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10 African Albums Turning 20 Years Old This Year


10 African Albums Turning 20 Years Old This Year

Here are ten classic African albums from across Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, South Africa and more that are turning twenty this year.

A lot happened for African music back in 2004. Opposed to the international perception that our sounds began thriving recently, projects from that year were huge and much more sonically aware than so many have given the 2000s credit for. A lot of musicians then were minting life experiences into the compact shape of an album, presenting variant techniques and perspectives which enriched the currency of our shared identity as Africans.

2004 was the year a seminal Nigerian pop album by one of its finest luminaries dropped. It was also the year a female-led South African band showed us how to love and live. Elsewhere, from Senegalese griot-influenced musicians to music from highlife’s unsung icon, there was a lot of quality to go around.

Twenty years later, we reconvene at the altar of sound to pay homage to these classic African albums.


2Face Idibia ‘Face 2 Face’ (Nigeria)

A swashbuckling display of bravado and vulnerability, Face 2 Face set the convention for modern Nigerian music. Through its relentless perspective, bolstered by 2Face’s realist songwriting and the production genius of OJB Jezreel, it’s an album that cannot get enough praise for its inventive core. With fine splashes of R&B, hip-hop, reggae and multiple genres in-between, almost all its songs are vaulted classics in contemporary African music and helped 2Face, undoubtedly, become the face of its push towards global domination.

Daby Touré ‘Diam’ (Mauritania/Senegal)

Meaning Peace, the album Diam was a soulful evocation of the communal. It’s at once a sustained ode to personal relationships while also stretching out to consider the wider world, a sprawling vision made intimate by the discipline of Daby Touré’s artistry. He composed, arranged and performed most of the songs on the 15-track album, and that much is evident; exhilarating and searing at different times, its guitar core is polished by Touré’s reflective, cool vocals, resulting in an enthralling album that sparkles from start to finish.

Ildo Lobo ‘Incondicional’ (Cabo Verde)

Released a few days after his death in 2004, Incondicional was a fitting kiss-goodbye from one of Africa’s great musicians. The Cape Verdean Ildo Lobi was known for his mellifluous vocals and here he’s on splendid form, creating an expansive, thrilling work from his country’s established morna music style, which is primarily based on the Portuguese string instrument cavaquinho. Lobo’s vocal register captures just about every facet of human emotion in 53 minutes, creating one of the essential albums from his part of Africa.

Femi Kuti ‘Africa Shrine’ (Nigeria)

When Fela died in 1997, the mantle irrevocably fell to his eldest son, Femi Kuti, to lead Afrobeat to the promised land. Femi took that responsibility seriously, taking charge of the New Afrika Shrine while sharpening the edges of his own sound. On this live album performed at that iconic venue, he’s at his most incandescent, attuned to his father’s big band ethos while expressing his unique perspective. Africa Shrine is thus explosive while being intensely reflective and revealing, ending its crescendo with his cover of “Water No Get Enemy,” the Fela classic.

Nahawa Doumbia ‘Diby’ (Mali)

One of the groundbreaking musicians in southern Mali’s Wassoulou tradition (now sung most notably by Fatoumata Diawara), the career of Nahawa Doumbia glittered with impeccable composition and braveheart. Her themes of empowerment and identity coalesced into the accomplished form of Diby, first released in 2003 and finding its way to the then-dominant CD format the following year. A throbbing, emotional body of work, among its many standouts included a searing tribute to Thomas Sankara.

Freshlyground ‘Nomvula’ (South Africa)

Without a doubt, Freshlyground is one of the most important African groups of the modern era. On lead vocals was the ever-brilliant Zolani Mahola from South Africa, while other members had roots from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. This multiplicity shimmers on Nomvula, the group’s most popular album which housed their biggest songs “Nomvula (After The Rain)” and “Doo Be Doo,” a moving call to embrace happiness. Indeed, positivity is the thriving ethos of the album, which is beautifully realized through fine genre-bending

Celestine Ukwu & His Philosophers National ‘Best Collection, Vol. 4’ (Nigeria)

Highlife is the sonic bedrock of Afrobeats and Celestine Ukwu is one of its essential musicians. Often ranked alongside titans like Rex Lawson and Osita Osadebe, his contributions to the genre were both cultural and commercial, as he was one of the best-selling African musicians of his time. In 2004, the record label Premier Records, which owns the masters of many Highlife greats, released this stirring collection of Celestine Ukwu, who died in 1977. A wonder, it captures the warmth of feeling and quality of storytelling that made him so acclaimed.

Thandiswa Mazwai ‘Zabalaza’ (South Africa)

Erstwhile famed as the lead singer of the iconic kwaito group Bongo Maffin, this album saw Thandiswa Mazwai emerge into an accomplished solo career. Close-lying with her roots, she spent a fortnight in her mother’s village of Transkei, introduced to the Xhosa harp Uhadi, which features prominently in Zabalaza. The genres are vast and the heart tremendous, establishing Thandiswa as one of the most original acts in African music. It’s quite telling that an artist like Bongeziwe Mabandla mentions her as one of his influences when it comes to charting universal themes within South African experiences.

Ruggedman ‘Thy Album Come’ (Nigeria)

Ruggedman was already an icon shortly after his entry into the Nigerian rap scene in the nineties. By the first half of the next decade, he was one of the country’s hottest stars, a provocateur who advocated for better standards among rappers. And so his debut album was heavily anticipated, but Ruggedman delivered Thy Album Come with a casual shrug. A masterclass on versatility, it penetrated several facets of the Nigerian market and established Ruggedman not just as one of the most purposeful artists of his generation, but all time.

Miriam Makeba ‘Reflections’ (South Africa)

Mama Africa was a towering figure in 20th-century black music. Her jazz-inflected Afropop songs synthesized the totality of her experience in South Africa and beyond. Coming before her death in 2008, Reflections triumphs as a last letter, expressing the classic themes the singer has illuminated over the years. Assured, expansive, and excellent, the music is lucid as the title suggests, and she delivers gentle messages on how to carve one’s space in the world, with all the love and light one can possibly muster.

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