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By Dennis Asiimwe

2021 is a year that stood out for different reasons. It’s the year that COVID-19 showed its teeth: big, clunky, blunt and devastating, cutting a swathe through communities, and letting us know that something scary was out there.

It was also the second year of the COVID-19 lockdown, and it showed. No one wrote songs about how much fun they were having at their crib (Sheebah), or how it felt like a holiday (Jacob ‘Play01′ Kisubi) or made fun of the situation, like Mun*G did in 2020. No one tried to be inspirational, like Bobi Wine and that ‘simpotom’ song of his.

The reality is that musicians were hit hard by COVID 19 – about as hard as teachers and people in the hospitality industry. So a quick glance will tell you that overall quality may have dropped a bit in 2021 – everything had to be done on a budget that was almost non-existent.

Which is why the songs that made this list should really be revered. Some may be from 2020, but they are relevant, musically speaking. They were memorable. They also made their mark, in terms of raising the artiste’s profile, air play, and dominating social media and media reviews. Those are the parameters we are working with, so let’s roll.

  1. Sandra SuubiMy Daawa

Coming in at 21 is probably the most technically complete song on this list, a song called My Daawa. Sandra has used the lockdown well, keeping those pipes well-oiled. Her performance on this track is supreme, while the music bed is extravagantly ambitious.

  1. Kandle & KataleyaTonnafuya

The new kids on the block have used the whole idea of duo brilliantly as a marketing gimmick. It also helps that they are madly photogenic and seem to get along. Their choice of songs to put out hasn’t yet blown our imaginations, but they are taking advantage of their photogenic qualities to amass a sizeable social media following. Folks pay attention when the girls drop something, and Tonnafuya is the most musical they have gotten. With some great song writing, they could go a long way – their voices are not half bad.

  1. Martha Mukisa & Eddy KenzoSango

She got Eddy’s attention with her hit solo outing on Tebatukyawa. Eddy’s people worked an impressive groove on this track that is catchy as hell. They work well together – expect Eddy to call her in for more, or possibly even to sign her up, if he hasn’t yet done so already.

  1. GNL ZambaMbaga

It’s probably not surprising that GNL sings this song with his wife – what catches you off-guard is that they sound so darned good together. Mbaga is taken off the acclaimed Nsimbi album.

  1. Ykee BendaObangaina

Usually, when someone tries to redo a classic like this one, they try to put their own spin on it. Ykee sticks to the original like a leech, which was something of a disappointment – we were genuinely curious to see what his interpretation of the song might be. Still, the song did well – the fact that it is a classic helped get some considerable attention. Also, Rachael Magoola loved it, which can’t have hurt.

  1. QuexKachumbali

I couldn’t stand the name or his nonchalant singing style, but it caught on and seemed to work. Also, the song grows on you. If you look at the video, you can tell that Quex appears about as surprised as you and me that the song was such a hit.

  1. Martha MukisaTebatukyawa

This is the song that helped Martha get Eddy Kenzo’s attention – sumptuous groove, and an excellent example of how to work a dancehall groove.

  1. Lydia Jazmine & Rickman ManrickGoodnight

Jazmine managed to ignore Rickman Manrick’s absurd name long enough to team up with him on this track. It’s a beautiful lyric that Lydia maxes out on – it’s been a while since she had something as good as her hit single with Andre (You & Me), but this was more than a decent effort in that direction.

  1. Spice Diana & MbossoYes

Spice Diana has had a good year. She has at least two songs on this list (which might be the reason she was not too happy when she lost out to Azawi for Artiste of the Year at the Janzi Awards). She teams up with Tanzania’s Mbosso for this one, and while he was obviously superior to her vocally, she gets a nod from us for this career decision.

  1. Allan Toniks – My Miss

He never seems to go away, does he? Allan is now technically a veteran singer, and My Miss was typical material from him – potently melodic, easy on the ear.

  1. Eddy Kenzo – Weekend

We were due a song that would justify the hype around Kenzo – most of the time what he puts out is mediocre nonsense, to put it gently. Weekend stands out because it is the type of song that at least attempts to justify why Eddy Kenzo is even referred to as a musician. Great groove, and that bass line talks.

  1. Eezzy – Tumbiza Sound

This gigantic hit from 2020 rolled over into 2021, unsurprisingly. It is insanely catchy, and was a reflection of the frustration that artistes had with the lockdown situation. It was also probably one of the most fun things to come out of that damned situation, and launched Eezzy’s career to the stratosphere.

  1. Karole KasitaBalance

Balance was something of a surprise hit for Kasita. Speaking frankly, I think we didn’t think she had it in her, but the dancehall hit received some solid airplay and also spawned a couple of remixes.

  1. Pia PoundsWakikuba

Pia had a good year, and Wakikuba was a hint of her success later in the year, with the formula she followed. She uses her hoarse and admittedly limited vocals brilliantly on this wonderfully produced track, with its eclectic groove and wildly creative music bed.

  1. Sheebah x Chance NalubegaKale Maama

This collaboration caught us somewhat off-guard. Heck, we didn’t even know Chance was still singing. Well Sheebah did, and they dropped this delightful pseudo Zouk track, for more proof that Sheebah always has an ace up her sleeve. It’s lyrics are also pretty powerful.

  1. Mudra D Viral – Muyayu

Another song that dropped in 2020 and rolled over into 2021, because of its hypnotic dancehall groove and the nonchalant delivery that Mudra D Viral has perfected. It has become something of a ghetto anthem.

  1. Zex BilangilangiMagazine

It is hard to think of an artiste that sounds like he is having as much fun as the peculiarly named Zex on this hit track. The entire opening lines became something of a catch-phrase within peri-urban centers, so Zex is certainly onto something.

  1. Spice Diana FT Nince HenryBody

This is probably the song that made Diana mad she did not win the Artiste of the Year award. It is probably the most complete track she has put out there, ever. Collaborating with Nince Henry meant she gets to have an excellent melody (he is a great composer and songwriter), as well as a wonderful vocalist. Alongside this, Spice sings wonderfully on Body. The instrumentation is also excellent, with that whole flamenco guitar intro and that rolling bass line and Zouk groove.

  1. SheebahBoy Fire

This might easily be my favourite Sheebah song. It comes jam-packed with everything that works for Sheebah – sassy lyrics, innuendo, and the sort of instrumentation where everything is used sparingly, lending it a deceptively simplistic feel. Sheebah can make a hit out of anything, and Boy Fire is proof out of this.

  1. Pia PoundsTupaate

The same formula that was used in Wakikuba was revisited successfully on Tupaate: a sophisticated and eclectic groove and those off-kilter vocals of hers. Also, Ugandans like it when you sing about partying – it is something they are particularly good at.

  1. Azawi – Slow Dancing

It had to be number one. Slow Dancing is the song that Ugandans didn’t realise they needed until they heard it. It is a laidback song about dancing, which is something I grinned at. And Azawi makes it sound so easy, singing like she is in the middle of a really cold pina colada at a gorgeous beach with lots of white sand and blue sky.

Slow Dancing captured our imaginations and we didn’t want the darned song to stop. It was proof that Quinamino was no fluke, and that Swangz Avenue are doing something right with their current business model. She looks like some inconsequential little girl you might meet in a library – but she is frighteningly talented. The way she mixes English, Luganda and patios is just mind boggling.

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