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10 Best South African Albums and LPs Of 2019

A list of 10 albums that snapped in ways that mattered the most.

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2019 was a great year for the South African music industry. New highs were reached, new plaques were secured, and new genres disrupted the scene. But while many established faves did not release new works, the streets produced enough solid releases to raise the bar.

10. KHULI CHANA – PLANET OF THE HAVE NOTS

Best South African Albums 2019 - Khuli Chana Planet of The Have Nots

The Motswako originator, as he is affectionately known to his fans, is an alluring figure.

Although boasting a dazzling discography, which features a bunch of hits and award winning, critically acclaimed best selling albums, he has remained an elusive frame in the culture.

Perhaps it’s because he shuns the seductions of hype fuelled social media splashes that have become synonymous with the marketing tricks employed by his contemporaries.

Chana, it seems, is fine allowing the music to speak for itself, an allegiance to authenticity that informs his commitment to Motswako, an offshoot of Hip Hop that originates and represents his SeTswana culture.

The Planet of The Haves was released without any theatrics, a strategy that is fitting for the sound.

Containing 13 new songs, including the Ichu promotional single with Cassper Nyovest, the album is a throwback dive with a modern day twist.

Khuli tugs back at the heartstrings of Kwaito, using technical elements that not only gave soundtracks to the summers of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, but also offered an arsenal of tools for the likes of Jabba and Morafe, who along with Khuli Chana, are noted for popularising Motswako.

Having applied his creative instincts to execute a major collaboration with Absolut, where he had the creative freedom to unleash visual storytelling as an element to his pioneering his art, he has expressed and conducted his business in a way that never steered from his original sound, voice and aesthetic.

The Planet of The Haves lines up back to back delights for the bonafide Khuli Chana fan.

9. MFR SOULS – THE BEGINNING

Best South African Albums 2019 - MFR Souls The Beginning

Hailing from Katlehong in Ekurhuleni, the dynamic duo has paved their way to the top with beautiful house music.

What’s more, many still don’t know that the two are considered as one of the pioneers of the now popular Amapiano house music sub-genre, which they championed and stuck to for almost a decade before everyone picked it up in the last couple of years.

Consisting of Maera and Force Reloaded, MFR Souls have delivered a slew of piano-laden house numbers through the years, focusing on refining their unique touch while also firing up their work on the decks.

They’ve also shunned the spotlight, moving subtly in underground dance music circles and building a steady footprint within township dance culture, where they’ve made a name for themselves.

Though, 2019 marked a full circle.

With the success of Love You Tonight, featuring Sha Sha, DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small, they decided to premiere their debut EP, The Beginning.

We first vibed to the nine track record at a private album listening session in Rosebank, Johannesburg, where they treated music industry insiders and peers to a vinyl treatment of their luxurious offering.

The Beginning is easily one of the best dance music albums to emerge from 2019. The beauty in the  material is that MFR Souls have refused to incorporate elements and tricks of the more palatable Amapiano sound, which has emerged with repetitive hooks, chords and explicit lyrics.

Instead they’ve stayed true to their approach in making music, working with skilled vocalists to deliver a solid discography of dance numbers.

8. MUZI – ZENO

Best South African Albums 2019 - Muzi - Zeno

Muzi is an important figure to the South African music industry. He is countercultural, colourful and hella talented.

Through his experiments with a variety of sounds, spanning electro, EDM, Afro-Beats, House, Jazz and God-knows-what, he’s managed to establish a sound that thrives outside the parameters of whatever box containing outdated and limited expressions of blackness.

And in the digital age, where the vast richness and sheer enormity of blackness has never mattered as much, he pitches a tent with a lush vibe built from a bass that keeps on giving.

On Zeno, a 12 track LP that premiered ahead of his headline spot at Black Coffee’s second Music Is King show last year, Muzi gives us electro, electronic maskandi and a litany of sonic influences.

The album is both futuristic and nostalgic, a testament to how creativity can allow us to travel through time.

Samthing Soweto hovers delightful vocals and delivers a smooth Afrosoul feel on Mncane, for example.

But of course, being a Muzi production, the track at once feels distinctly African in a classical sense, while also deploying space age electronic elements to remind us the future is now.

We are going to start seeing more artists and creatives exploring varied expressions in the coming decade. You watch!

