “Tahoultine” to the world, an auto-tuned version of an mp3 file that all young people had on their phones from Niger to Gao via Kidal. The song caught the ear of Sahel Sounds’ director Christophe Kirkley, who eventually found Mdou in 2012, and allowed him to travel the world! – Elodie Maillot
Where We Come From (2014)
As for Vybz Kartel in 2011, his disciple, the Jamaican superstar Popcaan collaborated with American producer Dre Skull from Mixpak for his first album. Six years after his revelation comes out Where We Come From, made up of tracks produced by Dre Skull himself, with the reinforcements of Dubbel Dutch, Jamie Roberts, Anju Blaxx and Adde Instrumentals. As many producers have made him instrumental at the crossroads of pop and dancehall, powered by electro and hip-hop sounds.
In an way similar of reggae, Popcaan depicts society, its contradictions and inequalities, while keeping its positive and joyful side. He sings the struggles, the ghetto and the fast life with relentless real. – PAM Team
Da Rocinha 2 – (2014)
Filled with Brazilian samples and named after Brazil’s largest favela, the piece is far more than just a melodic appetizer to the country’s upcoming highlights such as the Carnival season and the FIFA 2014 World Cup but offers an intricate, yet smooth collage of hip-hop, baile bass, electronic and chill wave elements. Soulection quoted Sango during the release of the first Da Rocinha in saying “After spending time just searching for music outside the US, I luckily landed on some of the most influential, unique and most developed sound that has been out for quite some time. The sound I speak about is Brazil’s own, baile funk or what they call it, “funk carioca”. – PAM Team
Musique de Nuit (2015)
Vincent Segal & Ballaké Sissoko
Six years after Chamber Music (an entwined and haunting dialogue that sold close to 100,000 copies worldwide), kora player Ballaké Sissoko and cellist Vincent Segal meet again in Bamako to continue their instrumental, virtuoso and poetic conversations. The first album was recorded in the coziness of Salif Keita’s studio, the second is partly the result of an open-air night time session on the roof of the Sissoko family house. The result: a timeless record where the spirits of Mande, baroque, Brazilian, jazz and gypsy music meet. Delicate music made of touches and caresses, lulled by the furtive flight of a bat, the sound of a prayer mat being shaken or the peaceful bleating of sheep. – Hortense Volle
Named after “Ibeyi, the twins who defeated the devil with music”, according to Cuban singer Daymé Arocena, Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Díaz immediately embraced their island’s heritage with the self-titled Ibeyi, a debut album deeply inhabited by the sacred figures of Cuban santería. Initiated at a very young age to the Yoruba cult by their mother and many trips to Cuba with their late father Miguel Anga Díaz – Buena Vista Social Club’s famous conguero –, the twin sisters ushered in to their music the orishas Elegguá, Changó, Yemayá, and also Ochún, the goddess of the waters, female sexuality and change, on the song “River”. Based in Paris and at just twenty years old, the sisters made their presence felt instantly with a highly mature and meticulously crafted record: with Lisa on the keyboards, Naomi on the cajon and batá drum, Ibeyi express themselves instinctively through the textures of hip hop and electronic music. A first attempt that received a very warm reception, immediately catching the attention of the biggest names – Beyoncé amongst others – and paving the way for an international careern. – Jeanne Lacaille
From Kinshasa (2015)
Over the last decade, Staff Benda Bilili have conquered the planet with their funky rumba and their undefeatable passion for life. Created following their split, Mbongwana (“change” in Lingala) features two of Staff Benda Bilili’s dissidents and main vocalists, Coco Ngambali and Théo Nzonza, backed up by young Kinshasa-based musicians (including the talented Jean-Claude Kamina Mulodi aka R9, on the guitar). With fingers on the pulse, they soar towards new synthetic-FX-tweaked vocal paths. Audaciously twisted by the Parisian producer Liam Farrell aka Doctor L., the Congolese rumba is mightily shaken with dub waves, with notes of punk-rock and hints of trip-hop. This lunar dancefloor is addictive and offers infinite charm. – Hortense Volle
Big Sun (2015)
In full bright light. Following journeys to India and New Orleans, the talented pianist and arranger returns to Martinique, his ancestral land, to craft an object that mixes both video and music, in order to restore his own “vision of West Indies’ folkloric music”. There he collected images and sounds, raw material that he edited, stretched, and looped, playing with the effects forming repetitions of a sound, onomatopoeia, or a rhythm, capturing the poignant song of a woman on Eugène Mona’s classic track “Bwa Brilé”, or the powerful flow of a reggae love song… Enough material to compose a long suite in three movements, with a title that is an allusion to Miles Davis’ Big Fun, the master of “re-deconstruction”. A staggering trip. – Jacques Denis
