The Best South African Music – 2020

2020 was a rough year for everyone: Covid infections affecting some and lockdowns affecting us all. Such a rough year, in fact, that it has taken Mixtapes.ZA almost two months to recover, and get going again in 2021!

We are starting the year with a look back on what we thought were some of the best songs of 2020. We have chosen twenty in all, although there were others by the artists already listed which we have left out so as to include a diverse range of musicians.

Although there are twenty distinct artists listed, some musicians appear on more than one song. Lucy Kruger features in her own right as Lucy Kruger and the Lost Boys while also part of Medicine Boy, while Arno Carstens appears with a solo release in addition to being the lead singer of the Springbok Nude Girls. And, Nduduzo Makhathini sings a duet with his wife, Omagugu Makhathini, while also being a member of Shabaka and the Ancestors.

Despite the lockdown, 2020 saw various releases recorded outside South Africa and/or with some form of international collaboration. Julia Church (England), Lucy Kruger (Germany), and Medicine Boy (Germany) were all based in Europe for the recording of songs listed here, while Nigerian Tony Allen (who sadly died in 2020) and Hugh Masekela recorded the original sessions for the album Rejoice together in London in 2010, with the album only coming out in 2020, with additional tracks added in 2019. Meanwhile Simphiwe Dana collaborated with Malian Salif Keita who co-produced (with Dana) many of the songs on her album Banako. In addition, several Malian musicians (including Keita) perform on the album. Shabaka and the Ancestors was formed by British-Barbadian musician Shabaka Hutchings after a trip to South Africa several years previously. The rest of the group are South African jazz musicians with whom Hutchings developed a rapport during his initial visits to South Africa. Seba Kaapstad too, involves international collaboration with members coming from Germany, Swaziland and South Africa, while being based in Cape Town.

There are number of South African musicians who have developed a reputation over several years who are featured on our list: Amersham, Arno Carstens, Benguela, Simphiwe Dana, Lucy Kruger and the Lost Boys, Hugh Masekela, Medicine Boy, Seba Kaapstad, Shabaka and the Ancestors, the Spectres, Springbok Nude Girls, Van der Want/Letcher and Anna Wolf (aka Tailor). There was a debut album from relative newcomers the Medicine Dolls who continue to establish themselves, as do Ami Faku, Sun El Musician and Spaza. Julia Church followed her 2019 debut EP Take What You Want, Do As You Please with the very impressive follow-up EP To Have, Not Just To Hold and then yet another 2020 EP, Cups and Balloons. Hopefully the best songs from these along with some new tracks will be put together on a debut album in 2021. An exciting debut album, Buffering Juju, was released by Dumama and Kechou, very well worth adding to your collection.

A big heads up to new label Mushroom Hour Half Hour who brought out both the Dumama and Kechou and Spaza albums in 2020. Their albums are very professionally produced and packaged as downloads and also on CD and LP. This is very refreshing in a recording environment in which music is increasingly released as download only. UK-based Matsuli Music is also putting out well-packaged and exciting South African releases (re-releases) including (in March 2021), the Beaters’ Harari and Harari’s Rufaro Happiness. Their releases are available as downloads and on LP but unfortunately not on CD. The only way these initiatives can keep going is if we support them financially, so make sure you explore their release and buy whatever grabs your fancy.

Finally, enjoy listening to some new South African music on this mixtape and be sure to let us know if you we have left out anyone who you think should have been included.

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