December is probably the hardest time of the year to be away from South Africa because it’s the holidays AND summer so people are pretty much wildin’. There’s the heat and the long weekends and the national distinction between just December and Dezemba, which is the spirit of pure party.
If you want to hear what that Dezemba feeling sounds like, I don’t think there’s anyone who did it better than Hip Hop Pantsula, aka Jabulani Tsambo, who passed away earlier this year from suicide. HHP will always be 100% Dezemba, especially the song “Jabba.” It’s one of my all time favorite songs ever, especially so because he raps in my mother tongue, and the sample of “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” by Tavares offers the perfect groove for this cheeky, joyous track.
And since it’s also the season of year end lists and I’m feeling nostalgic for home, I’m dedicating this list to African artists that I had on repeat this year (and yes, I did listen to “Jabba” even though it wasn’t Dezemba). Most of them happen to be Nigerian acts who pioneered or excelled in creating Afrobeat and highlife music – energetic jazz and funk infused bops. There’s Fela Kuti of course, because what kind of Afrolist would it be without him, and the Lijadu Sisters, whose afro-disco vibes made them a moderate success in the US and Europe from the mid-60s to the 80s (and owners of the best bassline on this list). William Onyeabor was a little more underrated in his day, but his innovative play with synthesizers made him a bit of an indie darling, and a documentary and compilation cover album featuring the likes of Hot Chip and Damon Albarn gave him cult status in the present day.
Finally, there’s Ebo Taylor, a Ghanian and the only one still actively making music. He released an album this year called Yen Ara, which marked the 60th anniversary of his career in music that includes hanging out in London with The Beatles and Fela Kuti.
Put this on loud. Picture Christmas with swimming pools and picnics instead of with sweaters and snow (or in my case, rain), get seriously loose because the rules simply don’t apply when it’s Dezemba.