One of the top songs of 2016 was a twist to the Western pop style: Rihanna’s “Work.” With lyrics in Caribbean patois and a dancehall beat, it introduced the world to the music of RiRi’s native Barbados.
Craving more globally inspired beats? Look no further than last year’s chart toppers from countries we cover in this blog, including India, Malaysia and Tanzania. Like “Work,” these songs bring local and traditional styles of music to the mainstream.
Brazil: Jorge & Mateus, “Sosseguei”
Jorge & Mateus are considered one of Brazil’s most popular performers of música sertaneja, a traditional style of music that focuses on acoustic male duos. This live performance of “Sosseguei” (“I Settle Down”) comes from their album Como. Sempre Feito. Nunca was the highest-charting domestic song in Brazil on Spotify this year.
Chile and Mexico: RUZZI feat. Gepe, “Dártelo”
“Dártelo” (“Give It To You”), an atmospheric synth-pop song by Mexican indie darling RUZZI and Chilean New Wave artist Gepe, clinched the No. 2 spot on Spotify’s “Best Latin Alternative Tracks of 2016” playlist. Over dark, moody beats — like the kind you’d hear on a Tove Lo or Lana Del Ray track — RUZZI and Gepe dance around each other in a playful tango.
India: Sukhwinder Singh, “Sultan”
In 2016, the sports drama Sultan dominated theaters while its soundtrack ruled India’s music channels. The title song, “Sultan,” composed by veteran film music duo Vishal-Shekhar, embodies the raw energy of the main character, an ex-wrestling champion trying to get back in the game. Driven by crashing drums and dynamic rock guitar, singer Sukwinder Singh inspires determination and resilience through the lyrics and melody. The movie became the fourth highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time, helping the song become a hit.
Kenya and Tanzania: Sauti Sol and Ali Kiba, “Unconditionally Bae”
Afro-pop group Sauti Sol, who won MTV Africa’s Best Group of 2016 award, and singer Ali Kiba, one of Tanzania’s best-selling artists, joined forces this year for the infectious hit “Unconditionally Bae.” Named one of the best songs of 2016 by OkayAfrica’s Kam Tambini, the song draws on the long, rich tradition of African vocal group music. The singers weave traditional African harmonies with Ali Kiba’s earthy tenor.
Malaysia: Projector Band, “Sudah Ku Tahu”
Projector Band’s first single, “Sudah Ku Tahu,” (“Already I Know”) was the second-most streamed Malaysian song in the country on Spotify. The Malaysian rock group nods to everything from Chinese folk and Indian classical music to Anglo-American rock and bangsawan, or Malay opera music.
Middle East: Alaa Wardi, “Evolution of Arabic Music”
Saudi Arabian a cappella artist Alaa Wardi is famous throughout the Middle East for his viral music videos. In early May, Wardi released his latest sensation: “Evolution of Arabic Music,” a six-minute mashup that condenses over 100 years of Arab music and culture. Wardi hits just about everything in the genre, from legends like Egypt’s Umm Kalthoum and Lebanon’s Sabah to the more globalized pop sounds of modern stars like Tunisia’s Saber Rebaï and Morocco’s Jamila.
Trinidad: Dwayne Bravo, “Champion”
Every sports event needs a good song to pump up the crowd. For folks in the Caribbean this year, that song was “Champion” by Dwayne “DJ” Bravo, who is also a star player for the West Indies cricket team. The song went viral in the region, racking up over 36 million views on YouTube during the 2016 International Cricket Council’s Twenty20 World Cup. It’s a fairly simple number, propelled by piano harmonies and a beat played on the cajón, a percussion instrument popular in Latin music. Perhaps his music — and his moves — are what helped the West Indies team nab its second-ever world championship victory this year.