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Top 20 Afro Releases of 2017

In a continuation of trying to present the highlights of 2017 in contemporary music from Latin America and Africa let’s now move on to the latter region for which I switched to selecting best albums and EPs. Obviously Africa remains an inspiration for countless artists all around the world so I included few releases whose authors are not of African descent but who were able to create respectful references without getting even near to the dangerous topic of cultural appropriation. The following list therefore contains best African-infused releases of the year according to me and is presented in an alphabetical order.

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DEENA ABDELWAHED – Klabb EP

Klabb is a hybrid of technology, abstract territories of electronic music and local elements from Deena Abdelwahed’s motherland of Tunisia. It doesn’t push the boundaries of North African music, it pushes boundaries of music as such.

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DJ DORAEMON – The Change

In the similar list last year I was mentioning DJ Doraemon for his EP published by Generation Bass and little did I suspect that the next time I’d be writing about him will be due to his EP released by me via Basy Tropikalne netlabel. But well, that’s the way it is and I was fortunate enough to collaborate with this Portuguese gem on his new EP that once again presented the rough and raw sound of Lisbon’s outskirts.

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ENNANGA VISION – Ennanga Vision

Electro Acholi – and Otim Alpha as well – has made it also to another significant release from 2017, namely a project called Ennanga Vision. The brain behind this undertaking was Jesse Hackett who, being part of Owiny Sigoma Band, is not a stranger to African infused sounds. And although the aforementioned group creates a bridge between Great Britain and Kenya, this time it was Uganda that became the main thing. Recorded mainly with the local legendary multi-instrumentalist Albert Ssempeke, their album brings not only straightforwardly danceable tracks (in the form of for example acholi tracks with Alpha’s vocals) and actual songs (Like a Football) but also some more experimental and even abstract compositions.

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FAIZAL DDAMBA MOSTRIXX – Tribal Match

Faizal Ddamba is probably still more famous in his native Uganda due to his dancing career but his debut album Tribal Match may change that. This nationwidely acclaimed contemporary dancer turned into a music producer with a mission to preserve and develop African cultural heritage and this is exactly what he’s done on this release – there’s a variety of voices, samples and instruments from all over the place and they are laid against modern electronic music.

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FATIGADO – Sanzala

Obviously in 2017 a magnitude of kuduro/tarraxo tracks kept on spreading to the world from Portugal (including our own DJ Doraemon’s release) but one of the freshest – and heaviest – sounds in the genre was brought by the mysterious Fatigado and his beautiful Sanzala cassette curated by the Golden Mist Records label.

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GAO RAP – HIP HOP FROM NORTHERN MALI

Gao Rap – Hip Hop from Northern Mali is a compilation from the precious Sahel Sounds label which showcases the hip hop scene from the city of Gao in Northern Mali (I do realize I just repeated the title here). It turns out that over the years the said genre has evolved into an extraordinary blend of Balani hip hop,  Hausa pop and local influences which resulted in surprising auto-tuned vocals backed by light, almost vintage electronic beats. This is something you have never heard before.

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JACOB MAFULENI & GARY GRITNESS – Batanidzo

Highly anticipated release. Back in the beginning of 2016 we received a first taste of the outcomes of the collaboration between Jacob Mafuleni, Zimbabwean mbira master and former sideman of the legendary Chiwoniso, and Gary Gritness, an electro-funk producer from France. The pair was introduced by Nyami Nyami’s Antoine Rajon and later on joined by Jacob’s wife Martha Thom who not only adds the vocals but also plays traditional ocho percussion on the record. The final effect is a soothing masterpiece in the form of Batanidzo album.

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JAKINDA – Afrika 3000 EP

When you think of dark electronic beats coming from South Africa, it is probably gqom that immediately springs to your mind. Fortunately that scene has much more to offer and the perfect example was presented in the form of Afrika 3000, an EP from Jakinda who is living in Cape Town after relocating from Johannesburg. The artist for a long period of his life had been dealing with the visual arts (hence the interesting artwork of the release) but luckily switched into music some time ago and this year delivered an exceptional EP that he himself labelled as afro-futurism. The term could not be more apt. As a bonus, in December we were fortunate enough to receive yet one more Jakinda’s goodie and I was more than happy to see it on a Beating Heart release.

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KOKOKO! – Tokoliana/L.O.V.E. & Tongos’a/Likolo

The KOKOKO! collective was born in the streets of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kinshasa out of an initiative of local electronic music lovers who didn’t have access to even basic gear that they could use to produce music. So they constructed their own. With instruments made of rubbish and everyday objects – and with the help from the one and only Débruit – they released four dope songs in 2017 but most importantly they told the captivating story that caught everyone’s attention.

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LOKAL AFFAIR – Seremunia EP

A truly North African feast. Seremunia is a debut EP from Tunisian producer Lokal Affair and with its long nomadic compositions it takes you straight to the heart of a dessert only to suddenly throw you in the middle of a crowded and noisy souk. Another strong release in the Boomarm Nation catalogue.

