5 emerging reggae artists in East Africa

There is no shortage of reggae talent across Africa.

Ugandan artist Jamal Wasswa. Photo: www.jamalwaswa.com
Ugandan artist Jamal Wasswa. Photo: www.jamalwaswa.com

In East Africa, reggae acts such as Uganda's Bebe Cool are established stars, having recently celebrated two decades in the music industry. Ethiopia also has strong affiliations to reggae music - for example, it is the only African country with a statue in honour of Jamaican reggae icon Bob Marley.

While artists representing the older generation of East African reggae have cemented their place on their local music scenes, a new crop of fresh reggae talent is emerging to ensure that the genre remains relevant in East Africa. Here we select five young reggae artists - one each from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania - who are keeping reggae alive in the region.

1. Sami Dan (Ethiopia)

Ethiopia’s reggae scene might be experiencing challenges as many of the established reggae venues have shut down, but up-and-coming artists like Sami Dan have not given up. The artist first emerged on the Ethiopian reggae scene in 2014 and now  has his eyes set on propelling Ethiopian reggae to new heights. In May 2016 Sami released his debut full-length album, Keras Gar Negeger (loosely translated to 'speaking to oneself') - on the contrary, Sami’s music has got many people dancing across Ethiopia.

Sami’s rapid rise to fame has seen him leading the nominations for the upcoming Leza Awards in September 2016, including Best Single for the hit ‘Tefa Yemileyen’, Best Music Video, Best New Artist as well as Best Album.

2. Gravitti Band (Kenya)

In Kenya, reggae is still a potent and powerful musical force throughout the country. New artists have emerged on the Kenyan scene to further develop the genre's long-standing popularity. Fronted by vocalist John Lyric, six-piece oufit Gravitti Band has established itself on the local scene by telling stories that are relevant to Kenya and the rest of Africa. The band started by backing other artists but recently stepped up to release their own songs, starting with '21 Gun Salute', a reggae-rock fusion honouring Africa's heroes. Gravitti Band have experimented with various musical styles, including gospel, Afro-jazz and hip-hop. They finally settled on reggae and this is where they have found their home. In June 2016 the band released a new single, 'Africa'.

3. 2T (Rwanda)

Natty Dread, Jah Borne, Ben Rutabana and the band Nyampinga need little introduction, particularly during Rwandan reggae's heyday in the early 2000s. The situation in recent years has arguably changed a little, so that music fans might now favour other genres over reggae. Artists such as 2T today lead the struggle for reggae to stay alive in Rwanda. In 2015 the artist released a catchy tune, ‘Ntakiruta Imana', to much acclaim .

2T started singing with his family when he was just five years old. During his high school years, he joined the school choir. While in college in 2005, he recorded his first song, 'Shoot the Aids'. In 2010 he joined the band Holy Jah Doves before moving to Mystic Revelation, where he fell in love with reggae music. Besides releasing music, 2T also hosts a popular radio show, 'Reggae Vibes', on Rwandan station Contact FM and runs an organisation called Music for Peace and Development, which hones skills among children and youth.  

4. Jamal Waswa (Uganda)

While Rwanda reggae might be struggling to attract a loyal fanbase, neighbouring Uganda still enjoys a huge following for local reggae. Uganda’s typical style of reggae is made up mainly of ballads delivered over bouncy roots-reggae riddims, fused with Afro-pop, dancehall, funk and even Afro-Cuban influences. Beyond well-known names such as Bebe Cool, Jose Chameleone and Madoxx Ssematimba, Jamal Waswa is a Ugandan reggae artist whose music is proving popular and timeless.

After a brief hiatus from the Ugandan music scene, Jamal staged his comeback concert in October 2015. One of his best-known singles is ‘Malaika’, which he sings in Swahili to attract audiences from Kenya and Tanzania. The artist recently released a new dancefloor-friendly track, called 'Ready to Go', on which he collaborates with the likes of DJ Slick Stuart and DJ Roja.

5. Malfred (Tanzania)

Critics of Tanzanian reggae may deem the current crop of young reggae artists as lacking in talent, but Malfred is one artist who defies the criticism. His music is steeped in meaningful lyricism and with a goal to send postive social messages to listeners. Malfred emerged on the Tanzanian music scene in 2009 with the album Maisha Haya. Today he remains focused on inspiring people through his music. His latest single 'Najaribu' explores the theme of love.



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