7. PRINCE KAYBEE – RE MMINO

Best South African Albums 2019 - Prince Kaybee Re Mmino

We genuinely thought Prince Kaybee had risen to become the biggest artist in South Africa by mid-2019 when we asked him in this exclusive interview whether or he considers himself as the lion of the jungle.

It’s the year he had Fetch Your Life featuring Msaki and Gugulethu featuring Nokwazi blazing through the airwaves while Banomoya with Busiswa, and Club Controller with TNS were barely letting up their chart dominance.

All these hits would be packed on Re Mmino, his third studio album.

The tape proved to be the peak of a journey that began with stints in television presenting before the fire debut of Better Days in 2015. Since then, Prince Kaybee has been dishing back to back anthems in a manner only DJ Cleo had been able to do in the decade prior.

But while Kabelo does believe that he has reached somewhat of a ceiling in appeasing the local market, an epiphany that informed the release of the Crossover EP –  which attempted to begin a chapter that sets the sails towards the rest of the planet – he did not believe himself to the leading artist.

Re Mmino is a delight for house music enthusiasts.

While not his best album critically, the 13 track offering delivered some of the biggest hits of the year, shaking the landscape and keeping the dance floors populated.

6. LADY ZAMAR  MONARCH

Best South African Albums 2019 - Lady Zamar Monarch

In 2019, Lady Zamar followed the massive success of King Zamar with the release of her sophomore studio album (it’s her third when counting the debut collaborative album, Cotton Candy with Junior Taurus).

Monarch contains 20 new songs cohesively creating a world in which the songbird hovers sublime vocals over dance instrumentals.

The album, which had fans complimenting Lady Zamar for her songwriting skills and flair for melody, also came with a studio version of Destiny, the emotional offering she first debuted on JR’s Feel Good Sessions to much applause.

RELATED: THE DECADE’S 18 BEST SOUTH AFRICAN LIVE ACTS!

Yet far from the awe-inspiring acoustic version she performed in the stripped down session, the studio version melts into the album’s dance sonic core.

Co-penned by Moonchild Sanelly, Msaki and DJ Choice, the 20 track project is a confident and vulnerable display of the singer’s rare ability to summon her own wave and ride it.

The SAMA award winning King Zamar debut album has spawned a bevy of megahits, setting the benchmark quite high not only for other female artists in the house music and pop dance scenes, but also herself.

Ducking the daggers of the sophomore slump, Lady Zamar shines even further on Monarch.

Though, fans will continue wondering how many, if any, of the new songs were inspired by the highs and lows of her former relationship with Sjava, which she detailed last year in a string of tweets.

5. AMI FAKU – IMALI

Best South African Albums 2019 - Ami Faku

The best time to strike is when no one is looking. With the release of her album Imali, Ami Faku rose to become one of the best performing South African female artists in 2019.

By the end of the year and decade, the Eastern Cape native became the only newcomer to appear on Spotify’s Top 100 Most Streamed South African Artists, trailing behind established incumbents and digital faves Shekhinah and Lady Zamar.

She also had three songs on Apple Music’s 100 Best Songs of 2019 with Into Ingawe with Sun-EL Musician, Imali ft Blaq Diamond and Ndiyeke with Lemon & Herb.

Imali introduces us to 11 beautiful songs that showcase Ami Faku’s sultry voice and songwriting in her native Xhosa language.

She immerses herself with the rich texture of her culture and gives all a contemporary take on Afro Pop and Afro Soul blends.

4. AMANDA BLACK – POWER

Best South African Albums 2019 - Amanda Black Power

There was a time, after the dust had settled from the success of her debut album Amazulu, when Amanda Black’s future was uncertain.

While fans patiently awaited the follow up to Black’s sterling 2016 debut, the powerhouse singer had secretly retreated to her hometown in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, where she had been contemplating her next move.

This dark chapter in the former Idols SA contestant came after her departure from record label, Ambitiouz Entertainment. “I’ve been in hibernation”, she told ZikhiphaniTV last year. Her departure was marked by legal drama and contractual untangling that threatened to cut short a promising career.

But the 26 year old rose like a phoenix, created her own record label and partnered with Sony Music.

It is here that she record her second album, Power, an empowering manifesto for resilience and the power of the human spirit.

Over 17 tracks, Black sings her heart out on various themes, the most prominent being love and triumph. “I believe I was born for greatness”, she sings on the title track Power. “That I will stand and fight for all my dreams.”

Her dream deferred resumes triumphantly with a project that sustains Black’s place in the South African music industry.

