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The 10 best albums of April 2023

Every month, PAM browses the pan-African scenes to offer a selection of ten fresh releases. This April we're dancing to DJ Danifox's rhythms, vibing to Mau from Nowhere's lyrics and time travelling with Les Abranis.

5th Dimension


Ghanaian reggae and Afro-pop star Stonebwoy has entered the 5th Dimension with his latest star-studded, 17 track album. Stonebwoy has been slowly perfecting his brew of “afro-dancehall or African dancehall”, a fusion of Afrobeats and dancehall sprinkled with touches of reggae, soca, R&B and hiplife and more recently the log-drums of amapiano as on the standout single “Far Away”. In an interview with Pan African Music in 2020, Stonebwoy expressed this confluence of inspiration as such; “I’m like a diamond being refined now. I’m at the junction of my influences, inspirations, identity and ambitions. In the last ten years, I have found a way to grow up spiritually alongside with my music, it’s a growth process. Today I’m able to celebrate my ethnicity. From being a son of the soil of Africa, in this world where people are lost, you really have to know where your roots are, to acknowledge them and to spread the diversity of our cultures.” Now, as the Ghanaian superstar is able to bring together the Nigerian vanguard with Oxlade and Tiwa Savage on “Therapy” or UK rappers like Stormzy and Dexta Daps, South African DJ Maphorisa, or major figures like Angelique Kidjo and Shaggy, Stonebwoy is taking his “junction of influences” to the mainstage. Drifting between soft love ballads, or the heavier low-key dancehall in “Run AM”, the artist is still trying something new with amapiano bangers like “Apotheke”. A pan-African milestone in the artist’s diamond laced career. 

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Amazigh Freedom Rock 1973-1983

Les Abranis

The Abranis, true pioneers of Algerian music, were the first to blend traditional Berber music with rock, folk, disco and funk, while proudly celebrating their Kabyle heritage. Amazigh Freedom Rock 1973-1983 follows the 2018 release of a debut single “Chenar le Blues / Avehri” released by Bongo Joe . This compilation offers a comprehensive look at the Abranis’ discography, from the garage-rock experimentations of their early days to the fusion masterpieces of the 1980s. The band experimented with mixing Kabyle vocals and melodies with garage and psych-rock. Before moving further and further away from the garage and psychedelia of the early days, and starting to interpret their Kabyle repertoire in a freer and more creative way mixing kraut-rock, prog rock and electro sounds. On 11 energizing tracks, Amazigh Freedom Rock 1973-1983 pays tribute to the musical strength of the Abranis and highlights their legacy as the underground kings of Kabyle rock. It is once again Bongo Joe who brings the band up to date with this reissue.

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Dj Danifox

Príncipe mainstay DJ Danifox releases his first “official” album Ansiedade after what feels like a relentless string of EPs, singles and collaborations. The revolutionary batida outfit that’s been breaking dancefloors with hypnotic sets has found the soul-speaking experimental love-child in DJ Danifox’s work. From the opening track, Danifox’s batida productions have a smoother tint than that of the ghetto-club sounds of Marfox or the bouncy sample-heavy productions of DJ Lycox. Instead, tracks like “Parça” and “Ilha dos Bruxos” float on island air that accentuate Danifox’s gentle minimalism. Lyrics sprinkle the tracks as repetitive instrumentation rather than conceptual signposts. Asiedade, while it leaves and breathes a DIY energy in the sound samples and choice of noise, has a staggeringly clean production that presents the sometimes lo-fi, sometimes out-of-the-box presets and deliberate choices rather than an expression of means. “Gentleman” is beautifully complex in its simplicity and tracks always feel on the verge of flight, ready to slam into a club banger or drift away into the ether. Listen to “Tarraxo” for a sense of the evaporative, “Mar Vista” for the experimental and “Chopper” for the closest thing you’re going to get to a dancefloor hit. Surprisingly calm for an album entitled “Anxiety”, perhaps the anxious energy is derived from the constant in-between that these productions play with, at once meditative and harrowing. 

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Mille morceaux 

DJ Finale

DJ Finale is part of Fulu Miziki, a Congolese eco-friendly-afro- futuristic collective who reuses waste materials to make experimental musical instruments. He goes dives into DRC’s musical history to bring to life hybrid dance tunes. Using soukouss and kwassa kwassa, DJ Finale revisits the styles while keeping the traditional instruments and adding electronic productions. This allows him to mix  styles, build bridges and create the new from the old. He playfully mixes a groovy beat with  white noise and acid electronic synthesizers on “Padou Basss 30”. “Tobandi” is industrial, combining waves of electro energy with jerky Congolese rhythms.  “Mille Morceaux” is a perfect sampling of DRC’s musical heritage, a tribute to the sounds that have shaped the country, while being ultra-contemporary.  

