by Vijith Assar
Last year’s putative “Song of the Summer” was a national embarrassment; as a result, American songs — and for safe measure, all songs in English — are no longer eligible. Each month, until summer has died, the Awl will present alternatives.
Matimba by Kabele Mabelane
#1 in Botswana (Gabz FM)
Pretty clear who is running off with Botswana’s summer — the South African rapper’s single came out in March and is at no. 1 five months later. But this is an ensemble piece, in the sense that he spends considerably less time in the spotlight he does than leading chants and choruses. Drum circles, too, presumably: The massive percussion backdrop has an unusually Latin flavor, but even more curiously, it starts out peppered with digital glitches that would be more at home sandwiched between EDM wubs — but then they seamlessly fade away and come back reincarnated as a horn section. This is precisely the sort of material M.I.A. absorbs and repurposes so effectively, so you can probably look for these same sounds to make it to the U.S. soon enough.
Golden Touch by Namie Amuro
#3 in Macau (Teledifusão de Macau)
The model and pop icon’s twelfth album _genic debuted at no. 1on the Oricon chart in mid-June, but then dropped off almost immediately; it’s now nowhere to be found in the Top 30. But the lead single is still hanging on at number three in Macau, the Chinese province which remained under Portuguese control until 1999, where the local broadcasting conglomerate Teledifusão de Macau now maintains an encouragingly healthy mix of regional and international hits. (Amuro is on their international chart, surrounded by Mariah Carey and Mumford & Sons). Globalization creep flows in the other direction too, though: this is one of only three songs on the album that isn’t in English, since Amuro has been engaged in a mild crossover bid since 2013, and even so it still quickly switches back and forth between the choruses and the verses, sometimes within the space of a single line.
The visual curiosities of the music video are remarkable, almost like the spooky non sequiturs from The Ring’s haunted videotape have been turned into cheap sparkly toys for kids and loaded into a coin-op vending machine; during the early promotional phase it was picked up and summarized by BuzzFeed for a GIF listicle and then quickly forgotten. That’s a shame, because it should also be a contender for the song of whatever is left of your summer. Amuro recently filled in for the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes on TLC’s 20th anniversary re-recording of “Waterfalls”, and some of the samples likewise harken back to the nineties heyday of white R&B;/pop. They’re spliced in here with a heavy-handed aggression, though, a refreshing change from the usual misty-eyed nostalgia, so it sounds like nothing else so much as bludgeoning the New Radicals to death with Paula Abdul.
Doucement by Makassy
#9 in French Polynesia (Radio 1 FM)
The Congolese singer turns in far and away the best vocal performance in this month’s batch of songs, which is especially amazing because he started out as a soccer player. The risqué visuals are obviously reminiscent of D’Angelo, but here he actually sounds more like a highly marketable blend of Akon and Usher, unrolling his formidable falsetto and firing a flood of staccato syllables into Auto-Tune, then losing track of them as they bounce around like they’re trapped in the high-scoring regions at the very top of the pinball machine. If by some miracle this isn’t the most seductive three minutes of your day, congratulations!
Summer ends on September 23rd, see you then.