Ever since emerging in 2009 with his first single Kamwambie, Tanzanian musician Diamond Platnumz has grown to become a mainstay on charts all across the continent. In less the than a decade collaborations with the likes of Psquare, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Mafikizolo and Neyo have garnered millions of views online and cemented his place on the very top rung of African music.
Here are five of the best from East Africa’s brightest star.
- Number One
The song that in many ways started it all. Before number one Diamond was well on top on the local scene, but still relatively unknown outside of East Africa. To change that required different material and a more polished image. So Diamond enlisted Kenya’s Ogopa for video duties, and on top of a sax fused beat by Sheddy Clever merged signature rapid-fire Swahili verses with big choruses that owed plenty to the likes of Psquare and other established West African acts; topped off by a dance number designed with Azonto style virals in mind.
The mix proved suitably infectious, and the year brought Africa wide attention, a smash hit remix of the song with Davido, and a BET nomination for Best International Act.
- Na na
It would take two years for Diamond to fully build on the wild success of Number one and its remix; but build on it he did, enlisting Mr. Flava for a song that was impossible to get away from during the summer of 2015. All the features of Number one are there. The dance, a chorus a simple and catchy as it gets, and beat featuring consistent and prominent refrains by a particular instrument, this time an electric guitar
The song breezes along, with Diamond, as smoothly assured as he has ever been and Mr. Flava lending far more than just his name. Fun, fluid and hyper-confident Nana is still Diamond’s most watched video to date on YouTube.
A song that in some ways highlights one the artists few deficiencies. Subtitled, as if in apology, Traditional Official Music video, Salome was almost tossed away as a treat for his local fans, a simple reimaging of a Saida Karoli classic that fans elsewhere might not quite get. Yet it was Diamond at his most inventive. With an outstanding guest vocal by Rayvanny to set the pace, guitars, rapid drums and trumpets pushing it along and lithe, tongue in cheek lyrics—I’ll let you google chambua kama karanga— the song comfortably outdid his much trailed duet with Psquare to become his signature song for 2016. Wenye wivu wajinyonge!
The finest song of three from the pre Wasafi era. Before the supercharged confidence, six pack and skinny jeans. Built on the premise of a husband leaving his family and children to go to work on the city and featuring a heartbreaking cameo from Hawa, known to all now as Hawa from Nitarejea, the song features Diamond at his most heartbreakingly sincere. If our children cry say I’ll return tomorrow, offer them sweet things, lie to them, tell them I’ll return tomorrow.
After the pleasing but lightweight Kamwambie and the rousing, huge, one-off summer hit Mbagala it was Nitarejea, refined, slow but inescapable, that proved this was an artist here to stay. Good then that the title translates to I’ll return.
More mature and measured than anything he has ever done, the song came out, chorals blazing, a few weeks before Christmas in 2015. His massive success had by this time, naturally, brought questions of legitimacy—with many considering his music formulaic, even soulless. Unlike his resurgent rival Alikiba there was no definable style that could be attached to Diamond and it became fashionable to dismiss him as a mere showman. The narrative quickly changed after Untanipenda. Written to his girlfriend and his growing family to address fears that their love was at one with his success the song dominated radio stations upon release. Those chorals making it sound unlike anything anyone else had done.
Sad but defiant, reflective yet optimistic this was Mr. Clean at his most humble and self aware. A timely warning both to himself and fans never to take his catalogue of successes for granted.
Bonus for die hards
If you ever find yourself at a Diamond concert, particularly in Tanzania, there will be a point when Ukimwona will come on to wild cheers. The ability to recognize this song and sing along is often what separates the true Diamond diehards from the rest. Still played constantly despite not having a video the song uses tempo changes to marry a huge, bouncing beat with brief, airy pauses. The lyrics, some of the finest Diamond has ever put down, feature him tearing at himself over a lost love in verses dense with imagery.
The worst of it is I’m down without knowing were I’ve slipped and fallen // and she’s left me while I’m unable to acknowledge // and those words are what hurt us // those friends, those relatives, those people always giving you things to say.
For many, Ukimwona, If you see her, is the standard for what Diamond Platnumz is truly capable.