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2023 was a fantastic year for Kenyan music. From the sheer amount of music put out, to the diversity of the artists and the array of events to choose from, the year was nothing short of exciting. So of course I had to a my favourite Kenyan albums of 2023 list.

One of the most annoying conversations over the years has been on the need to have a Kenyan “sound”. It’s boring and unimaginative. What makes Kenyan music amazing is the diversity and the innovation. And it is this diversity and innovation that offers us a Kenyan sound, the Kenyanness affirmed by the fact that the artists are already Kenyan, and in the ways they add their spin to the music. 2023 showed us that there’s so much Kenyan artists have to offer. 

This list isn’t exhaustive because there really is so much Kenyan music out right now. It’s more of a quick taste at the buffet with a recommendation to clear your day and go back and enjoy everything that’s on offer. I’m also focusing on albums as opposed to singles or EPs, because I think it’s important to celebrate artists that put in the time to record and put out a cohesive body of work.

In no particular order, these are my top 10 Kenyan albums of 2023. 

  1. Wakadinali – Ndani Ya Cockpit 3 

Wakadinali is a Kenyan Hip Hop group consisting of members Scar, Domani, and SewerSydaa. Their first album Ndani ya Cockpit 1 was Boom Bap, their second Ndani ya Cockpit 2 was Trap, and the third and fourth albums that catapulted them to fame, Victims of Madness and EXPOSED (Munga’s Revenge), were Drill. Off their success with big hits like Gari Inengi and Avoid Those People, the expectations for Ndani Ya Cockpit 3 were sky-high. They did not disappoint putting out an album that cements them as the best Hip Hop artists in Kenya, and one of the biggest Kenyan artists of the year. 

Ndani Ya Cockpit 3 features the same hard-hitting style and Wakadinali prove they are truly at the top of their game with no intention of letting up. 

  1. Xenia Manasseh – Love/Hate Part 1 

Kenyan R&B has had quite the year and is one of my favourite genres. Having been in the scene for a few years now, Xenia Manasseh has quickly made a name for herself as a singer and songwriter. Her sultry voice and pen game have made her a mainstay in Kenyan music and I am genuinely excited to see how far she goes as she definitely has the makings of an international star. 

Love/Hate Part 1 is an easy listen and features fan favourites Lowkey and Niambie and my favourite, Anticipate, a collaboration with Karun.  

  1. Bensoul – Lion of Sudah 

Bensoul has cemented his place as one of Kenya’s hottest acts and this album is another reminder why. Honing his skills under the mentorship of Sauti Sol, the singer has put out hit after hit over the last few years including Pedi, Niombee, Aibu, Forget You, Thick Thighs, and Nairobi

Known for his preaching for the legalisation of marijuana, it’s fitting that the album was released on 20th April, or 4/20, a day set aside to celebrate the smoking of cannabis. 

Somebody New, Chizi, and Napepea are my favourites off this album and demonstrate Bensoul’s ability to write a love/heartbreak song and make it catchy. He plays with genres and shows off his versatility on what is his last project under the Sol Generation banner. If Lion of Sudah is an indicator of where he’s headed as an artist, it’s exciting times ahead. 

  1. Bien – Alusa Why Are You Topless? 

Bien, as a member of the fan favourite band Sauti Sol, has demonstrated his undeniable talent. Known for his wonderful voice and good looks, Bien has always been a star. When Sauti Sol took a break to pursue personal projects, we all eagerly awaited their solo projects. Bien put out an EP, Bald Men Love Better, with jazz maestro Aaron Rimbui and immediately had hits with Mbwe Mbwe and Bald Men Anthem

His album Alusa Why Are You Topless? is sonically some of Bien’s best work. With this album, he demonstrates his star power and crossover appeal. He does well with love songs like Chikwere which is beautiful, but I think where he really shines is in the sexy and edgy tracks. I Want You is sultry, Sex and Marijuana featuring Ms Banks is hot and Lifestyle featuring Scar Mkadinali is a straight up, no chaser banger. 

