In alphabetical order, WAT presents the end-of-year roundup of the best albums and EPs from around the world. (See bottom of the page for the Spotify playlist).
Alif – Siyah – Pt. 1 Haal
Traditional instruments such as the rabab (lute), shehnai (oboe) and esraj (similar to a sitar) meet the indie rock sounds of guitar, bass and drums. ‘Siyah’ means ‘black’ in Urdu and the band reflects on this theme of darkness for their EP. Written in Urdu and Kashmiri, the lyrics touch on helplessness in Dilgeer, and social media addiction and trolling in the upbeat Zindabad/Murdabad.
Best track: Zindabad/Murdabad
Àlvaro Soler – Magia
The Spanish-German superstar was my most listened to artist according to my Spotify Wrapped, so obviously Magía has to be in here. While it’s true that the album doesn’t exactly push any musical boundaries, in these trying times sometimes all we need are some familiar and comforting pop tunes.
Best track: Mañana
Ami Yèrèwolo – AY
The rapper has determinedly navigated the male-dominated rap scene to become Mali’s hottest new artist. Her distinctive sound blends hip-hop, and traditional Malian Mandingo music and instruments. Lyrically, she doesn’t hold back from speaking out on issues such as sexism and social injustices, delivering rapid fire bars in a mixture of French and Bambara. Also I’m loving her new collaboration with Badd Lime.
Best track: Je Gère
B.I – Waterfall
B.I, formerly of K-pop boy band iKON, released his first solo album in June. The rapper shows off his skilful penmanship as he opens up about the ups and downs of his career and struggles with mental health. There’s an interesting variety in productions, from the flowing illa illa to the textured synths and chromatic chords of Flow Away.
Best track: illa illa
Clara Luciani – Coeur
A much needed breath of life into the stasis of lockdown and a homage to sorely missed nightlife and dancing. Coeur is a well-crafted release of danceable and funk-infused disco pop as well slower tracks such as the beautifully written J’sais pas plaire touches on the singer’s more vulnerable side.
Best track: Respire encore
Dag Tenere – Iswat
Psychedelic electric guitar shredding meet the rhythms of the tendé in the Niamey-based band’s new EP. Iswat is inspired by Nomadic life and the shifting sands of the Sahara Desert and it includes original and traditional songs as well as a brilliant cover of Tinariwen’s Koud Edhaz Emin. (Read their interview with WAT here).
Best track: Derhain, Tihoussay Tenere
Delgres – 4:00am
Rocking dobro guitar melodies, groovy sousaphone bass lines and driving percussion coupled with French Creole lyrics brings new dimensions to the Mississippi Delta Blues. The raw power of the Paris-based trio’s music is matched by hard-hitting lyrics about racism, refugees and the daily grind of the underpaid worker getting up in the early hours to work. (Read their interview with WAT here).
Best track: lundi mardi mercredi, 4ed matin
Humbe – ENTROPÍA
The Mexican producer and singer songwriter picked up a nomination at this year’s Latin GRAMMYs for best new artist, narrowly missing out to Julianna Velasquez. ENTROPÍA is awash in floaty instrumentals and Humbe softly glides from one song to the next, touching on authenticity, love and the particular kind of emotional release that comes from putting pen to paper.
Best track: veinte, EL POETA, tú me hiciste volar
Janie – Toujours les Fleurs
The 20-something-year old singer is a rising star on the French music scene. Her diary-like songwriting and the prominence of the piano in every song naturally draws comparison with the likes of Véronique Sanson and France Gall. Ballads like Ça Ira and Discotèque are quietly magical drawing us in with her soft and breathy voice, while Compile is a fabulous 80s throwback.
Best track: Mon Idole, Petite blonde (although I do prefer the more filled out radio edit production of Petite blonde which isn’t included on the album).
Kandy Guira – Nagtaba
Describing her sound as “electro-pop Faso”, Nagtaba (meaning ‘Together’) melds electronic beats with traditional Burkina melodies such as warba dance music or the traditional wiire rhythms. This release is a proudly feminist and empowering gem, encouraging women around the world to take control of their destiny. Tipped by Oumou Sangaré as “The future star of Africa”, Guira is one to watch.
Best track: Vie Chère