Fresh Meat: Best new artists this month (May)
Featuring Naya Akanji, Xenlaii, Le Ru, Apartment VII and more
Featuring Naya Akanji, Xenlaii, Le Ru, Apartment VII and more
Staying true to our mission reshape the face of African popular culture, The NATIVE team curates a monthly list to spotlight the best and most exciting new artists on the continent. Some of these artists have dropped songs to some regional acclaim, while others are brand new on the block, working towards their first big break. Tune in to what’s next. Click here for April’s Fresh Meat.
We’re back with our third instalment of Fresh Meat, and we’ll have to confess that this has become one of the best parts of lockdown for us. With instant news feeds available to us via social media, it’s clear how everyone is feeling these days, and we’re generally not doing that great. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, yet we’re still losing lives to other unrelated things such as racial injustice. This amongst several other things have taken a toll on our mental health, as they’ve become the major focal point in our conversations routine conversations. Scouring every corner of the Internet looking for new artists has become a favourite pastime at The NATIVE, and fortunately, we’re a team with very diverse music taste. Each time, we finalise our list for the month, we’ve presented an impressive range of talent we find from all over the continent.
The world may be on pause, but it’s clear that life is still going on, and one of the things that is still keeping us all going is the music. Simply uploading your content to the internet gives an entire world of listeners access to your talent, whether it’s those at home who’s attention you hadn’t caught yet, or anyone else from any part of the world looking for new music to listen to in these times.
For our third installation of Fresh Meat, we were even more intentional and committed about music discovery from all over the continent. With the scope being less dependent on anything but quality at the moment, it’s more important now, than ever, to ensure that we’re supporting and pushing good music. We’re sending love to all the artists at every stage who are still coming through in these times.
It’s really not too early on to say that Naya Akanji is a dynamic r&b powerhouse whose soothing voice, angelic refrains and intense delivery, place you right in the middle of the action. Lending from a range of influences, from reggae, r&b, and supported by Lemar Abdul’s house-themed afropop production, Naya Akanji’s romantic tales have a colourful, frantic & intergalactic quality on their brief EP ‘Vivid Emotions’.
Whether she’s reflecting on wasting energy on an “Ungrateful” lover or yearning for the warmth of that special person on “Company”, as an orator, Naya is magnetic, presenting distinctive insight on topics that are at times presumed to be stale and outdone in pop music. Naya’s music is certainly not flowery, as she reflects on being hurt in the past, but maintains an optimistic outlook, embracing and harnessing the full range of her voice in an honest and straightforward manner.
“Eyes on You” one of the project’s standouts, casts one into the trance of accepting the deep emotions you feel, when you finally accept you are in love with a person. As Naya gradually accepts her emotions, the track bursts into a colourful ecstasy of sounds, and chorused melodies, with groovy percussion, a mechanical bassline and deep synths. The production is deceptive however, maintaining a minimal, subdued tone, and using explosive synths to enforce Naya’s enchanted, divine refrains.
“Set Me On Fire” sees Naya embrace her more devious side, where she’s joined by Lemar and threatens a hater to set her on fire. Naya’s tone reveals that this action will not bode well for the person, but daring them to try anyway. Beneath the surface, “Set Me on Fire” represents Naya’s self-assuredness, no matter the damage done to her, she is invincible.
Naya is a promising talent with a wide musical palette, as she continues to refine her sound, we will no doubt get more jams to enjoy from her.
Willy Cardiac is a new artist getting some buzz in South Africa without viral gimmicks or attention-seeking publicity stunts. His game during this age of sensationalism is to embrace hip-hop’s more raw and violent intentions, from the menacing visuals in his video for “Fan of Me” to his threatening lyrics on “No Percs”. Willy Cardiac‘s music offers up bold and vivid commentary on gang activities and social angst.
One might expect a newcomer who already got a taste of the limelight from featuring on PatricKxxLee’s “Achoo”, to loudly declare his arrival with youthful joy, however, the South African rapper layers antagonising lyrics over menacing trap beats which evoke all the right related emotions. He takes taunting shots at the opps on “Blinky”, flexes for the ladies on “Manic Lullaby” then reps his set, ‘Willy Gang’ on “No Percs”.
All of these songs portray Willy Cardiac as the golden child of the cold, bombastic style of gangster rap in South Africa. His biting lyrics are a reminder that one of the lesser spoken about results of hip-hop’s dominance as a global genre, is how much the sound is ingrained into other cultures across the world. Just like 21 Savage or Tekashi69, he also channels hip-hop’s penchant for violent tales and celebration of street smarts to reflect criminality in his African community.
Over the last decade, African artists have explored the full arsenal of hip-hop’s artistic range. Not only were the stories of conquering the streets relatable – the auto-tuned, mumble rapping, gold-teeth wearing attributes weren’t quirky enough to prevent African rappers from assimilating the culture. While Willy Cardiac isn’t a mumble rapper, he’s savvy enough to infuse inventive ad libs to make for an immersive listening experience and inspire crowds to rage when he gets on stage.