  1. Fena – Love, Art, Lust 

Fena has a unique voice and sound and has been pretty consistent with her music for the better part of a decade. Her third studio album is fun and catchy and showcases her ability to sing and rap. 

Love, Art, Lust is full of feel good party jams and I think that’s one of Fena’s strengths. The album is an eclectic fun house with standout tracks like Vaccine, Discombobulate featuring Brandy Maina, and Love Is.  

  1. Nviiri – Inside Out 

Since bursting onto the scene with the runaway hit, Pombe Sigara, Nviiri has been one of Kenya’s hottest artists. Like Bensoul, he too was under the mentorship of Sauti Sol. Everything he’s put out has been a hit, including Overdose, Fore, Kitenge, Niko Sawa and Nikita. Dubbed as the sherehe hitmaker, Nviiri has expanded beyond that with this album. 

Inside Out is divided into 3 parts: Sherehe, Love & Heartbreak, and Consciousness. Each part features tracks that speak to their themes and is elevated by Nviiri’s vocals and signature earnestness in his delivery. The result is an album that demonstrates Nviiri’s evolution as an artist and cements his place as one of Kenya’s best artists. Nikilewa, Bwana Sherehe, and Wide Awake featuring Chike are some of my favourite tracks. 

  1. H_art the Band – Time 

Since they hit their stride with their hit Uliza Kiatu, the three-man powerhouse of Mordecai Mwini, Wachira Gatama, and Kenneth Muya has been one of Kenya’s favourite boy bands. Time is their fifth album and explores love, life, and relationships. 

H_art The Band are unique for their fashion and their fusion of Afro Benga and spoken word and it translates in this album. There’s a sense of maturity and nostalgia in Time and it stands as another great addition to their catalogue. 

  1. Maya Amolo – Asali (Sweeter) 

Maya is talented and makes great music. Another Kenyan R&B talent that started to create buzz last year with singles like Can’t Get Enough and Foundry. This album is really a re-release of her Asali album with additional tracks. 

Maya adds to the growing Kenyan R&B scene with easy listening, youthful music. I especially love that she clearly pays attention to her aesthetics as well with a playful, whimsical, bubblegum approach and view. 

  1. Nyokabi Kariũki – Feeling Body 

Nyokabi Kariũki is a composer, sound artist and performer. Her music spans classical contemporary to experimental electronic music and she performs with the piano, voice, electronics, and on the kalimba and mbira. Her debut EP, peace places: kenyan memories, released in 2022 and produced by SA Recordings, was featured in The Guardian’s 10 Best Contemporary Albums of 2022, and was named Contemporary Album of the Month. It was also marked as Bandcamp’s Best Albums of Winter 2022. 

Her debut album, FEELING BODY explores her experience with long COVID and has been met with similar acclaim. The first time I listened to this album, I was entranced. Her voice is larger than life and the music is deeply moving. This album is an absolute triumph and I look forward to more of her work. 

  1. Kahu$h – Uptown Chokoraa 

Kahu$h makes bops. Since dropping Mi Siwezi and Mastingo, he’s been one to watch. His music captures that youthful dissonance of endless fun and existential identity crisis. He may have been accused of not being the best lyricist but I think he holds his own and his flow is reminiscent of the Camp Mulla boys.  

Uptown Chokoraa as the album title is probably a nod to his rich kid roots and I love that he leans into it. Chama, Sue Me featuring Korb$, and Stoned featuring Shrap maestro Boutross are the standout tracks for me.  

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Kagwe – Rada 
  2. TwennyEights – Rich Before Rap  
  3. Sabi Wu – Freedom  

I can’t wait to listen to all the Kenyan music coming out in 2024.  For now, enjoy a playlist of my favourites from this list.

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Image Credit 2023 was a fantastic year for Kenyan music. From the sheer amount of music put out, to the diversity of the artists and the array of events to choose from, the year was nothing short of exciting. So of course I had to a my favourite Kenyan albums...