The best African albums of 2022
2022 was the year African musicians levelled up big time. Every other month arrived with reports of international record deals, significant chart achievements, or major award nominations. Afrobeats artists from Nigeria claimed a lot of the headlines, but a deeper look reveals the diversity of quality coming out of the continent.
This list, while not exhaustive, is a snapshot of this stellar year. From the songbirds of Mali to the exciting hybrid voices of the south, these are ten of the finest African albums from 2022.
Aboogi – Imarhan (Algeria)
The third album by the Algerian Tuareg rock quintet is named after the professional recording studio they constructed in their home city of Tamanrasset. The concept of home is an important theme running through the songs that make up the record that embraces a sense of community. Aboogi is a brilliant work of luminous clarity with live electric guitars, catchy melodies, and angry political commentary backed by impeccable production values.
Ali – Vieux Farka Touré & Khruangbin (Mali/US)
Recorded live in under a week, this electric and eclectic collaboration between Vieux Farka Touré, son of Malian legend Ali Farka Touré, and the Houston-based band Khruangbin repurposes some of the late guitar legend’s classics tunes. As a body of work, Ali is slippery, in that it has a bit of everything, moving from the groovy funk of Tongo Barra to the hypnotic delight of Savane. Ali is a terrific tribute to the man hailed as the father of the desert blues and would be a great place to start for listeners new to Farka Touré’s music.
As Above, So Below – Sampa the Great (Zambia/Australia)
The second studio album by the Zambia-born Botswana-raised singer and rapper is an exuberant experience that curates a unique experience from an amalgamation of influences. Heavily inspired by zamrock, As Above, So Below is an indelible fusion of psychedelic rock, reggae, soul, and traditional music delivered in English and Bemba. The unforgettable reclamation anthem Never Forget (with Chef 187, Tio Nason, Mwanjé) was featured prominently in the trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Bamanan – Rokia Koné & Jacknife Lee (Mali/Ireland)
Bamanan is the result of an unlikely collaboration between the Malian diva dubbed the Rose of Bamako and Irish producer Jacknife Lee. A loose and terrific mix of tradition and modern technology, recorded across three continents, the album showcases Koné’s arresting vocal strengths, high pitched and straining one minute, growling the next. On Bamanan, Koné pays tribute to the culture of her people, the Bambara of southern Mali, drawing inspiration from the tradition of griots and praise singers that came before her.
Queen of Sheba – Ibrahim Maalouf & Angélique Kidjo (Benin/France/Lebanon)
The multi-Grammy Award-winning Beninese icon teams up with French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf for this thrillingly imagined concept album based on the myth of the meeting between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Kidjo sings Maloouf’s compositions – based on the riddles that Solomon is tested with – in Yoruba while the trumpeter supplies the instrumentals. The result is a rewarding if oft disturbing experience that tests the limits of sexual attraction, servitude, and royalty.
Some Nights I Dream of Doors – Obongjayar (Nigeria)
After a couple of years testing out material on Sound Cloud and a couple of EPs, UK-based Nigerian singer and songwriter Obongjayar makes one of the great debuts with Some Nights I Dream of Doors, his first full length LP. The record is an instant classic, incredibly imaginative and reflective of a diversity of sounds that make him endlessly appealing yet hard to pin down. His influences are varied, from Lagbaja to Fela, but Obongjayar is a singular, uncompromising talent and Some Nights I Dream of Doors is proof.
Timbuktu – Oumou Sangaré (Mali)
The ninth record by Malian songbird Oumou Sangaré, named after the ancient city, was conceived of and recorded in the thick of the pandemic while she was in the US. She may have been abroad, but Sangaré clearly carries home with her on Timbuktu, a busy, bustling, addictive record that places her commanding voice and storytelling skills front and center with her background singers, guitars, koras and kamele ngoni hustling to keep up.
V – Aṣa (Nigeria)
In one of contemporary music’s most startling pivots, Aṣa executes a thrilling mid-career switch with her fifth album. The Nigerian soul diva embraces the percussive synths and throbbing beats of current rave Afrobeats. The experiment is a success with Aṣa confidently embodying the new sounds and giving a masterclass on how to make timeless pop music in the process. V is a cohesive and impeccably produced record that proves that Aṣa can do whatever genre she sets her mind to.
The Villain I Never Was – Black Sherif (Ghana)
On the back of his all-conquering breakout single, Kwaku the Traveler, the promising Ghanaian newcomer Black Sherif put out his debut album. The Villain I Never Was is a raw and vulnerable compendium of melancholy hits that suggest his early success wasn’t a fluke. With a storytelling impulse and slick beats making up for some of the basic songwriting on the record, The Villain I Never Was announces the arrival of a major talent.
Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba – Somi (US)
Singer, songwriter, and actor Somi’s latest album is a personal tribute to the late South African legend who turned her years of apartheid-era exile in the US into a glittering globe-trotting career that influenced generations after her. With assists from the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Gregory Porter, and Seun Kuti, Somi rearranges and breathes her own personal touch into some of Makeba’s most popular anthems. Standouts include Jikele Maweni, Khuluma and Strawberries. Not to be missed.