If ‘Choreographed-Chaos’ was a term, Apartment VII would be the textbook definition. Musical experimentation is nothing new in Nigerian music, but Minna-based, Apartment VII’s unorthodox and ubiquitous blends set them apart. Aggressive guitar strums, synths and ghostly howls welcome you to their EP ‘Abstract Reality’, as a chorused voice chants ‘I don’t have to explain’.
“Save Yourself” is a delicate ballad which incorporates harp-like chords, and swelling keys, with a rich uncharted atmosphere. The song features a duet that highlights the push-pull emotion that comes with letting go of a lover. “Invincible” is an honest reflection on the true capabilities of a person. Despite the weighty and self-deprecating thoughts, we all have the latent ability to exceed everyone’s expectations, including our own and be great in whatever we set our minds to. The dexterity of the lyrics place the artist as both subject and object of these introspections, breaking into a checkered vocal break in traditional EDM fashion.
“Dirty Laundry” is a clash between folk and techno music. The track peaks and troughs as lyrics embrace the vocalist’s imperfect nature. At it’s core, “Dirty Laundry” examines the ironic fallacy of accepting a stranger’s presumptions of another stranger at face value, dropping the guard and inviting all who care to see their dirty laundry. As unique and individual as the human experience is, if we walked a few meters in the other person’s shoes, we would most likely understand and appreciate their perspective better.
As Nigerian artists continue to experiment with their varied musical backgrounds, we welcome more amorphous blends akin to Apartment VII’s, that are firmly grounded in r&b roots, but explore eclectic atmospheres that range from indie rock, to contemporary pop and everything in between. The scale of production gives their music a grand and spacious quality, that is at times contrasting, but nevertheless harmonious. With the epic quality of ‘Abstract Reality’ we hope a couple tracks get picked up for a movie score.
Kenyan singer, songwriter, and rapper, Le Ru has been holding it down on the music scene in her home country since making her mark with her debut, “Why” over four years ago. Since arriving on the scene, she’s dabbled in a range of genres such as rap, where she’s able to show off her pen game and puts on her best bad bitch persona to r&b and even jazz where she slows down the tempo and lets her buttery smooth vocals lead listeners into a psychedelic odyssey.
‘I’ve always wanted to make music so it’s no surprise that I took this route’ Le Ru says over multiple voice notes. She talks about her earlier days with so much joy, proudly proclaiming to be a part of the Soundcloud generation. She stumbled upon it after scouring for beats online and discovering that she could adapt her poetry into songs.
Amongst all her releases and features she’s garnered over the years, an undeniable standout is her most recent release “Sick Ah” featuring Ayoo. We’ve always been fans of women talking their shit without holding back and on “Sick Ah” Le Ru shows she’s unwilling to let these niggas walk all over her. She’s clearly frustrated and turns this frustration into hard-hitting bars and profane boasts which offer cathartic release for anyone also feeling that way inclined.
Le Ru is not just your typical artist, she’s also a keen content creator and scriptwriter, which she uses to fuel her music career by producing her own short films and music videos. She’s also currently undergoing a master’s course in marketing at University, but she’s not planning on giving up on singing anytime soon. At the moment, she only has a handful of official singles, most of which are on her active Soundcloud page, and a loose 3-pack EP titled ‘Hey There’ which was released last year.
From what we’ve heard so far, we can tell she’s definitely one to watch out for.
Before leaning into his singing voice for his impressive debut project from last summer, ‘Mango’, Sir Bastien wasn’t a big fan of how it sounded. Already showcasing his production chops through his extensive work with Eri Ife, Bastien initially poured himself into the idea of being an r&b producer, he was being nudged to write and sing more often. “The first song that I wrote was “Coffee Machine” with DAP The Contract and Bio, and when I played it for a few people, they encouraged me to flesh it out and have this as my own peculiar sound”, he explains via voice note.
Delicate, sometimes to the point of being fragile, Sir Bastien’s voice has a preciousness which lends a gently immersive vibe to his singing. Although he’s accompanied by guests for a significant portion of ‘Mango’, – with all of them being far more practiced vocal performers, he controls the flow of the project by complementing the nascent charm of his voice with emotive writing and a musically diverse soundscape that’s always rooted in the ethereal. While he manages to be proficient enough on the 9-song project, he’s gaining better control of his voice, as exemplified on his latest single, the Lecktrik-assisted “Kawaii Mami”, a confident and sunny bop that will get your shoulders rolling.
