The NATIVE Editorial Staff share their favourite songs of 2022 so far

Featuring songs from Asake, Buruklyn Boyz, Butera Knowless, Asa, and more.

African music is in a great place, and that’s not because of its obvious, global crossover powers these days. African music is in a great place because of the variety and abundance we’re getting. Across the continent from Nigeria and Ghana to Kenya and South Africa, it’s clear that we’re living in a time of unbridled eclecticism and experimentation, and the direct by-product is a landscape always filled with great, Pan-Africanmusic.

As much as we’re storytellers, curators and critics, The NATIVE’s editorial staff are fans and music listeners just like you—well, we probably have to listen to a lot more music than you. That obviously means we have preferences, which means we have favourite songs that lean solely to our subjective tastes. With half the calendar year gone, we’ve been taking stock of the music we’ve been listening to and, as a precursor to our ranked mid-year projects list, we’re sharing some of our favourite songs of the year, so far, with you.

Asa & The Cavemen. – “Good Times”

“Good Times” is the focal point of Asa’s experiments on her fifth album, ‘V’. The record’s beachside ambience is created from spaced-out drums, hand-held percussion, swooning piano keys and lightly-invoked chants. Highlife is a foundational sound for Afropop and here it effortlessly soundtracks the overlying message of friendship and love. When the distinct tones of Asa and Cavemen’s lead vocalist Benjamin meet in the record’s closing parts, it lends itself to an out-of-body experience and illuminates the fullness that comes with being wrapped in the peculiarities of another person’s good intentions.

Emmanuel Esomnofu

Jaylon – “Get Down” (feat. Azanti & Chrystel)

When Jaylon and Azanti come together, you already know you’re getting great music. The pair have showcased great synergy on records such as “Firedncr,” “Latan” and now on their most recent offering, “Get Down.” Jaylon’s production stands out the most, as he focuses mostly on the piano and drums, breathing a shiny ‘80’s energy into the record. Chrystel also brought in a subtle and sweet energy into the record with her soulful and elastic yet powerful vocals. The synergy between all the collaborators on the record is undeniably great and everyone brought their A-game, from the producer to both featured singers.

Wonu Osikoya

Butera Knowless – “Bafana Bafana”

One of my recent obsessions these days is urban Rwandan music. What started as a fascination with inventive Trap stylist Bushali, around the time covid lockdown measures eased up a bit in the cursed summer of 2020, has become an overall keenness with pop and rap music from the land of a thousand hills. Butera Knowless has become one of my favourites, through last year’s ‘Inzora’ and visiting some of her back catalogue. The veteran singer and songwriter is a true diva, armed with a golden voice and vividly assured attitude. Her March single, “Bafana Bafana” is a toast to inner strength and unassailable confidence, her soulful and exquisitely glossy voice striding authoritatively over groovy production with orchestral flourishes. She’s joined by iconic Rwandan rappers BullDogg and Fireman, both contributing passionate rap verses to one of the best Afropop songs this year.

Dennis Ade Peter

Obongjayar  – “New Man”

While ‘Some Nights I Dream of Doors’ is filled with back-to-back fantastic songs, “New Man” is a highlight, and one of the most interesting songs I’ve heard this year. The whole song feels like a spiritual experience, with lyrics that feel like an ode to the strength of the individual. The lyrics, “Get off the ground and start again” are sung with a quiet  resolution. This contrasts with the guttural tones that inspire just as much confidence, with the line “I was born warrior” letting the singer tell us who he truly is.

Moore Wright

Buruklyn Boyz – “Catalyst

Buruklyn Boyz is currently the supreme drill group in Kenya and East Africa. The release of their defying hits such as “Location  58” and “Nairobi” have enabled them to climb the Hip-Hop charts, and assert themselves as the next artists to watch out for. Fresh from their album release ‘East Mpaka London’, which has now surpassed one million Spotify streams, a diamond in the rough dubbed “Confession” reigns. While the whole album has timeless bops, the enchanting spell of “Confession” cannot be ignored. The song sounds more like a freestyle rather than a complete number and the rawness of its production gives a unique feeling when listening to it. 