Terry Riley’s C in Mali (2015)
Another unprecedented experience: In C, the musical piece written in 1964 by the North American composer Terry Riley, takes a journey to Mali for the first time under the wings of Damon Albarn, Brian Eno, and the whole Africa Express crew. This work, which has become a classic piece of minimalist and repetitive music, creates patterns that imperceptibly evolve in an infinite cycle, creating ever-changing repetitions. Suffice to say this is a description that could fit much of African trance music. Percussion, ngonis, balafons, Peul flutes and traditional Sokou violins are invited to offer a new palette to the veteran’s (Riley was born in 1935) sonic UFO textures, recorded at Bamako’s youth club. – Vladimir Cagnolari
To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
Albums that received such a level of laudatory public and critical reception in the 2010s mainstream sphere were rare. Kendrick Lamar’s monumental third album is certainly one of them. Feeling completely overwhelmed after a trip to South Africa in 2014, the Compton-based rapper returns to the North American West Coast a new man, with the firm intention of honoring his roots. Kendrick embraces the history, identity and condition of the African American community on To Pimp A Butterfly by surrounding himself with the new Californian leaders of Great Black Music, with sonic architect Terrace Martin taking the lead. A sprawling production, the 78-minute album is an uncompromising immersion into the bowels of the most ambitious and gifted rapper of his generation. The trip is certainly retrospective in terms of sounds – all the genres included exist without being reinvented – it feels above all radical, urgent, and terribly obsessive. TPAB is an album from which one does not emerge unscathed. The signature of a masterpiece. – Simon Da Silva
Some ghosts have such power that you just have to revive their presence so that they come back to haunt the works of others with their simple elegance. It was a photograph of bluesman Skip James that accompanied Northern France’s harsh winter evenings – without heating systems – and that was the fuel and the flame of this magnetic album sung in Bassa. Blick Bassy’s voice invented a captivating direction, illuminated by a painful past period of his life yet remaining furiously contemporary. The ghost of Skip James summons the memories of a childhood in Cameroon, torments, doubts, Africa, America, and above all a universal beauty through these intense emotions. A remarkable shock to the system! – Elodie Maillot
Yes Lawd (2016)
Following Venice and in particular Malibu, an early album in 2016 at the crossroads of deep soul music, hieratic gospel and organic rap flows, Anderson. Paak contends his outsider status. The Californian prodigy – at ease equally with drumsticks and a microphone – who appeared on good old Dr. Dre’s LP Compton, released an oblique album under the code name NXWorries, together with producer Knxwledge. At the boundaries of all genres, they brought together a set of 19 tracks, unreleased nor lifted from former EPs, to form a falsely autobiographical concept album. In their words – “What More Can I Say?” k- Jacques Denis
Love & Hate (2016)
First spotted with his debut track collection which earned him the status of “2012 soul music best newcomer”, the young Londoner of Ugandan ancestry confirms everything that the great ballad “Worry Walks Beside Me” had promised. Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield and Neil Young, Otis Redding and Bill Withers… references that stick to the young artist help define the quality of his work. A pop-soul songwriter inside a Danger Mouse-designed outfit – it’s the recipe for this already classic work that echoes the greatest productions of the 1970s: symphonic funk-rock, melancholic gospel-folk and stratospheric blues, everything here perfectly fits in with the retro-futuristic climate of the 2.0 world. – Jacques Denis
NoName’s Telefone is one of the most inspired female rap albums in recent memory. Coming fresh out of the budding Chicago hip hop scene and member of the prestige Pivot Gang, NoName exceeded expectations on this release.
Her flow is unique, tempered and conversational, the choice of beats is alive with chi-town inspiration, and her choice of features is out of this world. “Shadow Man” is an all-time personal favorite, the trio of features have gone so far as to create a super group on the coattails of this track named “Ghetto Sage”.