Stripped down and ready to share the pains she endured in her personal life, Power is full of emotion, vulnerability and displays of strength.

3. DJ MAPHORISA & KABZA DE SMALL – THE RETURN OF SCORPION KINGS

If Amapiano reached the crest of its enormous wave in 2019, then Porry and Kabza De Small are the architects who steered the arching curl from the shore.

DJ Maphorisa finally strikes the maestro mantle that has slowly been coming his way since scoring a Billboard #1 through Drake’s 2016 hit One Dance, on which he had production credits.

Kabza De Small, who’s meteoric rise to the mainstream couldn’t be more remarkable, is perhaps the bigger winner.

The rise of amapiano and his popularity were so synchronised that he became Spotify SA’s most streamed South African artist of the year – proving once more that in the world of streaming, the playing field is fair game.

After all in 2019, not even for the most established pop culture incumbents could flash victory cards on a table dominated by amapiano and house music.

After unleashing a slew of hits, a bulk which found them working repeatedly with Samthing Soweto and new sensation Sha Sha, the collaborative duo debuted their first full body of work – The Scorpion Kings.

Where that produced a set of blockbuster hits for the dance floor, the sequel elevates their sound and gives them room to flex their creative prowess.

The Return of Scorpion Kings features 15 songs and a bevy of high powered collaborations, a list including King Tha (a.k.a Thandiswa Mazwai), Mlindo, Busiswa and amongst others Mi Casa. The hit packed project also comes with a posthumous collaboration with South African legend,  Hugh Masekela.

2. SAMTHING SOWETO – ISPHITHIPHITHI

Best South African Albums 2019 - Samthing Soweto Isphithiphithi

2019 was Samthing Soweto’s year, period.

Samthing Soweto had a supreme moment of encounter with destiny. His oeuvre delivered a timeless classic that not only places him ahead of the melee, but has the potential to shift the industry forward with its manifesto for a return to brilliance as a benchmark.

Real name Samkelo Mdolomba, the hitmaker finally liberated his highly anticipated debut studio album, Isphithiphithi.

Already touted as a strong contender for album of the year by satiated fans and critics, the 13-track project marks a full circle for Samthing Soweto, who first flirted with the thrill of commercial success in 2011 as one of the founding members of acapella group – The Soil.

ALBUM REVIEW: SAMTHING SOWETO – ISPHITHIPHITHI

Working with a bevy of the country’s high powered producers, such as Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa and Thabo Ngubane, a.k.a Mass, Samthing Soweto has engineered a richly layered masterpiece that launches his solo career from a crest.

The album premiered to much fanfare, having topped the iTunes album chart based on pre-orders alone. The lead single, Akulaleki, one of this summer’s biggest street anthems, was also #1 on iTunes across genres, making Samthing Soweto the first South African artist to achieve this feat.

As a complete project, Isphithiphithi sounds like work that took time to be created. Samthing Soweto’s powerful voice hovers on each song.

Good things do come to those who wait.

Isphithiphithi has spawned a number of chart topping hit singles, and many of them were cancelling each other out as top contenders for song of the year during the festive season of 2019.

Such tracks as Akulaleki, AmaDM and Lotto dominated the airwaves and gave the streets substance to dance to.

This is a richly layered project, each song sufficing to exist beyond the world of the album. Yet as a cohesive set, the album decks out a brilliant offering.

1. SHANE EAGLE – BLACK MOON FLOWER

Best South African Albums 2019 - Shane Eagle Dark Moon Flower

The rapper has delivered his most beautiful work yet, and that’s saying a mouthful, seeing as his two previous works were lauded for their creative swell.

Not only did his debut album Yellow garner Shane Eagle a much deserved SAMA award, it also reached GOLD status in the land.

So did his sophomore project, the critical masterpiece, Never Grow Up. Although an EP, the record found Shane Eagle flexing elastic lyrical abilities, layering beautiful beats with autobiographical recollections of a journey that shapes his being.

He tackled the ways his DNA, which bring Europe and Africa both in his blood and in the studio, configured his reality in ways that open themselves up to exploration.

It’s after the release of this EP that Eagle fully established his own zone within the South African Hip Hop landscape. He tossed aside the initial flirtations with a more commercially viable, wave surfing sound for music more authentically suited to his mind and creative instinct.