The back and forth between Ajay and Mr Right is exhilarating as it is impressive to see them on a faster and dancehall oriented beat. Immediately you hear the tag line “Metro Sucka Doba ” and “Clue Ashaivisha Track,” a guaranteed bop is promised. The menacing beat intro has a catchy melody with cheeky lyrics from Ajay—“Late night I am getting a text what are you up to I am bored in bed”—as Mr Right’s penmanship is witty and easy making the lyrics simplistic. Over time, the collective has mastered the art of not only creating Drill bangers, but experimenting with new sounds that act as catalysts to their career. Despite the year being halfway through and already releasing a charting album, I am anxiously expecting new magic from the dynamic duo. 

Tela Wangeci

Asake – “PBUY”

When Asake waltzed into this year with the Olamide-assisted “Omo Ope,” which immediately became a hit, he immediately surged to prominence. However, no one envisaged the glorious next few months he would have. Since his first nationwide hit, he has doubled down with four additional hits and has incontrovertibly cemented himself as the most prolific Afropop act so far this year. For all his exploits this year, his latest track, “PBUY,” is perhaps his finest point. The boisterous track sees him finally perfect his inimitable blend of Amapiano, Afro-soul and Juju music: a quaint melodic sound that has characterised his last few offerings. Over a dizzyingly poignant production, he renders a dazzling ode to his humble beginnings.

Chibuzo Emmanuel

Omah Lay – “Woman”

This particular record, to me, is one of Omah Lay’s finest offerings. “Woman” is that one record that you listen to and you feel at ease, it’s soothing. P.Priime made the usual Omah Lay record sound so smooth with the additional elements added to the production of the record. Omah Lay unleashed his smooth, lover boy side and expresses his deepest feelings for his love interest with his amorous lyrics. The potency of his writing stands out on lines such, as “My girl no get no problem ah/All of a sudden, she say me I go be Tuface, Annie Macaulay, ok nwa baby,” showing off his muse and her stresslessness. With his debut album ‘Boy Alone’ set for release very soon, Omah Lay has set the mood for the album and has given listeners a feel of what to expect on July 15th.

Wonu Osikoya

ZRi. & Tyson Sybatelli – “Burgundy”

The penultimate song off South African act ZRi’s ‘Skins.’ EP is a lyrical showcase. Having taking a swing at eccentric soul-inspired music in previous songs, “Burgundy” is a straightforward attempt at solidifying the reputation of the musicians. A nineties Hip Hop-influenced drum pattern is roped with suspense-filled keys, setting a cinematic template for sprawling verses whose luminous quality is in the angle of its details. From lyrics such as “Flowers grown in the dark, they look just like ghetto leaves” to “Gang signs like class kids, more than merrier when I see obstacles,” the mood is decidedly pensive and poetic, allowing the gritty underside of becoming successful in the South African music scene to shine through.

Emmanuel Esomnofu

BOJ – “In A Loop” (feat. Moliy & Mellissa)

BOJ’s “In a Loop” has been a consistently delightful song to listen to since its release. A wonderfully mischievous song, it is easy to sing along to as it follows a man trying to tempt a girl away from her boyfriend. The contributing vocals from Moliy and Mellissa elevate the whole experience. The lyrics, “can’t leave him, cannot leave my baby,” are sung with such a surprising amount of sincerity that makes it almost believable. “In a Loop” remains a reliably energising song to return to.

Moore Wright

Ronehi & AYLǾ – “Saudade”

The first time I heard Ronehi and AYLǾ’s collaborative single, “Saudade,” I played it on repeat for at least 30 minutes. Somewhere in between, I contemplated texting someone I had a “serious” fling with almost four years ago. Then, I googled the word Saudade and found out it means nostalgic longing and, in that moment, I realised the pair had successfully bottled that feeling into a perfect, deeply relatable song. Ronehi’s backdrop is magnificently minimal: twangy guitar riffs, distinctly African percussions with a sexy lilt, and saxophone motifs floating in and out. AYLǾ, an ever-willing emotive lyricist, writes a delightful ode to being deeply infatuated with a consistent presence from the past, every line leaking with mild desperation and undying devotion.

