2020 was a weird and difficult year.
The coronavirus pandemic shuttered the music industry with one fell swoop as governments issued stay at home and no travel orders in a scramble to keep the raging pandemic under control. Still, artistes found a way to create new music and to present them to the world via internet.
Sometimes it seemed like music was all we had to get us through the most trying times of the year. These were the best of the best.
10. Duduke- Simi
In this age of social media ubiquity, it was almost radical that Simi would chose to do her pregnancy reveal the old fashioned way. As baby inspired songs go, Duduke- which is the heartbeat sound that Simi hears and feels, although medical experts would differ- is no Kuchi Kuchi but it is no slouch either as it manages to unite an entire country in the darkest days of the lockdown. Nigerians sang along with Simi and wished her well, trusting in typical fashion that their own miracle was on the way.
9. Abule- Patoranking
Patoranking’s joyfully infectious sound has always combined the soul of Afrobeats with the verve of dancehall music, creating something that exists in between the spaces. Abule, off his third studio album represents his best instincts. The up tempo hyper-energetic Afro-dancehall ode to the streets will leave you working your feet on the dancefloor, or in your bedroom considering socializing was a no no this year.
8. Smile- Wizkid ft. H.E.R.
Even though Wizkid can still knock out the hits reliably, his output in the last few years haven’t exactly screamed quality. Smile, the lead single off his fourth studio album Made in Lagos is a return to form. Wizkid continues the flirtation with afro-Caribbean sounds that have marked his international projects. He invites Grammy winning American singer H.E.R to lend a dose of heft to the feel-good number.
7. Roju- Chike
Tucked away neatly in Chike’s crowd pleasing debut album, Boo of the Booless is the addictive Roju. Like the most memorable of songs, Roju doesn’t initially scream for attention but it builds gradually to a swirling, jubilant finish. Crafted so simply yet brilliantly with earworm status on the composer’s mind, Roju is as effective on the dance floor as it is on earphones for lazy Sundays.
6. Fantasy – Niniola ft. Femi Kuti
Stepping away from regular collaborator Sarz for a hot minute, Niniola hooks up with Kel-P and Afrobeat icon Femi Kuti for this sultry stunner. Fantasy creeps up gradually and doesn’t ever let up for the entire 2.59 minutes run (too short we insist.) Niniola and Kuti are a match made in music heaven as her mellifluous vocals meet his highwire saxophone run. Fantasy scores bonus points for the video where Niniola twerks along to Kuti’s playing.
5. Nobody- DJ Neptunes ft. Joeboy, Mr Eazi
From the moment Joeboy enters Nobody and starts up with an unrelenting verse and chorus, it is pretty much clear that we are on to something special. To nobody’s surprise, Nobody became a huge hit, sound tracking many Instagram and TikTok dance alongs. None of the artistes are big dancers but that didn’t stop them from taking inspiration from Michael Jackson for the video.
4. Bad influence- Omah Lay
The standout track from Omah Lay’s five-song ready-for-streaming debut EP, Get Layd starts out innocuously enough with an alt-pop hesitation. Lay is moaning ever so gently about how he has been done dirty by a love interest. The song goes on like so for a while. At about the 1.17 mark, he raises the tempo with his voice as the primary tool, yelling out a pathetic verse. You know the one. That is Bad Influence’s knockout.
3. Damages- Tems
The lead single off Tems’ For Broken Ears EP sounds like nothing else on the radio. Tems dives into her eclectic music tastes involving a melange of American, African and Caribbean influences and creates a hectic, jumpy kiss off to a toxic romantic relationship. The video is a pop music rarity in these parts, a safe environment for women to gather, feel good and perhaps trade horror stories.
2. Heartbreak Songs are Better in English- Brymo
This brilliant stunner is a highlight of an album chockfull of highlights. Brymo continues his role as the thinking man’s balladeer, writing songs centered around the male experience. This in itself is nothing new considering the straight man has been at the center of pop music for decades but no one working presently goes to the depths that Brymo does. On Heartbreak…, he laments the limitations of toxic masculinity and expresses himself regardless.
1. Monsters You made- Burna Boy
On Burna Boy’s Grammy nominated album Twice as Tall, there is Monsters You Made, the blistering j’accuse which he recorded with Coldplay front man Chris Martin and there is every other song. Monsters You Made is a song of protest, charting the black man’s traumatic history with colonization and daring the white man to look away from the mess he’s created and left behind. It is unflinching, angry, uncomfortable and Burna sells it hard.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.