In summary

  • Spotify playlists are always a unique experience, and with this Zilizopendwa playlist
  • Every nostalgic playlist starts with a memory, a place or a scent to incite a feeling of nostalgia in the listener

There are so many musical tours and comebacks this month! Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and Boys II Men, to name a few, are on tour currently. We figured this would be the perfect time to talk about the playlist that captures the nostalgia of growing up surrounded by the best of African music (if you’re a millennial and above that is). Whether it be on a road trip, at a picnic, the spa or family gathering, this music was always playing in the background. 

Spotify playlists are always a unique experience, and with this Zilizopendwa playlist, we take a look inside the proverbial kitchen to find out what particular ingredients go into putting together such an iconic playlist.

Spotify’s Maxwell Nguku shares his insights and the process it takes to create a playlist like Zilizopendwa that features songs that were a big part of our parents’ youth and subsequently a shared memory between us and them, while spanning several African genres. 

Like most things in life, it begins with why

Every nostalgic playlist starts with a memory, a place or a scent to incite a feeling of nostalgia in the listener. This playlist starts with a memory of Maxwell and his mother at home listening to Sina Makosa by Les Wanyika. This scene could be replicated in most Kenyan households and every song holds the essence of a parent’s presence somewhere around the house.  

The 110 songs on this playlist were curated to help fans capture an emotion of nostalgia in what is considered the golden age of music, passed on from one generation to another. Back then there was a limited number of radio options and Rhumba, Soukous, Lingala and jazz ruled the airwaves.  

The playlist boasts the great Les Wanyika’s Sina Makosa, Them Mushrooms’ Kazi ni Kazi , Gabriel Omolo’s hit Lunchtime and Mbilia Bel’s Nakae Nairobi among others. These uniquely African songs have a huge fan base, and are fan favourites across the generations, spanning Gen X and surprisingly, Gen Z. Fans are hungry for the culture, musicality, song composition and the fashion and style of this nostalgic era. 

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Transcending the great music divide

Making this playlist was all about balance and leaning into nostalgia. For an ardent music lover like Maxwell, the curation process had to reflect not only fan favourites throughout the years but music that would immediately be tied to a memory. Different genres are represented in this playlist and different regions. Long before Spotify and streaming, the music of the 60’s and the 70’s through to the 90’s represented a generation of music lovers that were pro-African music. They listened exclusively to music from the Congo, East and West Africa.

Quick! Grab a GEN X-er or even a millennial  and ask them where they were when Zangalewa by Zangalewa dropped or the meaning behind the lyrics to Mamou by Franco & Madilu System. These popular songs cut through internal borders and transcended regions and enjoyed a lot of airplay back in the day. How was this possible? According to Maxwell “Back in the day,  music contained a lot of advice. For example, there’s a song called Shauri yako by Orchestra Super Mazembe, and they talk about how to make money or how to spend. You will find a lot of nuances in the song.”

Transcending the great music divide

 With the internet giving more access to even more music,  audiences are demanding shorter and shorter listening times. Songs on this special list however span past the three-minute mark with the longest song, Bwana Musa & Carolina by Issa Juma and Super Wanyika Stars coming in at a whopping 18 minutes. The fans don’t seem to mind, with averaging listening times of up to 30 minutes. 

Sequencing the playlist was a labour of love with Maxwell fully walking in the audience’s shoes and trying to imagine the emotional ties to different memories and contexts. In putting this playlist together, he also used songs that the audience already knows and loves, while staying true to the mission to drive music and artist discovery.

This meant starting the playlist with a Kenyan track that has a wide audience- Les Wanyika’s certified banger Sina Makosa, and adding in tracks by popular artists outside Kenya such as Wake Up by Kofi Olomide and Papa Wemba. All in all, the playlist manages  to capture nostalgia and will definitely have you dancing and reminiscing. 

Lastly, get up and get down 

Zilizopendwa is a piece of timeless history which manages  to capture a sense of nostalgia for the memories and the dance moves of days gone by.  

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