Other tracks like “Yesterday” or “Freedom Interlude” are filled to the brim with gripping imagery and tasteful accompaniment from light melodics that match perfectly with Noname’s easy-jaw flow. Expansive and touching neo-soul, jazz, and rnb, Telefone is a must for fans of the modern iterations of hip-hop. – Christian Askin
A Mulher do Fim do Mundo (2016)
The tireless 78-year-old Elza Soares, released a dark and visceral album, an alternative samba masterpiece that caught everyone off-guard. Light years away from the genre’s stereotypes, the queen of samba selected a crew of avant-garde musicians from São Paulo to compliment her hoarse vocals with distorted guitars, experimental rhythms and minimalist melodies. Spilling her guts out, the Brazilian spits out dismay and uses her wisdom to depict her country and its current issues: racism, domestic violence, addictions to sex and drugs. The painful episodes in her own life and her larger-than-life career sum up the album’s mood, in equal parts dark, powerful, melancholic… and always with intensity! – François Renoncourt
Noura Mint Seymali
Arbina is Noura Mint Seymali’s second international release. Delving deeper into the wellspring of Moorish roots, as is after all the tried and true way of the griot, the album strengthens her core sound, applying a cohesive aesthetic approach to the reinterpretation of Moorish tradition in contemporary context. Many of the songs on Arbina call out to the divine, asking for grace and protection. “Arbina” is a name for God. The album carries a message about reaching beyond oneself to an infinite spiritual source, while learning to take the finite human actions to necessary to affect reality on earth. – PAM Team
Giggs’ presence was already firmly-established in the UK by the time he released his fourth and most successful album to date. Landlord was a spit in the face of XL Recordings, who’d dropped him from its roster after releasing two of his albums – Let Em Ave It (2010), and When Will It Stop (2013). Though the album featured a string of bangers, the listeners were afforded moments of clarity and introspection from the emcee who rides across forms – from grime, to gangster rap, to drill – particularly on the cold, cutting “Just Swerving”. Landlord is as complete a body of work Giggs has managed thus far, which says a lot for an emcee who stays on his grind, bar for bar. – Tseliso Monaheng
Wisdom of Elders (2016)
Shabaka & The Ancestors
Shabaka Hutchings, the UK-based saxophonist and clarinetist, is a maven connector. His undeniable presence on the British live music scene is the hallmark for how to navigate the treacherous music industry environment many have, and are, falling victim to the whims of. He’s also a heavy-handed intellectual, a sonic instigator who maintains a nonchalant relationship with genre, and an innovator with his eye and ear forever connected to the ground. His cross-Atlantic sojourns resulted in a brotherhood called The Ancestors. Their debut offering Mzwandile shattered expectations and set the precedent for future sounds themed around the jazz tradition. With a 2020 sophomore forthcoming from Impulse Records, the next decade is already looking like a series of well-executed revolutions set to pentatonic scales and whirlwinds of fiery, fiercely radical intent. – Tseliso Monaheng
Stillness in Wonderland (2016)
Little Simz started off the decade with the Age 101 series of releases. Free-standing, experimental, and rich with content, the EPs proved vital to the emcee’s growth – both in skill, and as a way for her to learn how to navigate her way around the music industry. While 2014’s E.D.G.E and 2015’s A Curious Tale… were progress from early years, they still lacked that thing so essential to push an album’s shelf life beyond first-week hype. Those initial efforts culminated in this outstanding full length, which continues to get better with every listen some 3 years after its release efforts. – Tseliso Monaheng
Zaneliza: How The Water Moves (2016)
This debut LP from the Eastern Cape luminary has aged so well, it’s still finding a new audience some four years after it saw the light of day. Zaneliza is a body of work that grows in tandem with Msaki’s public profile. Her independent journey has been great to watch. In fact, one of the biggest songs of 2019, “Fetch your Life”, couldn’t have happened without her songwriting prowess. Buoyed by a terrific line-up of musicians, it remains an example of the greatness that results when the right heart and the right intentions are at the centre of all that one does. – Tseliso Monaheng
Bearing a density yet unseen within Beyoncé’s releases, both a complete work and an Afro-feminist manifesto, Lemonade struck hard when it was released in April 2016. Her difficulties in her relationship with Jay-Z was the initial narrative pretext of the album and the movie that goes with it, but Beyoncé also asserts herself here as a real lioness at the helm of her own emancipation, as an African-American woman, magnifying insight and references with a speech from Malcolm X, a verse by the Anglo-Somali poet Warsan Shire and Alan Lomax-recorded samples of prisoner songs. Although Lemonade was much written about when it first came out, this blockbuster release also gave birth to many children… Like Ibeyi with Ash the following year, whose subject is very much the same at heart, inviting in their turn an XXL casting of African-American artists, as well including speeches of Frida Khalo and Michelle Obama against violence on women. – Jeanne Lacaille
Simi’s sophomore effort was her first true album. The artiste’s debut, ‘Ogaju’, was gospel-rooted, and is largely unavailable today, as it fails to capture the essence of Simi’s present music. That music is founded on emotive power, and honesty. “Remind Me,” Simisola’s opener, is one of such tracks. Over a somber piano, she laments her inability to show love to strangers. It is possibly a letter to her father, to whom her third album is dedicated. Simisola relies on that emotional power of its opener throughout its fourteen songs. Simi’s voice, soft yet powerful, is only matched by her dexterous songwriting which forces you to laugh, cry and act all Simi-like with her. No wonder it won the Album of the Year category at the Headies, Nigeria’s biggest music award. – Wale Owoade
Open Letter to Adoniah (2017)
Open Letter to Adoniah is an album reverent of life and its connectedness to a higher source. The music emanates from dreams revealed to Xaba over consecutive days and most of the album was recorded live in the mountains of Magaliesberg outside Johannesburg in the winter of 2016. With percussionists Thabang Tabane and Dennis Moanganei Magagula, the trio coalesces both geographic and spiritual influences, hinting at Maskandi (a music style dominant in Xaba’s native KwaZulu-Natal) and the improvisational culture of South Africa’s jazz avant garde. Collectively, the musicians remold these influences, situating them within rhythms that span the African Continent. Thabang Tabane’s influence over the project gives it a spiritual sensibility allusive to the Malombo Music his father, the legendary Dr Philip Tabane, originated in the early 1960s. – PAM Team
In dedication to his elder sister Thuto Phoolo, Cassper Nyovest once called the album his best. Supported by the smash single “Tito Mboweni,” Thuto would later – like Cassper’s first two albums – go on to be certified Platinum.
