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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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!”