Africa: Best of the Year-End's Music

analysis

Lloyd Gedye gives us the rundown of the standout music picks from the fourth quarter of 2019, including some booming R&B, Angolan-inspired sounds, epic hip-hop and menacing noise.

Lloyd Gedye wraps up the best music from the end of the year.

Sudan Archives (USA) - Athena

For two years, Brittney Parks aka Sudan Archives has been casting spells. In 2017, she dropped Come Meh Way, with its booming bassline, scattered percussion and Park's violin, which sounds like the Ethiopian one-stringed masenqo. This song resembles nothing else in the world, serving as a real highlight from that year.

In 2018, Nont For Sale was released, a psychedelic space-age groove about claiming one's time in the face of others' negativity. The song was liquid gold.

The thing about music this good is that it always leaves you wanting more, but Sudan Archives' music has always been released in small doses - up until now.

Her self-titled debut EP from 2017 clocked in at a mere 16 minutes, while 2018's Sink EP was 19 minutes. What would Sudan Archives achieve across a whole album? The answer, after the release of Athena in November, is that Sudan Archives was only just getting started.

Athena is a gorgeously spun masterpiece. Confessions, which begins with an introduction of swelling strings, explodes into life. A rhythm built around a booming bass note, sparse percussion and a violin riffs, it is simple yet captivating. The dynamics of the deep booming bass, sparse percussion and strings is at the heart of Athena's magic. There is so much space left in the music, allowing it to really breathe.

Coming Up is a devastating song about the suffocation of a codependent relationship, but devastation has never sounded this blissful, even if the fractured tension of the subject matter is evident in the song.

Sudan Archives' blend of Sudanese fiddling, experimental electronics and R&B groove has to be some of the most hypnotic magic going on in 2019.

Land of Kush (Egypt) - Sand Enigma

In 2013 Sam Shalabi's big band Land of Kush delivered the critically acclaimed album The Big Mango, a love letter written to Cairo, recorded during the Arab Spring.

Six years later, Shalabi's big band is back with Sand Enigma, the band's fourth album, which features a cast of over 20 musicians and was released in November.

Notable new editions to the big band are Nadah El Shazly on vocals and Maurice Louca on synths, whose album Elephantine we flagged in our first quarter music wrap.

Shazly is superb on the album opener Aha, her voice the star in a magnificent dialogue with strings and horns. Some rather off kilter percussion begins to drag the song off track about three minutes in. It feels as though it were grinding and moaning as it unravels. But it finds focus again in a faster groove that feels quite monstrous. Aha is just one of the many highlights on Sand Enigma.

By the time album closer Tensor begins with Devin Brahja Waldman's opening saxophone solo, it's clear that Land of Kush have delivered their best album yet. An attention-grabbing opus that has somehow been crafted out of its diverse range of influences, which include Middle-Eastern folk music, free jazz, experimental electronics, psychedelia, post-punk, avant-garde improvisation and noise.

Sand Enigma is absolutely compelling - just don't file it under easy listening.

DJ Nigga Fox (Portugal) - Cartas Na Manga

After dropping the Cranio EP on the United Kingdom's Warp Records last year, Lisbon's Rogério Brandão aka DJ Nigga Fox, returns to Principe Discos, the label that introduced him to the world, for a nine-track full-length album titled Cartas Na Manga.

For those not familiar with Principe Discos, this Lisbon-based label has, since September 2013, been responsible for introducing the world to a new genre of music, known as Batida and a host of new stars such as DJ Marfox, DJ Firmeza and Nidia Minaj.

Batida is a style of music that found its voice at raucous street parties held in Lisbon's urban slums. It draws heavily on rhythms from Angola including kuduro, kizomba and tarraxo, to create a new soundtrack for a young marginalised Lisbon population, whose ancestry is in Africa.

DJ Nigga Fox's new album suggests Batida is about to grow from its youthful banging dancefloor energy into a more contemplative space, where the music can address both body and mind.

Whether it's Sub Zero, a song that has sonic similarities to South Africa's gqom, or the sheer elasticity of Faz a Minha, which combines a bombastic low-end with some rather nervy electronics, DJ Nigga Fox's new album is his most mature work yet - he has chosen to return home to tell the world he has arrived.

Danny Brown (USA) - uknowhatimsayin¿

Danny Brown is back with his best work yet.

October saw the release of the rapper's Q-Tip-produced fifth album uknowhatimsayin¿.

The album follows his critically acclaimed 2016 album Atrocity Exhibition, which took its title from the collection of JG Ballard short stories. While uknowhatimsayin¿ is a less experimental album when stacked up against Atrocity Exhibition, what it lacks in innovation, it delivers in classic hip-hop power. A more cohesive offering than the 2016 album, uknowhatimsayin¿ is a far superior listening experience.

The duo Run the Jewelz pop up on the nihilistic banger 3 Tearz, which features Q-Tip on some great deep-organ grind, while Blood Orange delivers on the magnificent collaboration Shine.

The album highlight has to be the hard-hitting Savage Nomad, where Brown cuts loose over a pounding beat. In songs like Savage Nomad, Brown sounds like nobody else in the hip-hop game, even if uknowhatimsayin¿ is a step closer to the mainstream.

uknowhatimsayin¿ is a statement of intent. At this point, Danny Brown just can't be ignored.

Kim Gordon (USA) - No Home Record

Kim Gordon's first solo record took 36 years to arrive, but has emerged perfectly in sync with these darks days of surveillance capitalism.

No Home Record is an interrogation and exploration of the acts of branding and commodification within consumer culture. Gordon told American public radio stations in October when her album dropped that she had been "kind of obsessing over looking at Airbnbs online".

"I really see them as contemporary landscapes, interior landscapes, how everything sort of matches," she said. " The whole image, it just kind of looks like art to me."

Gordon conjures up these feelings on the four-minute Airbnb by using repeated words like "cosy", "delicious", "warm", "bubble wrap me" and "super-host".

She dropped the video for her new album's opening song Sketch Artist in August this year. Directed by artist Loretta Fahrenholz, it is a dark urban nightmare that sees Gordon cast as an Uber Driver (Unter in the video).

The song is a menacing introduction to No Home Record, sounding like something that Tricky and Trent Reznor might have cooked up together in the late 1990s, while the video is Taxi Driver for the gig economy. As Gordon drives past pedestrians on the streets they fall to the ground, shaking in choreography to the song's heavy industrial beat provided by producer Justin Raisen.

No Home Record may be one of the noisiest records made in 2019, but it is also one of the most vital.

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