1. Rabbit, “Ligi Soo”
If you’re a Lonely Island superfan, you might have heard of Kenyan rapper Kaka Sungura, a.k.a. Kevin Onimba, who is known professionally as Rabbit, since he collaborated with Jorma “Booth Jonathan” Taccone on a music video for AFAR magazine two years ago. This song is better than that song. This song is amazing! The beat sounds like artificial rain. Rabbit did not nick his nickname from 8 Mile, in case you were wondering. As a kid, he raised baby bunnies.
Best YouTube Comment: “the song maaaddd big ups bro” — Mwaila Ngali
2. Sage ft. Octopizzo, “So Alive”
This is 25-year-old singer-songwriter Sage’s incredibly strong debut single. The multi-instrumentalist formerly sang background vocals for Muthoni DQ, who convinced her to change her name from Barbara.
Best YouTube Comment: “She has great pipes, no doubt. so refreshing!” — Bwana Sambu
3. P-Unit ft. Alicios, “Mobimba”
Does the P in P-Unit stand for “party rock”? I’m afraid it might, but this is still the best party rock I’ve ever heard. The dance break at 2:14 is fantastic.
Best YouTube Comment: “This beat is baddest!!!” — Salvador Mutea
4. Sauti Sol, “Still the One”
Sauti Sol is an Afro-pop R&B four-piece. This is the perfect late summer slow jam to soundtrack your sunscreen melting off as the leaves begin to turn. Sauti Sol played SXSW last year and deserve to be huge in America.
Best YouTube Comment: “ID GIVE ANYTHING TO HAVE THE TALL GUY’S VOICE. I LOVE IT.” — vian steve
5. Octopizzo ft. Amina, “SWAG”
This sounds like “85” by the YoungBloodZ, and that’s pretty much the highest compliment possible in my book. Definitely one of the less annoying songs about “swag” so far.
Best YouTube Comment: “love the video and of course Amina’s presence jus makes it a whole lot better” — Deno Dennis
6. Redsan, “Badder Than Most”
Redsan, born Swabri Mohammed, is one of East Africa’s biggest ragga and dancehall artists. He won a 1998 talent contest in Nairobi and has released three albums since. He tours incessantly and worldwide, leading to the Kenyan press dubbing him the “Absentee Dancehall King.”
Best YouTube Comment: “Redsan needs an identity, he can’t carve a career out of aping popular dancehall artists” — Anthony Sserwadda
7. Jaguar, “Kipepeo”
I love how the skies are cloudy and gray and overcast in this video. Jaguar’s real name is Charles Njagua Kanyi. His Wikipedia entry says Jaguar “has performed in Nairobi and Minnesota,” but doesn’t go into detail any more deeply than that about the Minnesota gig. Maybe he made a holy pilgrimage to purify himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka?
Best YouTube Comment: “That good video n song…it’s the hottest for 2013” — ramseygizy73
8. Just a Band, “Matatizo”
Just a Band’s beautiful cover of Issa Juma’s classic “Matatizo” is reminiscent of The Beta Band and other melodic psychedelic drone pop. The powerful music video is a surreal waterboarding nightmare that becomes a Terrence Malick pastoral. The torture sequences depict the infamously evil 1990 “Nyayo House torture chambers.” Just a Band is “a Kenyan house/funk/disco band” that has branched out into electronica, hip-hop, soul, pop, and jazz. The trio met at Kenyatta University and has performed in Berlin and created video art for its songs. Its third album, Sorry for the Delay, came out last October.
Best YouTube Comment: “Film-making on another level!” — 254Entertainment
9. Collo ft. Stella Mwangi & Mimmo, “Floss Na Wewe”
Sounds like a Wham! ’80s doo-wop production, with a sliver of “Mambo No. 5.” This would play all the time at my cyberpunk retro diner, Cafe Mirrorshades.
Best YouTube Comment: “I love this song! Love the 70s and 80s influences…STLC no doubt knows how to shoot a video and Collo, he just keeps on getting better with time!” — Mercy Mbaka
10. Wyre ft. Alaine, “Nakupenda Pia”
Kevin Wyre goes by his last name, and is an established reggae and R&B presence in Kenya. He was previously in the groups East African Bashment Crew and Necessary Noize, and has put out two solo albums. Maybe Kanye’s corny “swaghili” punchline will inspire some people to check out actual Swahili hip-hop, which is now a two-decade old genre. Alaine is a New Jersey–born singer who moved to Jamaica at age 3, then moved back to the East Coast of America to write songs and sing backup for Cam’ron and Freeway. After working as an investment banker, she returned to Jamaica and got back into the reggae and dancehall scene, working with respected artists like Beenie Man, Busy Signal, Shaggy, Tony Matterhorn, and Mavado.
Best YouTube Comment: “I just smiled when I just watched it…its too tight!” — Dee Ny’