A work rallied to classic status by critical acclaim, El Broide rated it four stars out of five, going on to call Thuto “a solid, calculated, interesting and entertaining release”.
Cassper Nyovest, with his fine lyricism, backed by quality production, drops jewels on each track. With each song, his place in African Hip Hop is cemented; the album’s commercial success still pushes the creator to mythical stature, a rapper with the traction of a pop artiste. And in the future, when his legacy is discussed, Thuto would be at the fore of such talks.. – Wale Owoade
Arise is Zara’s third album on Gilles Peterson’s Bronswood label. It’s the one she feels reverberates the most with her Caribbean roots. As she says in an interview: “I’ve always been interested in exploring a fusion of reggae music — or Jamaican music, I prefer to say — and jazz music. And I think here we’re getting closer to hearing a sound that is kind of equally between the two.” No more does is this evident than on “Fisherman”, the album’s pen-ultimate song which updates The Congos’ classic. It rounds up a compelling listen, brimming large with a line-up of the brightest minds in the UK jazz scene at the moment. – Tseliso Monaheng
Let’s be honest: the current trap 3.0 scene is made up of 80% idiots, specializing in making stupid sounds. When not busy OD’ing or sitting down with the FBI, the mumble rappers main aim is to blow up YouTube view counts. The scandals break out one after another, the music does not really improve and, even in Atlanta – the homeland of the genre – the movement is troubled. Luckily, a handful of milestones were laid before trap self-destructed. Like Migos’ LP Culture released in 2017. In thirteen tracks, the three (a)Migos reorganized the entire geography of the United States, and placed the South back at the top of the music industry: body paralyzing instrumentals, falsely simplistic lyrics yet highly referenced, a science for vocal arrangements pushed to its limits – the Migos ad-libs sometimes compose the whole melody, an absolutely surreal technical feat. From “T-Shirt” to “Bad and Boujee”(which blew up Lil Uzi Vert) and “Slippery”, featuring mogul Gucci Mane… This album literally stands out from the whole crowd, and is the perfect gateway to the vast Atlanta scene, with all generations combined. – Théophile Pillault
Black Origami (2017)
American producer Jerilynn Patton, aka Jlin, already shaken the footwork scene in 2015 with her first album, Dark Energy. Even one of her tracks was played by Aphex Twin in 2016 while his big comeback. This is not surprising as Aphex is a close friend to Planet Mu’s boss, Mike Paradinas. With Black Origami, Jlin takes footwork — electronic music style as well as street dance from Chicago — to new lands : “I view footwork as an African based modern dance music that fits this era in time. The music itself is based out of Chicago, but the root is based out Africa.” Her explosive and hostile percussions, sometimes inspired by those of West Africa, blows you away as if we were at the middle of a frenetic ritual… in the year 3019. – PAM Team
Playing the ivories has become the key foundation of Sampha’s personal development. In his own world, the piano is one of the few things that has always been around. “No one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home / You would show me I had something some people call a soul” he sings on “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”.
The loss of his mother, who died of cancer, left deep emotional wounds in him, and can be clearly heard.– PAM Team
Mogoya, marks the awaited comeback of diva Oumou Sangaré since her last album in 2009. The Malian singer tackles issues she’s known best for years, human relations – “mogoya” could translate as “today’s human relations”. The lyrics cover the issues African women encounter in their daily lies, and the generally tense situations they have deal with when being in a man’s world.
Yet, Mogoya is also a true turning point: it’s a modern and new path for the traditional artist, as the album also flirts with electronic music. The message it transmits and its desire to talk to various generations is a strong show of commitment.
