Welcome to the first of this year’s best of lists, curated by yours truly! As you might have noticed by now, this year is going to be separated by genre, or style, or attribute… it’s rather inconsistent between categories! On top of that, some categories are rather spread-out within themselves! I mean, there’s more than one kind of “hardcore” music out there for example, and I’m trying my best to keep my categories straight, but it’s often difficult to decide in which category such and such album should go, especially with the miscegenous music I usually listen to! Nevertheless, in order to be concise and to-the-point, I’ll keep every category to a top 5, but I will include all runner-ups that did not make it. So, if you were waiting for this moment to catch up to what’s hot, I hope you’ll find some noteworthy discoveries! I certainly did so during this year! So, without further ado… let’s roll with our first category.
Due to the rule of the alphabet, “Afrobeat” comes first! There was not a ton of Afrobeat records I fell in love with this year, but six releases made it to the top! The genre certainly wasn’t something I was looking out for only a few years ago, however, with such brilliant bands as those we’ll see today, it slowly grew on me and, under the asinine surface of the very most popular artists in the scene—as in every scene—thrives a spectacular and inspirational community of artists that push the boundaries of the genre—as in every genre—into new territory.
Number Five: Sons of Kemet – Black to the Future
Shabaka Hutchings is a wizard! In whatever he accomplishes there is that spark of magic, and Black to the Future is only the latest example of this. The album flows with many far-fetched influences, so much so as to obscure its Afrobeat character. That’s maybe why it’s number five, but that doesn’t mean it’s no good, not at all!
Number Four: Muito Kaballa’s Power Ensemble – Mamari
Mamari is a great album blending Afrobeat with jazz fusion and funk in interesting ways. It has a solid cast of musicians playing with the format, and that’s why it’s on this list!
Number Three: Nubiyan Twist – Freedom Fables
Freedom Fables just has it all: incredible energy, monumental licks, diverse tracklist, exceptional songwriting, outstanding musicianship… It’s one of the Afrobeat record I enjoyed the most this year, but its sometimes more somber demeanour, although perhaps more sophisticated than other contenders on this list, takes away from the festive nature of the genre. Still, an amazing record.
Number Two: Nkonsonkonson Star Band – How to Swim
More traditional in its approach than most others on this list, Nkonsonkonson Star Band is the paragon of contemporary Afrobeat. How to Swim is a vibrant album full of life and energy, but since I’m not a traditionalist myself, this one gets second place. However, any fan of the genre should definitely hear this gem of 2021!
Number One: Onipa – Tapes of Utopia
Onipa is a strange and beautiful beast. Led by Kweku of Ghana, Onipa is an afrofuturistic dance group, and they truly excel at their purpose! With pertinent lyrics on current issues and an otherworldly groove, Onipa truly deserves the first spot on this list. If this mixtape doesn’t invigorate your legs and heart, you are a block of concrete. As for me, I will be eagerly awaiting Kweku’s upcoming album in early 2022!
Hover over foreign scripts for pronunciation and romanization.
Friday, 5 February
Femi Kuti – Legacy +: Stop the Hate
Made Kuti – Legacy +: For(e)ward
Friday, 12 March 2020
Nubiyan Twist – Freedom Fables
Afrobeat, jazz fusion
Friday, 14 May 2021
Sons of Kemet – Black to the Future
Friday, 28 May
Muito Kaballa’s Power Ensemble – Mamari
Afrobeat, world fusion
Friday, 17 September
Onipa – Tapes of Utopia
Afrobeat, world fusion
Monday, 20 September
Nkonsonkonson Star Band – How to Swim
Best of 2021
01/01 – Best of Afrobeat