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. Alagbe- Qdot
Qdot’s long awaited debut record is almost an outlier in today’s pop landscape. That is because Qdot himself has the sensibilities of a folk singer looking to crossover to a pop audience. Alagbe is a product of Qdot’s ambition. The man wants to do many things at once. He wants to make pop music, folk, Fuji, even church. The range on display on Alagbe is impressive even if the record could have benefited from smarter A&R.
9. Empress- Yemi Alade
Sometimes Yemi Alade’s Empress feels manipulative, sometimes it feels transcendent. For the most part, she plays it safe, keeping her pan-African bonafides as she continues to fit into the mama Africa image she carved for herself seemingly out of nowhere. Her fifth studio record is a fine blend of highlife, house, EDM, dancehall, coupe de cale, afropop and RnB. Somehow she makes it work.
8. Flavour of Africa- Flavour
In some ways since his chart bursting classic, Flavour has been making the same album every other year. Flavour of Africa differs in that for the first time, the hips gyrating pop/highlife act is pulling a Yemi Alade and consciously cultivating his African audience. As a result he spreads his arms wider and inculcates a couple of foreign influences into his reliably sturdy sound. It works when it does.
7. Roots- The Cavemen
The brother duo known as The Cavemen, first introduced to audiences via memorable support live engagements with Bez and Lady Donli dropped their first studio album Roots. On Roots, The Cavemen go back in time to channel vintage highlife soundscapes popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s but updated with their own unique spin. Their “highlife fusion” is very much essential.
6. Made in Lagos- Wizkid
Wizkid continues to search for sounds from other sides but by way of Lagos with his fourth studio album Made in Lagos. After stumbling with Sounds from the Other Side, Wizkid appears to have hacked the formula to making music that can work internationally without losing his home-grown fans completely. He is horny as hell on the record but he’s grown older, more mature and more reflective. He can wait.
5. Celia- Tiwa Savage
For her third studio album Celia- and first to arrive on Motown records- Tiwa Savage attempts a reinvention, one that has her reaching for more international ears but also trying to keep her home audience at the same time. The record doesn’t quite announce the start of a mercurial new era but it has a cohesive aura that keeps things moving.
4. Carpe Diem- Olamide
The elder stateman of local rap is very much alive and willing to seize the day. Carpe Diem, his latest is the product of his new affiliation with Empire distribution. On Carpe Diem, Olamide is sharper than he’s been, lyrically and melody wise, perhaps since 2016’s The Glory. The record is confident and bristling, the product of a man who understands his relevance to the culture.
3. Boo of the Booless- Chike
The most pleasant surprise of the year, Chike’s impressive debut is filled with easily digestible songs and decent songwriting that instantly positions him as one to take seriously. Thematically, the album explores relatable themes like romantic love, forgiveness and family. Chike makes use of foundational highlife and R&B to build an inviting world that is as interesting as it is delicate.
2. Twice as Tall- Burna Boy
Burna Boy’s latest, executive produced by Diddy is a direct continuation of his obsession with gigantism. Brilliant and captivating, the record occasionally assumes some political and social justice heaviness that hasn’t been fully earned. Burna Boy continues his Pan-African crusade and blends his high-minded ambitions neatly with his moody Afro-fusion cocktail that highlights afrobeat, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop and EDM genres.
1. Yellow- Brymo
Brymo’s magnificent Yellow manages to do two things at the same time, attempt new soundscapes forward while giving his core fans more of what they have come to love over the last decade. His voice is richer, his songwriting is sharper, the production is cleaner and more intricate and thematic interests are as usual both minutely observed and larger than live. As a whole, Yellow is perhaps the most cohesive record to be released this year. Five stars.
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.