“Electronic music is what makes Africa dance”, says Oumou. “We need to maintain music from the past. But as I was using these old grooves, the youth were telling me: ‘when are we gonna dance to Oumou’s tracks in the clubs?’ Then I started to think of what I could do for them, without altering my music. And when I heard A.L.B.E.R.T.’s arrangements, I knew this was it! I was responding to the youth’s desires. And this is just beautiful!” – Vladimir Cagnolari
Following his towering debut offering Dread and Terrible, which was the logical step after a couple of years building a buzz through mixtapes and collaborations, Chronology arrives like a prophecy fulfilled. On the album, the striving vocal tones of reggae music’s rebel, whose philosophy closely resembles that of the late, great Peter Tosh, lilts atop riddims that range from straight-ahead roots reggae (“Skankin’ Sweet”), to hip hop (“Selassie Children”), to ska (“Majesty”), and hints of gospel, electronic music, and much more. His art is an inspiration to ghetto youths worldwide to keep moving, keep fighting, and keep striving. – Tseliso Monaheng
Trio Da Kali & Kronos Quartet
Ladilikan is the unique collaboration between a famously reckless string quartet and a Malian trio, birthed from the tradition of the griots. Author of around fifty albums featuring renowned artists such as Rokia Traoré or Taraf de Haïdouks, it’s no surprise the Kronos Quartet came together with Trio Da Kali’s delicate chant, balafon and n’goni, for an ephemeral project. Together, the seven artists managed to find an almost spiritual balance between Mande and classical music. On this disconcertingly beautiful album, the two universes coexist and the combination reaches its climax when the voice of Hawa Diabaté (Kassé Mady’s daughter) floats over the lyrical flights of the North American quartet’s violins and cellos. An essential one-take release. – François Renoncourt
Gulu city anthems (2017)
At first glance, Otim Alpha’s music may come across like the compulsive delirium of a wedding singer who discovered a drum machine in the attic. Upon closer inspection, the former boxer turned musician appropriates and brilliantly distorts the acholi songs played by the larakaraka wedding orchestras. Supported by the producer Leo Palayeng, the representative for the city of Gulu puts the Ugandan traditions into an electronic turbine to produce club-crafted bangers. Once again, Nyege Nyege Tapes, a label with endless horizons and creativity, put East Africa at the center of the world’s attention with this 11-track compilation that makes you lose your mind and leads you into an irresistible trance. – François Renoncourt
Your Queen Is A Reptile (2017)
Sons Of Kemet
After the release of Wisdom of the Elders, a stellar album that shakes up the codes of jazz, Shabaka is back, this time with his first-ever band, Sons Of Kemet: two drums, one sax and one snorkel. In this new album, they decided to revisit history in order to pay a tribute to its Queens, its Black Queens (Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman, Nanny of the Marroon from Jamaica, Yaa Asantewa from Ghana, Albertina Sisulu…) as opposed to the Queen of England, a symbol of oppression… Shabaka still flouts the conventions of jazz, oscillating between rap, calypso, dub or even spoken word. We travel between the New Orleans, the Caribbean and the Middle East. With Your Queen Is A Reptile, Shabaka offers his own way of looking at the past and history.
IIII + IIII (2017)
Ife is a city located in the south-west of Nigeria. It stands for “love” or “affection” in the Yoruba language. ÌFÉ is also a Puerto Rico-based band that was founded by Otura Mun, mixing Cuban rumba, electronic sounds and Yoruba traditional music.
Texas-born Otura Mun is an African-American professional musician and musicologist who decided to settle in Puerto Rico in 1999. He quickly became a key figure in the local scene, and produced singer Mima and the band Cultura Profética. He was trained in santería, the cult of the orishas – saints – originating from Africa and brought and maintained by the slaves communities in Cuba and Brazil.
The beauty of ÌFÉ’s music lies in the details, as heard on “House Of Love”. The groove is based on a traditional Afro-Cuban rumba rhythmic pattern, blended with Jamaican dancehall rhythm signature, thus creating a unique and subtle sound.
III + III is an album that takes root in tradition, to which ÌFÉ brings a unique touch, creating a futuristic sound that seems to have propelled the band into an unlimited creativity source. – PAM Team
Dakhla Sahara Session (2017)
Group Doueh & Cheveu
Dakhla Sahara Session is the unvarnished anti-”world music” account of a rough, complex and laborious encounter between two very different bands: Group Doueh and Cheveu. The latter perform along the routes of the European punk, the French prisons and the rehearsal basements of Paris’ suburbs, while the former travel in the Mauritanian desert, the Sahrawi weddings and the music room of the family house. This very encounter was meant to give a hard time to the producer of the album, JB, whose label Born Bad is more used to releasing pop-formatted records, though generally sounding very punk, post punk or unclassifiable – as Cheveu are. This album takes the listener right into a 10-day human epic odyssey, passing through its attempts, failures and moments of grace. This album speaks for the musicians and says: “we spilled our guts out, we reached complete exhaustion and total freedom in this illogical, unprepared and expectation-free encounter. We made it, both happy and tired, and we provide as evidence this 42-minute long musical trance, free of pretension but full of emotion.” – Kino Sousa
Bamba Pana is one of the leading producers of Sisso Records – a central hub for MC and Singeli Stage producers in the Mburahati Ghetto on the outskirts of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. An exciting scene carried by the prolific collective Nyege Nyege, spearhead of a music that disrupts established codes. With her peers, Jumanne Ramadhani Zegge aka. Bamba Pana revisits the singeli (local music in Tanzania) using her laptop and software introducing uptempo rhythms (usually at 150 bpm) and catchy synth melodies. Difficult to describe, it could be akin to kuduro or a Tanzanian grime. It’s addictive: nine titles that shouldn’t let you sit on your chair. Fire! – PAM Team
