For many, 2020 will be a year that we will want to forget, but from the 80 new African flavoured albums listed on Calabash! there were some truly memorable moments; from the inspiring stories behind the music to the joy of discovering a new artist, we are truly grateful for.
So here are our 10 Best African albums of 2020, not listed in any particular preference, except for top spot!
Thank you Africa!
Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno - Tipona
Paramount to Rapasa is the preservation of traditional Lüo instruments; his in-depth studies with Lüo masters has earned him extensive playing knowledge and a panoramic view of the musical heritage of the community that is settled around Lake Victoria, Kenya.
There is much to admire about this debut album, primarily Rapasa’s virtuoso playing of the Lüo Nyatiti, the eight-stringed lyre which the album is arranged around. The gentle hypnotic ebb and flow of the Nyatiti’s rhythm reflects the shores of its homeland as the narrative delves into the life of a young Rapasa and his transition into manhood.
Other traditional Lüo instruments are introduced and from the Indian Kenyan community the bansuri flute and tabla dovetails with folk-blues guitar and double bass. It all works beautifully and propels the album into Rapasa’s vision of the future of the Nyatiti.
Tipona means 'my shadow' in the Lüo Dholuo language, however, Rapasa has stepped into the Kenyan sunshine with this magical groundbreaking album.
***** WINNER! THE BEST AFRICAN ALBUM of 2020 *****
Released – March 2020
Artist – Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno (Kenya/UK)
Title – Tipona
Label – N/A
Genre – Traditional/Nyatiti/Folk
Star Feminine Band - Star Feminine Band
A crash,bang,wallop,pow mix of afrobeat,congolese rumba and traditional Beninese rhythms. This is the debut album from the only all girl band in Benin. Their harmonies may sound youthful, but their songs are raising awareness about equality and empowerment for African women. Their story, from never playing an instrument to recording this album makes for mood-enhancing medicine that will make your heart soar and their infectious sound will get your toes tapping.
Month – November 2020
Artist – Star Feminine Band (Benin)
Title – Star Feminine Band
Label – Born Bad Records
Genre – Beninese sato/ highlife/garage rock/Congolese rumba
Sidi toure Sidi Touré – Afrik Toun Mé
Full of lively acoustic Songhoy melodies and guitar riffs that radiate perpetual positive energy. Touré’s emotive voice sings about courage against adversity and urges people to embrace knowledge as a tool to unite Africa.
A dazzling album of real optimism from the first note to the last from the Malian master
Artist – Sidi Touré (Mali)
Title – Afrik Toun Mé
Released- September 2020
Label – Thrill Jockey Records
Genre – Desert Blues/Folk /Rock
Group RTD - The Dancing Devils of Djibouti
In Djibouti, music is run entirely by the state under a one party rule. Groupe RTD are the resident band for Djibouti's national broadcasting company and perform at official state ceremonies in the country. Surprisingly, their music doesn’t lack freedom of expression and encompasses a flamboyant mix of Somalian funk and Ethio jazz influences with reggae rhythms and catchy Bollywood style vocals. It's a jaw dropping debut international release for Group RTD; and for Djibouti, uncovering one of East Africa’s best kept secrets.
Artist – Groupe RTD (Djibouti)
Title – The Dancing Devils of Djibouti
Released- June 2020
Label – Ostinato Records
Genre – Jazz/Funk/Reggae
Santrofi - Alewa
Santrofi are on a mission; to restore Highlife to its glorious past, the days when Ghanian night clubs were throbbing with fast-paced funky dance-guitar and silky vocal harmonies. Their debut album captures the roots of Highlife with a fresh youthful energy and the eight piece band have already had global audiences dancing their socks off to their Highlife extravaganza
Artist – Santrofi (Ghana)
Title – Alewa
Released- April 2020
Label – Outhere Records
Genre – Hi-Life/Hiplife/Afrobeat
Al Bilali Soudan - Tombouctou
This is supercharged Takamba music, blistering paced ngoni loops and deep pounding calabashes electrified through amps, as vocals exclaim praise upon weddings, baptisms and other celebrations. It's a complete head spin from the familiar desert blues sound from the Sahara.
Artist – Al Bilali Soudan (Mali)
Title – Tombouctou
Released – April 2020
Label – Clermont Music
Genre – Takamba/Tehardent/Traditional
Bab L' Bluz - Nayda!
Bab L’ Bluz are a heady mix of psychedelic funky Saharan blues that is heavily laced with Morrocan heritage. Nadya!, is a term associated with the Moroccan youth movement who use their freedom of expression through art and music that appeared around the mid-2000s. It was a refreshing release at a time when our freedom was being challenged during the grips of our national lockdown in the summer and a reminder of exotic travels and happy festival times that will return.
Artist – Bab L’ Bluz
Title – Nayda!
Released- June 2020
Label – Real World Records
Genre – Gnawa/Blues/Rock
Oumou Sangaré - Acoustic
If you were fortunate enough to be at London EartH in April 2019 when Oumou Sangare performed mostly songs from the 2017 Mogoya album as a stripped-down set, then you would have had a hunch that this album was going to be something special, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Recorded by the same band without amplification and retakes, the unfaltering natural sound of the ngoni and a lively acoustic guitar accentuates the power of Sangare’s voice and the sweet harmonies of her backing singers. ‘Acoustic’ is the third version of the Mogoya project to be released and it’s certainly a case of saving the best until last.
Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela - Rejoice
Tony Allen, the legendary Afrobeat drummer, and Hugh Masekela, the master trumpet player of South African jazz came together to record these tracks back in 2010. It wasn't until Hugh Masekela passed away in 2018 that the songs were revisited and finished in 2019 by Tony Allen and the original producer Nick Gold. Rejoice is a masterpiece of minimalism, occasionally accompanied by some of the UK’s brightest new Jazz generation including Joe Armon-Jones (Ezra Collective), and Mutale Chashi (Kokoroko). According to Allen, the album deals in “a kind of South African-Nigerian swing-jazz stew”. Tony Allen sadly passed away in April 2020 a month after Rejoice was released.
Siti Muharam - Siti of Unguja (Romance Revolution On Zanzibar)
Siti Muharam has rekindled the spirit of her great grandmother Siti Binti Saad, the Zanzibar legend who was the first woman to commercially record Taarab music almost 90 years ago, she went on to release over 150 records over a 30-year career.
Taarab music combines influences from Egypt, the Arabian Coast, and India, and ‘Siti of Unguja’ reworks these traditional sounds with a twist of jazz and delicate electronics as Siti Muharam's alluring Bollywood Esque voice floats above the heady Swahili rhythms.
Taarab has shifted in popularity and style over the years and with Siti Muharam continuing the legacy of Siti Binti Saad it’s no wonder Taarab is currently enjoying a rejuvenation.
Artist – Siti Muharam
Title – Siti of Unguja (Romance Revolution On Zanzibar)
Released- June 2020
Label – On the Corner Records
Genre – Taarab/jazz
Did you enjoy our
10 Best African Albums of 2020?
Looking for some new African music?
Head to our New Music page for our regularly updated list of new African flavoured album releases,
which features a playlist from tracks from the albums.