UNDER: Best New Artists (June, 2022)
Featuring NYA, Phinoshey & more
Featuring NYA, Phinoshey & more
Beyond the mainstream context of urban African music—hello, Afrobeats—an solid mixture of homegrown musical styles and global influences has ensured a consistent torrent of exciting music that often defies simple categorisation. A lot of this is being driven by up-and-coming artists, who are building on predominant and less pronounced sonic choices, carving out their own distinct place.
Since we launched unDer earlier this year, the column has served as a guiding light towards the discovery of these new musicians, an important mission we started in 2020 as Fresh Meat. Hundreds of musicians have come through these ranks, with genre-defying abilities that are familiar among creators of the post-internet generation. Sure, a number of them had considerable budgets from record labels before their big break; most, however, have in their possession, remarkably singular artistry which is already evident in the nascent years of their career. They all share that artistic promise.
This month marks the fourth edition of unDer. As always, it is threaded by an eclectic selection of African musicians. Whether operating within the continent or beyond, the recognisable sonics carried through centuries of history is ever-present across their catalogue. With interpretation peculiar to each individual artist, it is safe to say that the music here preludes the sonic trends of tomorrow.
With that being said, let’s dive into this magical curation. Enjoy!
The Ghanaian pop scene moves in seasons. In every given season, the overwhelming majority of releases sport a particular flavour. But on certain occasions, you catch wind of a song or a project that jots out of the pack on account of its unique ambience. That’s the case with Nya’s four-track debut project ‘Euphoria’, a colourful showcase of resonant writing and formidable song-craft from the velvet-voiced singer. Over the course of four tracks, she displays her artistic range and the amorphousness often required to surge to prominence in the Ghanaian pop landscape.
The mini-EP sees her tread the svelte arc between paying tribute to primordial Afropop influences and leaning into nascent experimental explorations. “I would love for my listeners to be able to feel the transparency of deep emotions and experiences that I have been exposed to in my life. Know that I am just as raw and human as they are when going through relatable situations,” she’s said about the project’s purpose. She does this gracefully, weaving old and new into a euphoric flourish, weaving in clear influences from R&B and neo-soul while exploring the intricacies of romantic entanglements. Nya has just set sail on her career, and it’s obvious she already has all the tools required for a mercurial future.
When Loki raps, a vortex materialises and sucks you into his expansive world – an animated reality where glistening shards percolate from his voice and you’re left floating in weightless bliss. Loki’s brand of rapping is woozy, laidback and instantly enrapturing. His songs are pulsating melodic ballads that see him weaving in and out languid rapping and sonorous crooning.
The South Africa-based rapper-singer has been on the S.A Hip-Hop scene since the 2020 plague days and has managed a smattering of singles and collaborations, including one with venerable SA rap icon, Cassper Nyovest. It’s also helped that he’s currently signed to Skhanda World, the indie label headed by celebrated rapper K.O, which has provided him with proper guidance as he progresses. It’s on the label’s late 2021 compilation project, ‘Welcome to the Planet’, that he fully pronounced his readiness for stardom, turning in multiple bangers, including the Blxckie-assisted “Shoda Ngami.” It’s still the early days for the sprouting rapper, but his cache of blistering singles signify his arrival, and at this point it’s plausible to assert that he’s poised for a bright career.
The state of Canada strongly inspires the modern twist of R&B familiar in the songs of Drake, Bryson Tiller and Nonso Amadi. It’s also where Adaeze Enoka, known now as nesza, got her start into professional music, approached by college friends who thought she’d do great on their record. That was 2017, and since then nesza has consistently moved towards an understanding of her craft. Although the lean information available on her online suggests a reclusive character, nesza is remarkably prolific.
“Lost” registered her among debutant musicians at the end of the 2010s, catching the attention of Mr. Eazi thereafter, with nesza sharing her debut EP, ‘Bitter-Sweet’, with distribution from the entertainment entrepreneur’s emPawa Africa imprint. Back-dropped by a global pandemic, nesza’s incursions into the lopsided field of romance assumed an epic sheen. Her direction was both honest and exuberant, imbibing songs like “Subway” and “Dangerous” with considered weight. Over the latter’s minimally pensive production, nesza bemoans being “stuck with all my old routines,” underlining her mortal flaws with frank perspective.
nesza’s writing is clinically precise, a quality she gleaned from listening to Adele, Coldplay and Wande Coal during her formative years. Preferring to coast over neo-soul beats, she takes lucid observations into the dramatic ebb of rap, using familiar flows to chart the philosophies of her generation (“Try not to break me, I break too easy,” she sings in “Break“). 2022 has been typically productive, her second single “Trouble” coming in March. “If it’s trouble that you want, you will find,” she sings in a wistful tone on the song’s chorus, not evading the peculiarities of romantic conflict as much as being willing to fight her battles. With her sophomore EP ‘To All The Heartbreakers’ expected later this year, right now is surely a good time to get into the music of nesza.
Jazz and rap have an undying relationship with each other, and Phinoshey recognizes it. Working as a rapper and a producer, he has patiently been etching his presence in the Kenyan music industry. Growing up in the slums has informed his view towards life, as uses his past and current environment as inspiration for his introspective soulful numbers. Preaching positivity as a result of coming up from Kibera slums, Phinoshey brings hope while singing poetic refrains and making nostalgic references to his childhood. Taking a reality-based approach to complex, socially pertinent topics such as police brutality and youthful aspirations, his vague description of better days perfectly merges with his Lo-Fi style.
Making his entrance in 2018 with his eccentric single, “Love” you can immediately tell he is a student of the game. His adoration for literature in high school plays part in his striking diction, playing a huge role in his somewhat throwback, ’90s east coast rap aesthetic. With 3 bodies of work—‘Kib’s Era’, ‘Sun From Kibera’ and ‘Ikigai’—Phinoshey is on a committed journey to positively influence the youth while still causing a buzz. The recently released ‘Ikigai’ adds an assured layer to his artistry. Finally getting recognition with fans and causing an impact, Phinoshey beats his chest with precise poetic composition, touching on hopes to get out of the hood, serenading his muse in “Love Story” and just having a good time. Phinoshey’s dedication and commitment have seen him build an impressive catalogue so far, a tenacity that will see him far into the game as more listeners open their ears to him.
Trim might be known about Congolese songbird Kami Leonne, but the singer is clearly working her way up. Referring to herself as the queen of Afro Silk, Kami Leonne is an R&B artist hailing from Congo. With a reasonable discography of sultry numbers, Kami Leonne blends experimental pop, R&B, trap, and mid-tempo Afropop elements into one harmonious package, making her sound unique and orthodoxly pleasing. Releasing two bodies of work, 2020’s ‘Promises’ and ‘No Use Seducing Time’ in 2021, Kami Leonne has been making music long before finding her feet in the industry, building confidence in her vocals and writing as seen in her latest number “All I want”. The romantic R&B number sees the singer blend lust and love, creating a chaotic mess that embellishes her undeniable talent and affinity for impressionistic writing.
This mode of operation is regular to the singer and songwriter, like how she ruminates about heartbreak, loss, and disillusionment across ‘No Use Seducing Time’. She releases her arsenal of trap and R&B as her masterful and melancholic vocal performances pair incredibly well with the tragic themes woven into tracks like “You Don’t Love Yourself” and “Stay With Me,”. Though still early into her musical career, Leonne’s writing, composition, structure, and production are consistently top-notch. Bursting into the scene with her hypnotic and seductive persona, Kami Leonne is one to watch out for.