137 Avenue Kaniama (2018)
Baloji arranged and infused his fourth album with agitation sometimes sensitive, sometimes raging. The strings of the violin meet rumba, trap blends with bikutsi and afrobeat and electronic music is fused to create the palette for the artist’s flow. A singer-songwriter, the “overseas Congolese” is, primarily, a poet as well as a rapper and sample lover, with a unique talent for storytelling, who continues to take a critical view of his country’s politics and more broadly on those of his continent of origin. A special mention for “Peau de Chagrin – Bleu de Nuit” a magnificent text on carnal pleasure which also evokes this turning moment – climax – they call “little death”. – Hortense Volle
Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales (2018)
It is primarily in his Nairobi studio that this influential man of the Kenyan underground, and pillar of the Just A Band collective recorded his first opus: twelve groovy tracks (falling somewhere between rap, funk, nu soul and electro) which give prominence to the exuberant Kenyan urban scene (Muthoni Drummer Queen, Sage…) and more broadly afrocentric (Petite Noir, Sampa the Great, Nneka). A feel good album sung in English and Swahili which owes its consistency to the haunting flow of this prolific experimenter and to its impeccable production. A special mention goes out to the songs “Atenshan”, “Don’t Worry”, “Mungu Halili” (“God does not sleep”) and “Showdown”. – Hortense Volle
Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun (2018)
Ben Lamar Gay
The result of a selection of seven records published on the internet since 2010, this album offered everything that underpins “Great Black Music”, an expression coined by Chicago’s avant-garde communities of the 1960s. A rather logical sound palette, completed by Ben Lamar Gay, gifted instrumentalist – cornetist, singer, keyboardist, flautist, who plays the ngoni too – born in 1978 on the South Side, then the creative epicenter of “the Windy City”, where his singularity first expressed itself within graffiti crews, then to the electronic music field. “But blues music is behind everything!” Even when he goes to Brazil, this sound hunter tracks down this spirit – the original sound that creates days that swing in a new way. – Jacques Denis
Following her 2017 debut EP, the producer and DJ member of the Arabstazy collective has continued the adventure with French label InFiné for her album titled “Khonnar”. Pronounced “Ronnar”, it is an untranslatable Tunisian word that evokes the dark, shameful and disturbing side of things, is a kick in the anthill of the morbid consensus, a tidal wave through the murky waters of obscurantism, which highlights what we usually seek, on the contrary, to hide. With application and determination, Deena sticks our noses in what we naively believed was under rug swept: that is the Khonnar. – PAM Team
Tomorrow Comes the Harvest (2018)
Tony Allen & Jeff Mills
Tony Allen and Jeff Mills’ collaboration on Tomorrow Comes the Harvest is an afro-electro fanboy’s dream come true. The 10 track album clocking in at just over an hour is nothing short of extraordinary. The percussions are insanely clean, the production is immersive, and the groove is something that can only be refined for years of dedication to songwriting; not surprising for Fela Kuti’s former drummer and procreator of afrobeat alongside the future facing electro magician Jeff Mills.
There is a profundity in the poetry interlaced throughout, the choice of harmonics and musical associations. Jeff Mills and Tony Allen are known for their audacious yet realistic musical reach, and here you feel that stretch deep in your ears and down into your spinal-chord. While the virtuosos may leave us wanting more, and struggling with the compromise they reached to achieve the collaboration, tracks like “Locked and Loaded” are pure bliss, sure to go on repeat with maximum pleasure. – Christian Askin
CARE FOR ME (2018)
Saba’s 2018 album CARE FOR ME is a powerful meditation on loss, grief, and urban violence. The album recounts the inspiring life and tragic death of Saba’s cousin, friend, mentor, and co-collaborator Walter Long Jr..
The album is immersive and cerebral and allows listeners directly into Saba’s headspace as he wrestles with the demons of depression and anger.
On “LIFE” is perhaps the most raw and disturbing track on the album, Saba sings,
“I got angels runnin’ ‘way, I got demons huntin’ me
I know ‘Pac was 25, I know Jesus 33
I tell Death to keep a distance, I think he obsessed with me.”
Talking about the track Saba notes that’s a theme throughout the song, and throughout the album even, just trying to do as much as possible in as little amount of time…
It’s safe to say that Saba has accomplished that on his ten-track album, taking a Shakespearean tour of human emotion and experience. – Christian Askin
The Electro Maloya Experiments of Jako Maron (2018)
Born in 1968 in Saint Denis, La Reunion, Jako Maron developed an interest in electronic music composition from the late 90’s and for the last 15 years began experimenting with the tertiary and binary beats of Maloya music via modular synthesis and drum machines. The album The electro Maloya experiments of Jako Maron compiles for the first time his electro-Maloya experiments. Traditional Maloya described the songs, music and dances of slaves of sugar plantations of Réunion Island in the 17th Century – Maloya ceremonies paid tribute to ancestors and mediated between the living and the dead. The music and culture began to be more widely accepted by Réunionese society from the 1930s as folklorist Georges Fourcade began to play Maloya songs. By the ‘50s, Maloya tracks were appearing on 78rpm releases and, in the ‘60s, it was used as a form of cultural protest music. In the mid-‘70s, a new generation began exploring new directions in the music, using Créole language and may different styles of Maloya music emerged. Jako Maron explores the full spectrum of these styles through his electronic re-interpretations of his native lands music.