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Petite Noir

Petite Noir makes his comeback eight years after his successful album La vie est belle/ Life is beautiful. If the last album was experimental ground for the Congolese musician, this new project is a spiritual letter. MotherFather takes the form of a quest and its title is directly linked with God as stated in an interview with PAMGod is everything. Both male and female, both X and Y, feminine and masculine”. An album that starts with the beautiful “777” – an angelic number – with a scream, an atmosphere that recalls the punk influences that had so much impact on the artist, real name Yannick Illunga. MotherFather is a concentrate of textual and vocal talent. The noirwave creator also accompanies his album with black and white visuals that perfectly suit MotherFather’s universe. 

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On the Romance of Being

Desirea Marea

Half of South African duo FAKA, Desirea Marea, born Buyani Duma is now an established solo artist with this sophomore album On the Romance of Being. A follow-up to the 2020 Desire which combined dark club energy with the epic and sensitive, On the Romance of Being has a stronger analog presence, leaning into the straightforward compositions of rock and pop carried by the singer’s experimental voice. Like on “Mfula” where we’re graced with the guttural screams amidst a drummer’s interlude. But as in “Mfula” many of the tracks return to the spacious and operatic with a soft though melancholic emotional hue. A more down-to-earth version of 2020’s Desire sonically, the work nonetheless deals with the common themes of loneliness, trauma and displacement that have been features in Desirea’s work from their early gqom days. 

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State of Mind 


South Africa’s Durban gqom pioneer, Dominowe is bringing gqom into the future with State of Mind. In a show of sheer brute musical force, Dominowe dropped the Umthakathi, Pt.2 EP one day before the 9-track State of Mind album, both of which are more experimental, more dangerous and more brutal than most gqom on the market with some notable exceptions (Menzi and Scratcha’s latest EP being one of them). For the synth heavy taste of what some are calling “new age gqom” listen to “U’shinga”. High-tempo gqom comes through on “Party Animal” while sounds of electricity, police sirens and wild screams are heard on “Umuthi”. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention tracks from the accompanying EP, like “King of the Jungle (Broken Shandis)” which is revolutionary in its own right, but “Ak-47 (War Zone)” wins the battle for most hardcore and headbanging on both projects. However every track has something wild to offer. It’s a release that you need to strap-in for, catch your breath on the “Son of Mandla” interlude and then dive headfirst back into the menacing thump of Dominowe’s forward-thinking gqom. 

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The universe is holding you

Mau From Nowhere

Mau from nowhere, formerly mau, brings us to the meeting place between hip-hop, soul and Afro-pop. The Kenyan has certainly released one of the more soothing albums of the year with The Universe is Holding You. A title that refers to the sensations that the album provides, like the feeling of chatting late into night with an old friend. Many of the sounds on the album were written as far back as 2019 before being brought up to date by the artist. Kamau Wainaina switches with ease from singing to rapping to showcase the extent of his abilities. In addition to being a singer, he also slips behind the camera to take the hat of director and develop the visuals of his clips, a versatility that allows us to enter directly into his artistic universe. One thing is sure, Mau from nowhere is a name that suits this artist and his timeless music.

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Babsy Konaté

Malian rapper Baba “Babsy” Konaté is a figurehead of “Gao Rap”, a mix of traditional sounds, electric guitars with ragga and autotuned beats. Tounga is Babsy’s first solo release, a tribute to the aesthetics of the 2000s with auto tuned vocals, drum loops, digital harpsichord and fruity sample packs. This does not stop the project from swimming in an ocean of influences: the traditional takamba from Northern Mali (used by the Songhoi but also the Tamacheks), Hausa film soundtracks from Nigeria, hip-hop from Bamako and ragga from Niamey. With its hyper kitsch collages and its lofi universe, it could be mislabeled as a SoundCloud experiment, but the diversity of themes and sounds present the undeniable brilliance of this mixtape. From the love ballad to the spiritual reprise, Babsy tests without limit and creates a new style which belongs to him.

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Yallah Beibe

MC Yallah

The Nyege Nyege rapper strikes again, and she hits hard. Yallah Beibe, produced in collaboration with Debmaster is the logical sequel to Kubali, a project released in 2019, and also produced as a duo with the French beatmaker. The album, conceived in Kampala in the company of Japanese producer Scotch Rolex and Congolese producer Chrisman, shows the experimental power of MC Yallah, at ease in industrial music atmospheres that make her float in a futuristic cyber rap universe. But the MC does not lock herself in a single style, she proves her eclecticism with dancehall rhythms like on “Big Bung”, or on trap or tracks made for the club. Yallah gives free rein to this flow of a sharp speed to which she had accustomed while managing to surprise us. A success for a project that will certainly stick in your teeth.

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