On Dark Moon Flower, the rapper refines his soundscape and elevates it to offer his fans a magnum opus that puts a mark on his catalogue as representing some of the finest figures in the new school Hip Hop wave. Like Never Grow Up, the project, which he later cleared up to be a mere EP, also explores many spiritual themes.

Shane Eagle is really fascinated by deeper philosophical truths. He loves meditating on ideas about the genesis of life and the form God takes up, while tackling various social themes and the youth angst troubling this generation.

The EP beautifully produced, delivering a quality worthy of the album artwork being splashed all over Times Square in NYC the way that he did following its release.

The litany of international collaborations here also bare testimony to the fact that Shane Eagle is clearly playing a long game.  As he charges on Evolve, the low-fi vibes meet metallic angst collaborative entry with PatricKxxLee, “I just want to take my time to evolve!”

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Squid Game Ending Explained; We’ve Been Scammed

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We’ve been had, and Squid Game is here to prove it.

When the end of the South Korean horror drama arrives on the ninth episode, the winner finds himself harrowed by what the coveted prize has cost his soul. In the rat race for survival, along with a better life that hinges on the never ending hustle, there’s no time to stop and see the horror our lives become. By the end, we see how the winner has sold his soul for a crappy deal that came with a few toys, and a happy meal.

A group of 456 players are mysteriously invited to take part in a set of children’s games for a grand prize of $38 million, which will be enough to give the winner the financial freedom they desperately need. The players are selected from different walks of life, with the burden of excessive debt being their biggest motivation to give the Game a go.

The first of deepening terrors comes during the first game, when the players discover that penalties for losing in the challenges will be death. DEATH. Horrified, the players initially vote to leave and return to their lives.

This noble departure doesn’t last long; their material realities as fugitives on the run from debt collectors only highlights the glow of the precious promise they’ve now left behind. When they return for the second time, they now consent to their highly probable deaths.

Led by Lee Jung-jae, who plays Seong Gi-hun, a taxi driver with a gambling addiction, the South Korean series has become somewhat of a global phenomenon. Now the most streamed Korean series of all time, Squid Game is also said to be on pace to dethrone Bridgerton as the most streamed series in the history of Netflix. And it’s with good reason. Squid Game is a trip.

Survival is the drive. The blues of a broke life pile up for Seong Gi-hun, who’s daughter is being taken away to the US by her mother and step father. His mother is battling deteriorating diabetes and even in her frail condition, is still working hard to make ends meet. It’s during the peak of his frustrations that Gi-hun is randomly invited to take part in the Game.

After accepting the offer, he finds himself in a discreet location along with 455 players, who are also drowning in debt. The players are kept under an authoritarian system of surveillance. Masked guards in pink suits keep the scene under control under the supervision of the Front Man. Gi-hun allies with other players, including his childhood friend Cho Sang-woo, as a the most strategic way to survive the bloody challenges.

Amongst those that end up in this team is player 001, a frail old man who who became his “gganbu”. Sae-byeok, who was also in the team, was killed by Sang-woo, Gi-hun’s childhood friend, team member and flip-flopping ally. Several other team members had to be killed by their team mates, which revealed the wickedness of the games.

In the end, Gi-hun’s victory came without an apology. He had to defeat a close ally in the games, the old and frail player 001. They’d bonded throughout their time, but in the end he had to advance himself against those he’d built alliances. As the games progressed, the players found themselves having to face tough calls. Someone else has to die for you to make it another day.

After a series of brutal games, it comes down to childhood friends Gi-hun and Cho Sang-woo. They’d played different games, with Sang-woo having played hard and stopping at nothing to win. Gi-hun is mad at Sang-woo for a series of betrayals, including him stabbing Sae-byeok to her death. In the end, Gi-hun wins when Sang-woo apologised and kills himself.

Yet despite emerging a winner, Gi-hun finds that the cost of becoming an overnight billionaire has bankrupted his soul. For a year following the day his bank account was loaded with a nine zero figure, he didn’t touch the money. After all, he returned to find his mother dead on the floor. One of his motivations was getting the money to get her medical help over her advancing diabetes.

THE ENDING

Gi-hun is clearly troubled by the bodies upon which his new wealth rests. A year passes and he hasn’t touched the money – even oddly reverting to old patterns of asking for loans to get by. It might be late to be so concerned about the moral questions surrounding the games now – the long and short of it is he won and his life has changed.

Later, he is shocked to find out that the “gganbu” who had to be killed after losing to him in a game of marbles, was never really killed.