You Will Not Die (2018)
“You Will Not Die is a stand-off with death. Staring at something that I know I am deeply afraid of. And I know that it’s ridiculous to fear death because what can be done? Absolutely nothing,” said South Africa-born, London-based musician, actor and novelist Nakhane of his sophomore full length. The album peeled off layers of doubt and cast knowing stares in the face of trepidation and fear. Sonically, it soared; the product of Ben Christophers’ (Bat For Lashes, Tory Amos) well-attuned ear. Compositionally, Nakhane stretched himself past what he’d hitherto managed to excavate from his experiences on his previous efforts – Brave Confusion (2013), and the EP Violent Measures (2015). – Tseliso Monaheng
We Out Here (2019)
We Out Here captures a moment where genre markers matter less than raw, focused energy. Surveying the album’s running order, it could easily serve as a name-checking exercise for some of London’s most-tipped and hardworking bands of the past couple of years. Recorded across three long, fruitful days in a North West London studio, the results speak for themselves: they’re a window into the wide-eyed future of London’s musical underground.
The album bottles up some of the vital ideas emanating from that burgeoning movement. A reflection of how London’s jazz-influenced music has reached outward into new spaces, the sound of the record draws from a wide pool. There’s plenty of crossover between each of the groups, too, speaking to the close-knit circles which make up the scene. – PAM Team
Orquesta Akokan (2018)
Recorded in the Cuban capital, in the legendary Areito Studio, it brings together, in addition to the trio, pianist Cesar “Pupy” Pedrosa (Los Van Van), the saxophone section of the famous Irakere and the percussionists of NG La Banda. In short, it’s the crème de la crème, but that does not necessarily guarantee a good record. But Orquesta Akokán, also the name of the album, proves to be a magnificent tribute to a musical color and to an era whose music had seemingly disappeared without a trace following the death of its shining stars like Arsenio Rodriguez, Prado Perez, Benny Moré, and Israel Lopez Cachao… The Orquesta Akokán dabbles in the Cuban repertoire, with rumba and bolero, and also pays tribute to Elegua the deity of caminos, who opens or closes all roads and paths. Throughout the different styles, there is always special care given to the sound – Vladimir Cagnolari
African Giant (2019)
Burna Boy’s 2019 album wasn’t planned. In an interview, the Port Harcourt-born Nigerian artiste said that after the Coachella incident (he protested against the small font used to display his name), he scrapped an album he was making (Reckless & Sweet) and began recording African Giant. The album was bolstered by Burna Boy’s growing influence in political issues, as some of the songs on the album (“Another Story” and “Collateral Damage”) dabble in. More especially, it was a return to Africa, as Burna flexes his ability to own the Afrobeats sound, incorporating Fela-esque adlibs and brashly authoritative songwriting to vividly portray strong emotions. African Giant is being hailed as a potential classic. It is easy to see why: it is Burna Boy (arguably the greatest talent of his generation) at his artistic and calculative best, putting out a quality album so rooted in the present, but serving itself up as a potential history reference for listeners of the future. – Wale Owoade
KOKOKO! is the Democratic Republic of Congo’s breakout group of the year with their hit album Fongola. Fongola is a chaotic collision of creative energy spilling forth with traditional Congolese rhythm and lo-fi electronics. The group uses scraps from the city streets to meld instruments with crude yet hypnotic sounds, fused together by makeshift synthesisers and the shouting chorus of the group members. Tracks like “Buka Dansa” blend seamlessly the grit of African street performance with the spellbinding waves of deep synths. “Zala Mayele” languors with iridescent flavour while “Azo Toke” takes minimalist dance into the chaos of the Kinshasa underground. The whole work is bubbling with frustration, release and hypnotism. KOKOKO! has even created new terms to define their genre bending rhythm, calling their work “tekno kintueni” or “zagué” in Lingala. A must listen for the soundtrack of tomorrow’s African alternative scene. “Everything has a sound and many you can recognize, the varnish street sellers bouncing the little bottles with their own rhythms, the cigarette sellers with the elastics sounds, Kinshasa is a city you listen to.” KOKOKO! – Christian Askin
All My Relations (2019)
For American saxophonist Cochemea Gastelum, it seems that the world today needs unity, peace, love and harmony between all forms of life. This is what can be heard in All My Relations, his second solo album released in 2019 on Daptone Records, and whose title quotes a Lakota prayer – from a Native American tribe. After playing with Sharon Jones, Public Enemy, Archie Shepp, David Byrne and Amy Winehouse, Cochemea decided to reconnect with his spirituality, his roots and his Native American ancestors – the Yaqui people of today’s Northern Mexico. Cochemea, the man whose name literally means “they were killed in their sleep”, grew up with his mother, surrounded by the music of Alice Coltrane and Charlie Parker. When he finally reconnected with his father’s side, he discovered a family of urban Native Americans living in Southern California! Cochemea then entered the world of pow wows (Native American gatherings), and came to learn that he descends from a long line of musicians and began to devour the texts of Vine Deloria and has since shaped a strong taste for Native political concepts. – Jeanne Lacaille
