East African music made significant strides in recent years, captivating audiences both locally and across the globe. On a pop level, we are starting to see artists like Diamond Platnumz, Joshua Baraka, and Sauti Sol’s Bien infiltrate wider audiences in the UK, Nigeria, and Ghana. Earlier this year, Bien became the first Kenyan artist to chart on the UK’s Afrobeats charts with his single My Baby with Ayra Starr. In the alternative space, there has been a resurgence of creative output and collaboration in the wake of the pandemic. There is an increase in investment and interest amongst major brands and organizations in the creative space, which has in turn incentivized greater formalization in the industry. There are more physical and digital spaces for artists to showcase their work and connect with like minded audiences driven largely by the community ethos of collectives like Xpressions UG, Green Ferry Music, and Santuri. Artists like MAUIMØON and Faizal Mostrixxx are pushing sonic boundaries of the region and making grassroots connections with musical communities across the diaspora. As the region continues to nurture its musical talents and expand its global presence, PAM has compiled a list of artists that are helping chart the course of East African music.
Joshua Baraka (UG)
Joshua Baraka might just be the international breakout star Uganda has been waiting for. A charming singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer with immense crossover appeal. In two short years as a professional musician, he has garnered a loyal fanbase within Uganda and neighboring Kenya for his soul-infused ballads like “Tewekweka”, afro-pop dance tunes like “Bend It”with Maya Amolo, and regular performances throughout Kampala. He got his big break at the beginning of 2023 when his dancehall-pop single “Nana”catapulted him to continent wide success; garnering over 5 million plays across platforms and sitting at Uganda’s #1 spot for nearly two months, and charting in countries like the UK, Nigeria and Kenya. Last month he enlisted the help of heavyweights Joeboy, Bien, and King Promise on the remix, shooting him back to the top of Uganda’s Apple music charts, and setting the stage for a full-on continental takeover.
MAUIMØON aka La Soulchyld (UG)
This once faceless singer-songwriter and producer first made a name for himself in the soundcloud era of the late 2010s, garnering thousands of followers and millions of listens for his afro-brazilian infused remixes of popular RnB songs. Since moving back to his hometown, Kampala in 2021, MAUIMØON (aka La Soulchyld) has been quietly crafting a contemporary alternative sound for East Africa; one that marries sensual R&B sonics with percussive elements from across Africa’s diaspora. He splashed onto the scene last year with a medley of collaborative singles like “Sweeta”, featuring Joshua Baraka and mau from nowhere and “Leaving Summer”with Akeine. His latest EP From Uganda With Love dropped in February, debuting at #1 on Apple Music in Uganda and garnering him editorial support from NATIVE Mag, Spotify, Apple Music, and BBC 1.
ET Ndahigwa (RW)
ET Ndahigwa first gained national recognition in Rwanda from his feature on DJ Pyfo’s 2021 hit “Kantona”, with Kenny K-Shot. Since then he has doubled-down on etching a new lane in Kigali’s music industry. His sophomore album IT TAKES A VILLAGE, released at the top of this year, is a moody mix of afro-fusion, hip-hop, and drill rapped mostly in Kinyarwanda with English and Swahili interspersed. He tells stories of love, ambition, and disillusionment against the backdrop of an urban youth culture in flux.
Zowie Kengocha (KE)
Zowie is a rising Kenyan songstress who experiments with RnB, indie-pop, and dance music. She has made a name for herself in Nairobi’s underground circles for a series of collaborative singles with NGE-THE-PRODUCER released sporadically between 2021 and 2022. On the heels of “Touch”, a single off of TANGAZA Magazine’s upcoming compilation album, she dropped her debut EP You Never Learn in April. It is an alluring yet cautionary tale of a love gone sour. Her artistic range is on full display; chilling runs, infectious melodies, and lyrical vulnerability atop moody beats that fuse dance, alté, and RnB.
mau from nowhere (KE)
mau from nowhere is a rapper, singer, and multidisciplinary artist with vulnerable introspection at the heart of his artistic universe. Atop production that dances between hip-hop, RnB and indie he spins stories of love, loss, regret, and becoming. His unique approach to storytelling has made him a flagbearer for alternative music in East Africa; in the last two years, collaborating with acts such as MAUIMØON, Maya Amolo and Sauti Sol’s Fancy Fingers. His long awaited debut album The Universe is Holding You was released in April of this year. The 15 self-produced tracks are a reflection of his personal and musical growth with its title serving as a divine affirmation that even when times are tough, that things will work out in their own funny way. Following the release of TUIHY, he was named Apple Music’s East African Up Next artist for the month of April.