In a shocking plot twist that changes everything – he also finds out that the old man is in fact the creator of the games! Finding him in a medical bed after receiving a mysterious invite to the location, Gi-hun discovers that the man’s real name is Oh Il-nam, an obscenely rich fella who created the games in 1988 (the same year Korea hosted the Olympics for the first time) purely for their entertainment. We already know by now that ‘the VIPs’ are a bunch of morally bankrupt elites who find pleasure in watching the poor masses slaughtering each other for money in a broken system. Where have we heard that before?

Although his participation in the games as player 001 was a farce, what he told Gi-hun back then, that he had a brain tumour, had been true. And of course, he challenged him to another sick game. A man had been freezing to death on a street pavement, and Oh Il-nam challenged Gi-hun to guess to bet on the odds that someone who help him when the clock strikes 00:00 at midnight. As Gi-hun wins, Oh Il-nam dies.

We assume this marks the end of the games. However later in the episode, Gi-hun sees the man who recruited him doing it to someone else. He runs to stop what is happening, but arrives at the exact scene late, the train has already taken off. Later on the way to boarding a flight, he turns and calls a number. “I can’t forgive you for everything you’re doing,” he tells ta man we assume to be In-ho. He turns back, clearly about to begin his new mission.

What we know now, is that Oh Il-nam created the games to tickle the sick tastes of his sick rich network. But he is now dead. Who is now behind the games? This, and Gi-hun’s passionate manifesto, are strong indications that next season of the series is already shaping up to a different arc. It’s his final transformation, and he is ready to take down the operation and those behind it. He won’t allow people to be “horses” for the entertainment of wealthy elites.

We know that In-ho shot Jun-ho in a bid to stop him from alerting the police about the games. The signal was bad, delaying the delivering of the evidence Jun-ho had been trying to send in several texts, right up to the moment the moment he plunged from a cliff and hit the water. What we don’t know is whether the messages were really not delivered. There’s also no conclusive evidence that Jun-ho is dead.

Potentially, the biggest lesson from season one is that our relentless pursuit for material success in a punishing money system kills us.

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First Look at HBO’s Game of Thrones Spin-Off ‘House of The Dragon’

DRACARYS!

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Things look promising for HBO’s upcoming drama series, The House of Dragon. The highly buzzed Games of Thrones prequel’s first visual teaser has been met with much fanfare, raking in more than 8,6 million views on Youtube within two days of its arrival.

The House of Dragon

Photo Credit: HBO via Twitter

First reactions and buzz around the epic teaser have been strong indications that the series, slated to premiere in 2022, is off to a good start despite the infamous final season slump suffered by G.O.T. And it could mean that maybe, just maybe,  the world ready to let old baggage go.

The House of Dragon, created by an entire different team, will arrive about three years since the cold winter. The cast includes Matt Smith, Paddy Considine and Sonoya Mizuno who will be bringing to life a different era of Westeros.

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Midnight Mass is Creepy With A Dark Subtext and You Need To See it

‘God’s angel’ had sinister plans for the town.

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The reign of terror plunges a small and quiet town to ashes when the arrival of a charismatic yet mysterious priest coincides with the return of a disgraced young man who has just been released from prison.

While Riley (Zach Gilford) initially finds that Crockett Island and its 127 residents – along with his childhood sweetheart Erin (Kate Siegel) – still conduct a mundane existence, Pastor Paul (Hamish Linklater) soon changes that.

Midnight Mass

“The LORD’s angel”‘s life giving blood comes scams locals into horrible mistakes on Midnight Mass.

When the island’s much loved Roman Catholic senior priest takes a trip to the pilgrimage and never comes back, an energetic new priest takes his place at the Holy Land church. And while his arrival brings with it a new wave of spiritual revival amongst the island community, something sinister begins to haunt the town.

With each episode, the esoteric occult that powers Paul’s ability to perform astounding miracles and mesmerise the islanders, slowly gains dominion over the unsuspecting community. Instead, they begin taking up a renewed interest in the church as word of mouth spreads about the signs and wonders. Much like Jesus Christ was able to draw crowds wherever he went, the appearance of Paul’s supernatural power is able to attract even those who’d remained sceptics their lives.

It’s the blending of the sacred and the sinister. The taking of communion that has been contaminated with demonic blood, which functions as the miracle drug promising eternal life.

We soon find out the miracles come at an unthinkable cost.

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