Dennis Ade Peter

Kabza De Small – “Eningi” (feat. Mhaw Keys, Njelic, Simmy)

Amapiano has become one of my favourite genres in the past two years. With so many variations released every other week, I try to keep up with new releases as much as I can, and Kabza De Small was my first touchpoint into the genre. “Eningi,” from his latest project ‘KOA II Part 1’, which translates to ‘a lot’, is a song dedicated as a prayer to God, asking for abundance in wealth. Featuring Mhaw Keys, Simmy and Njelic, “Eningi” has stellar production from Mhaw Keys and Kabza, as well as befitting vocal contributions and synergy from Simmy and Njelic. “Eningi” can easily pass off as a dance soundtrack to your prayerful life.

Shina Ladipo

Rema – “FYN”

As young as Rema’s career as an Afropop superstar is, he’s already cemented himself as a cultural monolith, and his debut album (as riveting as it is) is already poised to be a cultural touchstone. Off Rave & Roses, “FYN” is a lurid cut that crystallizes his reality of being a seditious Pop star. It’s this quality of splitting throngs of rapt listeners across lines that bolsters his alluring personality.

“FYN”, an initialism for fresh young nigga, palpably captures the essence of his reality. Against the backdrop of an opulent production underpinned by shimmering keys, he juxtaposes his luxuriant lifestyle with the trove of hate he receives from his detractors. In his opening monologue on the track, he says, “They don’t really like me talking my shit like the OGs did, they hating on me cos I’m a fresh young nigga”. Going against the grain and squaring up to adversaries are themes intricately woven through the tapestry of life, and “FYN” serves as a tether to the gritty nature of life and a bastion of hope in periods of tribulation from critics or in Gen-z lingo, haters.

Chibuzo Emmanuel

Chris Kaiga – “Ongeza Debe” (feat. DAI & Scar Mkadinali)

In the history of Kenya discographies, “Ongeza Debe” has to go down the hall of fame. Two GOATS of different music genres came together to offer a timeless beautiful track. While Chris Kaiga has intentionally garnered the love of Kenyans with his laid back tunes and playful lyrical capability, Scar Mkadinali has become East Africa’s most sought-after rappers befitting the title ‘Kovu’. DAI’s vocal capability is unmatchable as the jazzy instrumentals open up for Chris’ witty verse. It is songs like “Ongeza Debe” that makes me wish Kiswahili was understandable worldwide. Chris Kaiga penmanship is eccentric as each line chronologically leads you to his next line. Scar is forever the king of pride rock with his cadence on a “debe” – beat.  Great artists are always dynamic and adept, Scar is an example of this. The delivery from both artists bring a calm demeanour of the song which basically focuses on doing your best and having fun.

Tela Wangeci

Cruel Santino – “Tapenga”

Cruel Santino has always reinvented himself and reupholstered his sound with every new project. This plays directly into Santi’s ability to create worlds using sound and carefully crafted imagery for every new journey he takes on his bodies of work. On his latest, ‘Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN’, he leans into anime-inspired motifs to tell a story about dealing with heartbreak, tracing the euphoria of falling in love and its unpleasant aftermath by framing the plot and its accompanying emotions in a surreal universe with monsters and demons. 

“Tapenga” is a song about Santi’s love life with a girl (demon), likening their encounter to a Tapenga, which is a place where the mountain meets the sea. This fits perfectly into the universe of ‘Subaru World’, which, as told through sounds and themes, is a place that exists both underwater and on land. Genio Bambino’s combination of piano synths and drums on the record takes you on a short pleasant ride through Santi’s story and a compelling point in ‘Subaru world’.

Shina Ladipo