Frederick Mulla (TZ)
This rapper, singer, and producer from Arusha gained notoriety for his viral freestyle video series Morobuzz, which has attracted millions of views and impressions since it launched last year. The videos typically feature Mulla in a stylized singular shot video, laying swahili verses over boom-bap infused hip-hop beats. Having proved his lyrical acumen as a hip-hopper through the Morobuzz series, his most recent string of releases alongside producer duo Umoja Sounds have seen him showcase a broader musical range. Their November 2022 joint EP Master Monondo is still rooted in rap, but invites production that spans jazz, house, funk and afrobeat. Singles “Salima”and “Sitachoka”, released earlier this year, see him singing with a bongo flare over radio ready Afrobeats production. In an industry that privileges pop leaning bongo-flava and taarab sounds, Mulla is carving an alternative path to success through intentional visual storytelling, collaboration, and cross-genre experimentation.
Coco Em (KE)
Coco Em is an enigmatic force of change in East Africa’s music industry. As a DJ, she has performed at renowned stages and festivals across Africa and Europe; putting on for niche electronic sounds from across the region and continent. Last year, she made her debut as producer, with the release of Kilumi, a 7 song experimental dance EP steeped with rhythmic and vocal influences from her Kama roots fused with afro-house and amapiano inspired production. On the ground, she is an educator, champion of east africa’s underground, and advocate for the advancement of the regions creative industry. She is a key member of Santuri; an organization that provides music production and DJ courses, studio services, showcases, and workshops for artists in the region’s alternative and underground electronic music scenes. In March, she curated Ballantine’s x Boiler Room’s True Music Studios activations in Nairobi; focusing on the rise of east african club music and the role of intentional community-building in advancing the creative sector. She is currently on a 26 city tour across Europe.
Nu Fvnk (KE)
Nu Fvnk is a founding member of the pioneering DJ/producer collective EA Wave, who led the NuNairobi movement in mid to late 2010s and helped spur a renaissance in Nairobi’s alternative music scene. Since 2016, the young polymath has been building his craft and growing his name as a DJ, producer, vocalist, filmmaker, designer, and visual artist. Free from the conventions of the modern music industry and driven by an Odd Future-esque DIY ethic, Nu Fvnk is constantly creating and sharing new art – whatever the form. In 2022 alone he independently released 10 stand-alone singles, two EPs, and his debut album COLOR MAN. He wrote and produced all of the songs, recorded himself, and designed all of the cover art. COLOR MAN is a colorful reflection on the struggle and pride that comes with being a young African. Atop an experimental hip-hop sonic palette, influenced by jazz, rock, and 808-heavy dance music, Nu Fvnk discusses politics and emphasizes the onus of African youth to save ourselves rather than hopelessly believing in uninspired public institutions. His sonic palette is dark and cinematic. Heavy synths, layered vocals, and pitched samples usually eliciting a sense of urgency. So far his single count for the year is four. Watch this space.
Faizal Motsrixx (UG)
This afro-futurist dancer, choreographer, music producer, and social worker is driven by a desire to preserve and push Africa’s cultural heritage forward. A champion of Uganda’s left-of-center electronic music scene, he has seven projects to his name and is a frequent collaborator of Nyege Nyege, having performed at both African and European editions of the festival. He also works as a choreographer at Uganda’s National Theatre. For him, “Afrofuturism is the meeting of the electronic and the tribal. It’s about bringing the past into the now and then imagining how it could be expressed in the future.” This ethos is evident throughout his discography, which melds antique rhythmic elements from across East and Southern Africa with entrancing synths, bass, and other elements of Afro-house, dub, and amapiano. His latest album, Mutations, released on May 26th expands these horizons by incorporating field recordings from Uganda, Congo, Ethiopia, and Tanzania as ear candy throughout the record and by inviting a series of vocal features from across the continent. Released on May 26th with Glitterbeat Records.
Kaya Byinshii (RW)
This 25-year-old singer-songwriter, poet, and actress is driven by the spiritual power of music to heal, connect and shift cultural conversations. Musically, she takes an experimental approach to blues, folk, soft-rock, and soul, spinning them into a unique tapestry that explores themes like self-love and self-awareness; “issues that are not covered as much as they should be” in Rwandan society. Singing in English, French, and Kinyarwanda, she creates a world that is both familiar and enchanting. Following a series of successful singles, an EP, and competing in the 2021 season of Prix Découvertes RFI, she dropped her debut album Ukwiyuburura in September of last year under Kigali’s acclaimed hip-hop label Green Ferry Music. It tells the story of her personal journey and shedding things that no longer serve her. She’ll be performing the album live on a tour across 10 African cities, alongside Nigerian emcee Aunty Razor.