Mayra Andrade’s third album is her smoothest and most coherent piece of work to date. While Navega and Storia, storia were raw expressions of her diverse musical roots, Manga is an effortless fusion of afrobeat, urban music, and traditional Cape Verdean rhythms. After growing up in Cuba, Cap Verde, Senegal, France, and Portugal, Manga is Mayra’s modern exploration of these diverse influences. Incorporating popular production techniques like autotune and synthesisers not found in her earlier works, Mayra is able to “color (her) voice the way we color the sound of a guitar.” Tracks like the opener “Afeto” embody this new artistic direction, while “Plena” is a softer meditation on the frontiers of her new sound. In all, the result is flawless; sweet as mangos sitting perfectly in time; an ideal listen for those delicious warm summer moments.– Christian Askin
The infectious and innovative Goldlink released Diaspora in June of 2019 to finish off the decade of growing interest in African and world music. Goldlink has always been ahead of the curve with his unique flow and R&B fused hip-hop, but here he has taken a leap into the blooming world of acrobats. He isn’t alone, featuring an Allstar and jam-packed selection of features including Pusha T, Tyler, the Creator, Khalid, Wizkid, Jay Prince, Bibi Bourelly, WSTRN, Jackson Wang, Maleek Berry, Ari PenSmith, Lil Nei and WaveIQ. His pre-release single “Zulu Screams” is a track that could’ve been pulled straight off Burna Boy’s African Giant. “No Lie” featuring the Nigerian pop star WizKid, is a sweet blend of Southern trap and African resonance. Goldlink finds a way to blend his hometown inspirations with the growing Afro phenomenon without appropriating, instead bringing more to the conversation and making one killer album. – Christian Askin
Cartas Na Manga (2019)
DJ Nigga Fox
It is difficult to choose a single release from the prolific catalogue of Lisbon-based label Príncipe Discos has set out to conquer international dancefloors with an irresistible sound signature: the “batida”. One of the most striking is undoubtedly the last of piece from DJ Nigga Fox released in 2019. As announced in the title, Cartas Na Manga (“An ace up my sleeve”), the Afro-Portuguese producer tricks us with new assets, making cohabited concrete music and acidulous melodies within quirky rhythmic foundations. An organized mess that plunges us like never before into the psychedelic universe of mad magician Nigga Fox, a laboratory in which the elements clash and make gush grooves as paradoxical as unpredictable. – PAM Team
Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, the Creator is known to be a provocateur. His music reflects this core of his person: the irrepressible desire to challenge what is considered normal.
His latest album, ‘IGOR,’ has been hailed as his best yet. The project, which takes on an alter ego (Igor) is Tyler being as emotionally sensitive as he could be. An album that has been described as “an impressionistic romp through a fog of stylistic references,” it plays to Tyler’s strength to put a finger on the elusive, and on the flip side, make the simple more complex. – Wale Owoade
Legacy! Legacy! (2019)
Legacy! Legacy! sounds like an insistent cry from the heart, pleading us to delve into our personal history and origins. The second album by the Chicago-based poet, singer and activist cleverly combines incisive political comments with deep introspection. Throughout the eleven songs, Jamila reinvests the legacy left by non-White pioneering artists such as Frida Khalo and James Baldwin, and creates a voice for Afro-feminist self-love, whose sublime character grows throughout the tracklist. “I’m not your typical girl,” she proclaims with strength before the lyrical flight of “Betty”’s chorus, in the remarkable opening of the album. The musical heritage of her city, Chicago, reveals itself in every single composition courtesy of her executive producer, Slot-A. From footwork to radiant soul, via urgently contemporary R&B, Legacy! Legacy! is no doubt a model album where commitment, love and anger are blended with and refined. – Simon Da Silva
RWANDA, you should be loved (2019)
The Good Ones
One of 2019’s emotional highlights comes from three Rwandan farmers who offer the most stripped down of albums based on vocals, guitars and percussion, alongside a handful of Western artists. It may be their third album, however their music exudes the innocence of a first attempt recorded on the fly, as if they just picked up their guitars and hit “record” without prior rehearsal. Recorded live, without any additional processing on their leader Adrien’s family farm, RWANDA, you should be loved is a life lesson made up of tragedies, suffering and love. The “Good Ones” are certainly survivors: the trees surrounding this very farm served as a hiding place for their escape of the genocide. And this terrifying experience gave birth to a positive and authentic music, capable of bringing tears to the most hardened of souls… – François Renoncourt