The year 2021 was not spared from the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which crippled operations within the creative sector. Despite the easing of COVID-19 regulations in some parts of the African continent, live performance revenues remained the biggest casualty, with artists seeking other means to monetise their music.
Even though 2021 was supposed to be a year where the world would return to ‘normal’, many festivals, concerts and award ceremonies were cancelled, postposed or held digitally. Following the emergence of the Omicron variant in November, countries like the US and UK, which many African musicians rely on to earn a living by touring there, placed new travel restrictions that led to the cancellations of incoming tours by artists based on the continent.
Despite these repetitive challenges, many musicians opted to increase their output in terms of new musical works and further embraced the digital space to grow their brands with new and existing fans. The hits continued pouring out and many African artists kept on signing important recording and publishing deals as well as endorsement agreements throughout the year. In West Africa, Nigerian and Ghanaian artists dominated the airwaves and digital service providers (DSPs).
The region’s most notable success came from Wizkid whose collaboration with Tems on ‘Essence’ earned the Nigerian various international awards. Southern Africa was ruled by amapiano while Central Africa saw veterans such as Koffi Olomidé and Fali Ipupa cementing their presence in the industry. There was a shift in North Africa with young hip hop artists like ElGrandeToto and Wegz taking the genre to the next level within the Arab region. As usual, Tanzania and Kenya were the biggest exporters of music in the East African region with musicians such Zuchu and Nikita Kering winning top awards.
Music In Africa has compiled a list to African artists who turned heads in 2021 and further popularised the continent’s music.
Makhadzi (South Africa)
Makhadzi made a huge impression this year with her 2020 album Kokovha (Crawl), which debuted at No 1 on the South African iTunes album charts, beating Kabza De Small and Blxckie as well as international stars like J Cole, The Weeknd, Drake and Summer Walker. In August, Apple Music included Makhadzi in its Visionary Women Campaign to celebrate women in music and their achievements for Women’s Month, ranking Kokovha the most streamed album by a South African female artist. The album was certified gold by the Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA) and earned Makhadzi a spot on Spotify’s 2021 Top 10 Most Streamed South African Artists list.
Apple Music also ranked the 25-year-old, Limpopo-born singer as the most streamed South African female artist with almost 10 million streams globally this year. On Deezer, Makhadzi came second after Afrikaans singer Riaan Benadé in the Top Albums list by local artists. The French streaming platform also ranked her in fourth position in the Top Female Artists list after Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Beyoncé. Her chart-topping single ‘Ghanama’, off her 2021 African Queen album, was certified platinum. On the awards front, Makhadzi won trophies at the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMAs) and the Feather Awards in South Africa. She also launched a new sneaker brand named after the successful Kokovha album.
Jah Prayzah (Zimbabwe)
Zimbabwean musician Jah Prayzah began 2021 with hype following the release of his 10th album Gwara, which is narrated through a four-part video series called Nhoroondo (The Story). The project received critical acclaim and support from Nyaradzo Life Assurance, which also stood behind Jah Prayzah’s projects throughout the year. In September, the ‘Takarasima’ hitmaker signed an endorsement deal with West Properties Zimbabwe and the Pacific Cigarette Company, which gave him his first major corporate endorsement.
DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small (South Africa)
DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small’s contribution to amapiano can never be understated. This year, the duo, also known as the Scorpion Kings, won three awards at the South African Music Awards (SAMAs). Kabza De Small also scooped the coveted Male Artist of the Year Award for his album I Am The King of Amapiano: Sweet & Dust at the 2021 SAMAs and the Best Amapiano Music Producer Award at the inaugural South African Amapiano Awards. Both artists also made a huge impression on DSPs, with Apple Music ranking Kabza De Small as the highest-charting South African artist, while DJ Maphorisa’s songs ‘Izolo’ and ‘Banyana’ appeared on the digital platform’s Top Songs of 2021 list at No 6 and 9, respectively. DJ Maphorisa is also the only South African musician who features in the Top 10 Most Streamed Artists lists, where he occupies eighth spot among some of the biggest music names in the world. He also topped the Top 10 Most Streamed South African Artists list, where he is followed by Kabza De Small. DJ Maphorisa’s ‘Banyana’ was ranked among the Top Tracks of 2021 on Deezer. The platform also positioned the two artists among the Top Male Artists in the country at No 8 and 9.
Busta 929 (South Africa)
Busta 929’s rise to fame came with the amapiano hit ‘Umsebenzi Wethu’, which dominated the South Africa airwaves in 2021. The song took the first and third spots on Apple Music’s Top Songs of 2021 list and the Top Shazamed Songs of 2021 list in South Africa. Maba Jabul’abantu, an album he co-authored with Mr JazziQ, was ranked at No 20 on the Top Albums of 2021 South Africa list. The artist also made an impression on Spotify where he came third in the Top 10 Most Streamed South African Artists list. South Africans showed love for Busta 929 on Deezer after ‘Umsebenzi Wethu’ came in at No 2 on the Top Tracks list. The song was also the most streamed South African track in the country. Apart from doing well in the digital space, ‘Umsebenzi Wethu’ earned Busta 929 two awards at the 2021 SAMAs and a nomination in the Best Newcomer category at the 2021 African Muzik Magazine Awards, but lost to Nigeria’s Ruger.
Lady Du (South Africa)
Lady Du is arguably one of the hottest South African artists right now and appeared on a Times Square billboard as part of Spotify’s African Heat Campaign this year – an achievement that only a few South African artists have accomplished. The campaign featured a series of partnerships, activations and creative content opportunities designed to highlight the diversity of African talent. The ‘Inkanyezi’ hitmaker was also featured on Apple Music’s Visionary Women Campaign alongside fellow South Africans Makhadzi, DBN Gogo, Elaine and Shekhinah. On the awards circuit, Lady Du received two accolades at the Feather Awards and triumphed in the Best Female Amapiano Artist category at the South African Amapiano Awards.
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