Written by: Banning Eyre
We like to end each year with a list of recommended releases. We don’t claim that these are the absolute best out of the vast universe of musical genres we follow at Afropop Worldwide. We present them in alphabetical order, not ranked. Surely there are egregious omissions, and feel free to write us at email@example.com and point those out if you like. Our appetite knows no limit…
Before we dive in, Afropop Worldwide would like to honor seven of the many notable figures in our musical world who passed away in 2021:
- · Barthelemy Attisso (Orchestre Baobab)
- · Bopol Mansiamina (Les Quatre Etoiles)
- · Jacob Desvarieux (Kassav)
- · Lee “Scratch” Perry
- · Robert Farris Thompson
- · Thione Seck
- · Victor Uwaifo
Okay, what follows is a set of releases that we particularly enjoyed this year, and hope you will too. Much of this music was recorded during the pandemic and involve stories of isolation and trans-global technological collaboration. There is also a prominent theme, concerns about the fate of the planet. Enjoy!
4 Mars, Super Somali Sounds from the Gulf of Tadjoura
Rare tracks from the Djibouti’s top radio band of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Anansy Cissé, Anoura
The gentler, more melodious side of guitar-driven Malian desert rock.
Angelique Kidjo, Mother Nature
Kidjo’s genre-bending response to the climate crisis, rich with unexpected collaborators.
Arturo O’Farrill, Dreaming in Lions
O’Farrill’s 10-piece Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble tackles two multi-track suites, one inspired by Hemingway, the other by the Malpaso Dance Company of Cuba.
Ballaké Sissoko, Djourou
The kora master breaks the mold with intimate collaborations from French rap poetry to classical music and deep Mande roots.
Bomba Estéreo, Deja
Colombia’s tech-roots powerhouse is back after four years with an expansive album evoking the four elements: agua, aire, tierra and fuego.
Boubacar “Badian” Diabate, Mande Guitar
Fabulous solo and duo guitar from a rising master; recorded at the Afropop studio (Full disclosure!)
Burkina Azza, Wari bô
Spectacular balafon artistry, straight-up acoustic and mesmerizing.
Cheikh Ibrahima Fame, Peace in Africa
A Senegalese multi-instrumentalist and singer/bandleader debuts under his own name with a punchy blend of tradition and pop.
CIMAFUNK, El Alimento
Brilliant collision of Afro-Cuban music and heavy funk—tight as a snare drum!
Delgres, 4:00 A.M.
Rocking follow up to this trio’s international debut merging Antillean roots and Delta blues.
Dobet Gnahore, Couleur
High-energy return of an Ivoirian innovator and star; impressive stylistic range from roots to Afrobeats.
Edo Krdum, Diversity
Sudanese folk, via Northern Mali and Sweden; maybe our best find at WOMEX 2021.
Etran de L’Aïr, Agadez
Twenty five-year veterans of Saharan rock deliver electric trance spells on their second international release.
Femi and Made Kuti, Legacy+
A double album pairing Fela’s eldest son with his grandson, Made. Reliable Afrobeat punch as the legacy lives on.
Hailu Mergia & the Walias Band, Tezeta
A rich blast from Ethio-jazz’s “golden” past, and another gem from Awesome Tapes From Africa.
Ibrahima Cissoko & Mandingue Foly, Liberté Mom Sa Bop
Tight, spicy trad-pop from Cassamance, Senegal via France, the same route once forged by the legendary Toure Kunda.
Joseph Spence, Encore (Unheard Recordings)
One can never get enough of the Bahamian guitar/vocal savant.
Jupiter & Okwess, Na Kozonga
The standard bearers for “alternative”—i.e. non-rumba—Congolese music branch out in global collaborations.
Justin Adams and Mario Duarte, Still Moving
Desert rock guitar meets southern Italian trance music: sublime.
Kasai Allstars, Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound
In case the title doesn’t say it all, this superb Congo roots band is ever finding new ways to cast ancient spells.
Khaira Arby, Khaira Arby in New York (Live in 2010)
This recording captures the exhilarating magic of a rare moment when the sound of Timbuktu rocked NYC nightclubs.
Kobo Town, Carnaval of the Ghosts
Another joyous set from a band that has made Toronto the home of classic calypso.
Les Filles de Illighadad, At Pioneer Works
This rare women-led group has become a champion of Tuareg folk rock; here they’re live and hypnotic.
Lokua Kanza, Moko
The Congolese maverick unveils a larger, orchestral sound while maintaining his intimate personal vibe.
Marisa Monte, Portas
Long-awaited new songs from one of Brazil’s most gifted singer-songwriters.
Mdou Moctar, Afrique Victime
Mdou maintains his reputation as perhaps the hardest rocking of all the Sahelian desert rockers.
Minyo Crusaders, Live at Le Guess Who?
Japanese folk melodies set to thumping cumbia? Yes, and that’s just the beginning from this outstanding Tokyo combo.
Omar Pene, Climat
The mbalax veteran explores his softer side, showcasing a timeless voice, and, once again, addressing the defining issue of the 21st century.
Omar Sosa, An East African Journey
The Cuban piano maverick collaborates warmly with traditional musicians from Ethiopia to Madagascar.
Pedrito Martinez, Acertijos
The Cuban percussion maestro ventures widely in this tour de force, including collaborating with Eric Clapton. (Hope he wore a mask!)
Somi, Tribute to Miriam Makeba
Somi digs deep in this tribute to a musical hero; highly original.
Susana Baca, Palabras Urgentes
Too long since we’ve heard from the queen of Afro-Peruvian music, and she hasn’t lost her touch!
Tems, If Orange Was A Place
The latest sensation from Nigeria has a golden voice and serious global momentum.
Teno Afrika, Amapiano Selections
A great introduction to the most influential sound out of South Africa this century.
The Kondi Band, We Famous
Sierra Leonean lamellophone roots music with a subtle techno production by Boima Tucker, a fine example of inter-generational collaboration.
Toots & The Maytals, Got To Be Tough
The last word from this giant of reggae roars with energy and soul.
Toumani Diabaté and The London Symphony Orchestra, Korolen
This kora plus symphony encounter took 13 years to reach our ears, and the story behind that is as remarkable as the music.
Urban Village, Udondolo
Four Soweto musicians reinvent the past from pastoral vocal harmony to the romp and groan of classic mbaqanga. Beautiful!
Various Artists, Changüí: The Sound of Guantánamo
An extraordinary, long-overdue introduction to a hidden musical treasure of eastern Cuba.
Various Artists, Comorian, We Are an Island, But We Are Not Alone
Enchanting, intimate field recordings from a volcanic Indian Ocean island echo complex African and Arabic culture.
Various Artists, Zanzibara 10: Taarab Vibes from Mombasa and Tanga
A perfect companion to Comorian, a fine set of tunes from established taarab bands of the Swahili coast.
WizKid, Made in Lagos
The top man in Nigerian Afrobeats in 2021 is conquering the world with his smooth, polished pop, while never forgetting his tough urban roots.