(September 22, 2023). This article is dedicated to the music that captured the true essence of the African diaspora, from this blogger’s recent visit to the land where it originated.
(Pictured in the featured photo are Nigerian artists Burna Boy, Ayra Starr and Omah Lay.)
In recent years, the infectious rhythms of Afrobeats have transcended borders and made heads bop and butts bounce around the world, including here in America.
In fact, the transnational sound, whose origins lie in the African continent—particularly in western countries like Nigeria and Ghana—is so popular in the U.S. that, for the past year and a half, Billboard Magazine has had a separate, genre-specific chart specifically devoted to the unique music form.
Since April 2022, the 50-position Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs chart has tracked the weekly movement of songs by popular artists like Tems, Burna Boy, Asake, Wizkid, DaVido, Kizz Daniel, Tiwa Savage, Omah Lay and Rema, the latter a male Nigerian singer whose triple-platinum-certified, feel-good smash “Calm Down” (with Selena Gomez) has been No. 1 on the Afrobeats chart for 55 weeks and counting, placing it along the longest chart dominations in Billboard Magazine’s history.
Given the music’s popularity here, I wasn’t exactly surprised by the extent to which this West African art form had also taken root in East Africa, particularly in Kenya and Tanzania, countries I visited earlier this month.
With its fusion of traditional African elements and contemporary sounds, Afrobeats is not so much a specific music genre as it is a cultural phenomenon, one that has woven itself into the fabric of these nations, much like hip-hop has here in the U.S. and abroad.
But “Afrobeats” as we know it—with that distinctive clave beat overlaying a pulsating 4/4-time bass drum—wasn’t the only game in town. More traditional African rhythms also permeated my visit, with artists from other parts of the continent including some native to Tanzania itself populating the soundtrack of my two weeks there.
Whether sung in the distinct dialects of Nigeria, such as Igbo, in Swahili (the primary language of Kenya and Tanzania) or in English, the collective sounds of multiple music forms reflected the vibrant culture and thriving music scene of these remarkable countries while providing a testament to the ever-evolving musical landscape all over Africa.
Followers of my social media pages know that I snapped hundreds of pictures during my recent visit there, but no documentation of my trip would be complete without also capturing the music that formed its soundtrack.
With the power of Shazam and Spotify, I explored the local music scene while seated at bars, dining at restaurants, walking through malls, mingling with locals, or lounging by the pool. Armed with my smartphone, I was able to identify (via Shazam) and save (via Spotify) eighteen tracks that echoed through the gathering places I visited in Nairobi and Arusha.
Not surprisingly, many of these songs have also been hits within America’s borders. Of the eighteen tunes I captured, half have charted on the U.S. Afrobeats Chart in Billboard (I had to dig chronologically through each weekly chart to determine this since there isn’t an easy reference summary of its young history in books or online yet).
Some of these songs were a few years old and predated Billboard’s new chart.
Here are eighteen African beats that captured my attention during my August/September visit to Nairobi and Arusha (in order of when I Shazamed them). Songs in bold have charted on the Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs chart (with their chart peaks denoted in parentheses).
There’s a Spotify playlist here and at the bottom of the list for ease of playback.
“Chawa” – Whozu, Ntosh Gazi, Rayvanny
“Pain” – Harmonize, Yemi Alade
“SOUND” – CyeRus, Eddy Kenzo, BigEye, Queen Fashe, Promise, Maurice Hasa
“Sugarcane” – Camidoh, King Promise, Mayorkun, Darkoo (U.S. Afrobeats Songs Peak: No. 15)
“I’m A Mess” – Omah Lay (U.S. Afrobeats Songs Peak: No. 24)
“KU LO SA – A COLORS SHOW” – Oxlade (U.S. Afrobeats Songs peak No. 5)
“Mr. Man” – Fave
“Last Last” – Burna Boy (U.S. Afrobeats Songs Peak: No. 1)
Soweto” – Victony, Tempoe (U.S. Afrobeats Songs Peak: No. 5)
“Bloody Samaritan” – Ayra Starr (U.S. Afrobeats Songs Peak: No. 35)
“Aso Kasoro Ni Mungo” – Jahazi Modern Taarab
“In The Jungle” – ÜNAM
“RTID ( Rich Til I Die)” – Kizz Daniel (U.S. Afrobeats Songs Peak: No. 27)
“Am Not A Prisoner” – Portable
“Carry Me Go” – Khaid, Boy Spice (US Afrobeats Songs Peak: No. 44)
“Sability” – Ayra Starr (U.S. Afrobeats Songs Peak: No. 14)
“Kolapiano Vol. 2 (Isakaba)” – Kolaboy, Ojadiligbo
“Ojapianoo” – BI24
Here also is a Spotify playlist of these songs for you to enjoy.
DJRob (he/him/his), who traveled to Kenya and Tanzania from August 27 – September 9, 2023, is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.
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