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LUA PRETA – Emoções Coloridas EP

It was a good year for the Polish/Angolan duo Lua Preta. Having caught everyone’s attention with the 2016’s single Melhor Vai Embora, in 2017 they took it to the next level with a series of meaningful events – whether it was the invitation from Tash LC to record a mix for her Radar Radio show, the appearance at the world-renowned underground music festival Unsound in Kraków, Poland or Branko himself giving a spin of their yet unreleased track in the NTS Radio, those were all signs that Lua Preta are following the right path. In the centre of everything was their debut EP released via the flawless Shango Records which proved that they feel equally good in the studio and when they have to make people dance to their mixture of modern electronic beats and afrohouse or kuduro.

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KONDAKTOR – Afrikanochetos

This is an album that I originally missed upon its release but fortunately I did bump into it few months after it had appeared. And – to be honest – intriguingly titled Afrikanochetos is one of the most interesting sounds that I had a chance to encounter this year. This LP is raw, abstract, industrial and does not provide an easy listen but with its tribal percussive theme proves to be a truly hypnotizing African celebration.

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MIM SULEIMAN – Kawaida

It’s really good to see that Tanzania’s Mim Suleiman is continuing her work with Maurice Fulton. Kawaida is their fourth album together and the collaboration still seems to be genuine and natural. Fulton keeps on construction those musical landscapes – at times purely digital – and Mim’s powerful Swahili vocals do their job.

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MSAFIRI ZAWOSE – Uhamiaji

It’s difficult not to mention Msafiri’s father – Hukwe Zawose – here. Of course he toured the world with Peter Gabriel’s Real World project but, most importantly in this case, he was keen to experiment with traditional African sounds as proven by his 2002’s Assembly album recorded with Canadian producer Michael Brook. In this sense Msafiri is following his father’s footsteps as his this year’s Uhamiaji was the attempt to give the gogo music a more modern flavour. Amazing job (yet another time) has been done on this release by Sam Jones who’s responsible here for all those electronic additions.

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OGOYA NENGO AND THE DODO WOMEN’S GROUP – On Mande Versions

Ogoya Nengo is a Kenyan singing legend who released her debut album at the age of 74 via Honest Jon’s in 2014. She would probably remain unnoticed in Europe if it wasn’t for Stefan Schneider (of To Rococo Rot among others) and Sven Kačírek (who himself has releases with Kenyan elements to his name) who have been travelling to the country since 2011 to work with local musicians. Last year, together with Ogoya – this time alongside a Dodo woman choir – they produced yet another record, called On Mande. Although the album contained a variety of indigenous instruments, its instrumentation was still quite modest. Fortunately it didn’t stop four German electronic music producers – Lena Willikens, Tolouse Low Trax, Orson and Don’t DJ – to try their luck remixing the compositions which gave birth to the fantastic On Mande Versions, an EP containing perfect marriage of traditions and what’s best in Germany’s underground.

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OKMALUMKOOLKAT – Holy Oxygen II

After three years South African star Okmalumkoolkat came back in 2017 to the Austrian Affine Records for the second part of his Holy Oxygen project produced by Cid Rim and The Clonious. Last year’s Mlazi Milano album already showcased Simiso’s abilities but this undertaking fully presents his skills to operate on unusual beats.

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OTIM ALPHA – Gulu City Anthems

Quite easily one of the best discoveries of the year and it arrived very soon as it was in January that we received the first single from Otim Alpha’s then upcoming album Gulu City Anthems. What he’s been doing for the past almost 20 years is reinterpreting the local folk music called acholi and adding an electronic flavour to it. He had a help from Leo Palayeng and I was privileged to witness their first ever appearance outside of Uganda at the Unsound Festival in Kraków this year. They began the show with a purely analogue song from their motherland and only then turned into this frenetic mixture of tradition and technology. This is a good educational trick, especially these days when music from Africa is reaching more and more people in Europe, that shows the origins of the music that is being presented.

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ROZZMA – Donya Fakka EP

A first release to be published by joined forces of Crammed Discs and Acid Arab – and that’s actually a good recommendation on its own. But then comes the music and Donya Fakka is an extraordinary piece of music that has been already described as futuristic Cairo rave bass or 3017 Pharaoh-futurist mafia party sound. Now you know…

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SOUNDS OF SISSO

I guess this is 2017’s release from Africa that caused the most fuss. Rightly so – singeli, a genre pioneered by producers connected to the Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam’s Sisso Records label, is something that no one was prepared for. Abstract, fast-paced happy hardcore beats with some high-velocity rapping on top constituted the mixture that was the final proof that Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Tapes have some real gems to share with the world.

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THE KONDI BAND – Salone

The debut album from The Kondi Band was supposed to arrive in 2016 but we had to wait until June this year to finally receive Salone. And although the release is supposed to bring a perfect combination of Sierra Leonean rhythms and US electronic music, it is really Sorie Kondi who’s in front all the time with his vocals and the sound of kondi (his own version of mbira) and those electronic interventions of Chief Boima are rather subtle and gentle, quite far away from what he’s been doing for example for his Dutty Artz releases.

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