For The Love of Music: How Spotify’s 100 Best African Love Songs Playlist Was Built
The perfect playlist will act as the soundtrack to all the moments in your life- whether you’re getting amped for a huge week, feeling the blues or celebrating your city.
Since its inception in 2008, playlists have gradually become more integral to how people access and share music on Spotify. Today, these unique collections of songs, curated along themes, ideas, or emotions are at the heart of how music is enjoyed on the platform.
Each Spotify playlist offers its own unique experience, from the songs included, to the moods they set. While the platform boasts a vast music library and its famed algorithm – you may have found yourself wondering – how is all this magic put together?
If one could look under the hood, the anatomy of each Spotify playlist would reveal a distinct process, achieved by carefully considering everything from fan tastes to epochs, all curated by Spotify’s team of music editors.
To celebrate African love this Valentine’s Day, Spotify’s West Africa editor Benewaah Boateng walks us through the process of putting together the 100 Best African Love Songs playlist, which encapsulates the expressions of African love that have elevated romantic moments across the continent over the years.
LIKE MOST THINGS IN LIFE, IT BEGINS WITH WHY…
Every playlist starts with a few songs that, for listeners, establish the idea of the playlist. For curators, these songs must be familiar enough to incite the desired feeling or memory. This depends on the nature and theme of the playlist – whether it is a mood, genre or cultural playlist.
The 100 Best African Love Songs playlist is a culture playlist curated to help fans express themselves on Valentine’s Day, a global celebration of love and affection. To select the perfect starter, we began by considering what themes and feelings the playlist would convey – love, affection, intimacy, gratitude and African love in its various forms.
There are quite a few iconic songs that immediately come to mind. CKay’s Love Nwantiti is one of the most streamed African songs on Spotify and has proved to be an access point for many fans to enjoy African music. Djadja, by Ivorian singer, Aya Nakamura is another uniquely African tune that has grown into a global fan favourite and is easily familiar to many fans of African love songs.
Setting the mood is also an opportunity to determine the playlist’s length. Most mood playlists on Spotify have an ideal range of 50 to 70 songs, which provides a convenient sonic experience for listeners. In this case, however, to give us enough room to showcase the range of African love songs, 100 is the magic number.
THEN IT BECOMES A QUESTION OF TRUSTING THE PROCESS
Making playlists can be a delightful experience. For anyone who loves music, selecting their favourite songs by theme is also an opportunity to share a precious part of themselves. However, when creating a Spotify playlist, curators always trust the process – because the listener is the priority. If one made a playlist based on their taste alone, there would be only one consumer. Each playlist should have a specific audience, a group of people who share the same feeling, moods, tastes or the same cultural background that will help them relate to the playlist.
In building a cultural playlist that captures the various forms of love across the continent, the 100 Best African Love Songs playlist was curated along three elements; nostalgia, popularity and storytelling. With help from editors across regions in East and South Africa, we were able to select songs along those lines.
In the realm of African love songs, you have the old songs that everyone knows. 2Baba’s African Queen, for instance, is an iconic African love song that has soundtracked everything from movies to weddings over two decades. African Queen evokes strong nostalgia among fans who were around for its trailblazing run, being the first African song and music video to be played on MTV Base and its subsequent EMA win.
There are also popular songs that cut across Africa’s internal borders and have transcended regions, or gone further and taken expressions of African love to global popularity. South Africa’s Asibe Happy by Kabza de Small, DJ Maphorisa and Ami Faku, for instance, was loved around the world while Kenya’s Malaika by Nyashinski showed the artist’s chops as a vocalist.
Other songs find their place on the playlist for their storytelling, whether it’s a relatable story or the vivid images the lyrics paint. Hamba, by South Africa’s Lira comes to mind here as a song that perfectly captures the sentiments of a woman who has had enough in her relationship. Nameless’ Sinzia, on the other hand, is a depiction of how true love often feels, especially in the beginning stages.
THEN YOU NEED TO FIND BALANCE
These pillars are also vital in determining the order in which the songs appear, which we call sequencing. Love is a subject matter that has found expression in the music of a wide variety of African artists, languages and narratives over the years. In putting this playlist together, we looked to reflect the music the audience already knows and loves while staying true to our mission to drive music and artist discovery.
It meant placing worthy newer and niche songs alongside popular tracks, to ensure that each song is in a place to be listened to and every perspective is represented. For instance, you’ll find an eclectic track – Fanti Love Song, by Ghanaian singer, M3nsa, alongside essentials by legends like P-Square’s No One Be Like You.
Speaking of legends, it was impossible to create this playlist without paying homage to certain African love classics and the artists who made them. The global success of African music stands on the shoulders of artists like D’Banj, Brenda Fassie, Sauti Sol and some classic love songs like Fall In Love, Nomakanjani and Lazizi. These are songs that transcended borders, markets, and even language to build foundations for African music as a whole.
These trends continue to define future classics as well. Rema’s Calm Down, sung in Nigerian pidgin, and certified multi-platinum in France and many other European countries, is one such. South African songstress, Elaine’s You’re The One and Ex by Kenyan singer, Nikita Kering are also new generational African love songs that have travelled beyond the artists’ native shores.
THEN IN THE END YOU END WITH LOVE, FROM SPOTIFY
Because we know that it isn’t all roses and sunshine, Spotify has created different playlists to express different facets of love. There’s the End In Tears playlist – the title says everything you need to know about the songs included. There’s a wedding song playlist with all the wedding classics titled Small Chops after the fried pastry that is a staple at West African weddings.
Whether you’re celebrating love this Valentine’s Day or mourning it, you can be sure there’s a perfect collection of songs for your mood, curated carefully with you in mind.