“It was always super cringe to hear myself singing, but over time I came to like my own voice,” he says. As an artist who is constantly gaining a better understanding of his skillset as a singer, songwriter and producer, Sir Bastien is at the formative stage in his career where each leap forward is sure to culminate into a singular, undeniable artistic identity. At the moment, he’s working on an upcoming project that will be “loosely related to ‘Mango’”. With a dedication to building up his catalogue while continually evolving and levelling up, it’s quite exciting that we’re getting front row seats to watch Sir Bastien’s growth from uncertain singer to bonafide triple threat.
Ghanaian-based artist, Jay Cliff has put together a catalogue which shows his earnest desire to find the right reaction to a tense world at the moment. His latest EP, ‘Twelve2Five’ pays homage to the period when people feel safe enough to share their more vulnerable thoughts on social media; usually between 12 midnight and 5am. Over 25-minutes, Jay Cliff taps into his own vulnerable emotions as he explores a range of themes mental health, sexual harassment, sexuality, loneliness and more.
The focus on these topics over conventional popular rhetoric, shows his conviction that music should be used as a way to express our vulnerable feelings, provide a way to cope with hardship and help us reckon with our collective responsibility as part of society. Just like his message for making the world less brutal, his sound is soft and encourages unity as he weaves between electronic pop, trap, soul, R&B, and spoken word poetry. His willingness to follow melody and tune over genre and format is encouraged by the masterful production by Supa Gaeta, Jenkins, Quist, Niq-El Angelo, Kyle and Bryan the Mensah who provide the synth heavy production on his latest tape, ‘Twelve2Five’.
In an interview last year, Jay Cliff explained how he honed his craft by listening to other artists who inspire him. “Who inspires my sound? Easily Kid Cudi, Travis Scott and the alte scene in Nigeria,” he said, confirming what some already suspected after he named his debut EP, ‘Alte Cruise to a Happy Place’. It’s hardly a surprise that the progressive new sound of Nigeria’s new alternative music acts have had Pan African impact given the recognition artists like Santi, Odunsi and Lady Donli have received from all corners of the world. The acceptance of the progressive new sound across the continent has led to Jay Cliff’s emergence as an advocate for honest and optimistic songs, which don’t shy away from our murky reality, delve deeply into our social ills and emerge with comforting messages.
Dunnie recorded her first song way back in 2011, and released her debut single, “E Go Better” in 2012, which topped Cool FM Abuja’s Top Ten for three weeks. So whilst she’s not quite a fresher to the music-making class, despite her having been in the game for almost a decade, Dunnie still sits in relative obscurity within both mainstream and alternative channels. However, with a dedicated management team and tangible growth over the years, Dunnie is registering more and more listeners, inviting in more and more fans, especially now as she’s released her sophomore EP, FOUR.
Though her songs aren’t your typical Afropop bangers, Dunnie shies away from describing herself as an alternative artist. Rather, she thinks of herself as a genre-bending afro-fusion act, melding soul sensibilities with highlife patterns and afro-pop trends. Upbeat songs such as “Simpulu” and “Unconditionally” off Seven lean towards the mainstream whilst her collaboration with Ric Hassani, “Tell Me” clearly caters to an audience of alternative tastes.
With such longevity in the industry, Dunnie is kinda breaking our Fresh Meat rules (even though she’s probably a new name to you) but honestly, it’s all the more fitting considering Dunnie marches to the beat of her own. Rules? Dunnie don’t know her.
Being an indie hip-hop artist in Africa can pose a set of revenue challenges for those who choose that route. On the flip side, however, it allows the rappers creative freedom to mould their identity into whatever shape they want, and proceed accordingly. Over the last three years, Johannesburg-based Xenlaii has taken advantage of the freedom his independence affords him, curating an emotionally expressive, musically diverse and quite engrossing artistic persona, especially with the use of high art flourishes when it comes to visual components.
Similar to indie S.A rap colleague, ByLwansta, Xenlaii is a multidisciplinary creative who counts being a visual designer amongst his skillset, and he ensures it plays a crucial role in the presentation of his music, from his videos to his live shows. As a standalone part of his ability, Xenlaii’s music more than holds up on its own. His latest release is April’s ‘Surf: AM (Deluxe Edition)’, an extended version of his 2019 EP, ‘Surf: AM’, and it comes with four new songs, a remix track and a re-arranged tracklist that adds a fuller context to the project’s narrative.
Recorded after a period of attempting to use hedonism to numb the pain of his mother’s passing, ‘Surf’ uses the tension between exuberant highs and reflective moments in the search for personal clarity. In the process, he explores universal themes of confidence, the willingness to accept love, unemployment and more. Accompanying Xenlaii’s story-driven raps are a cocktail of sounds that pays homage to his South African roots and also looks outward for inspiration. The anthemic “Wenza Ngani” is cut from the west coast’s signature hyphy bounce, ear-tingling opener “Kwaze Kwamnandi” is driven by spaced out kwaito-infused instrumentation, while the honest introspection on “Idolz” is contrasted by a positively haunted trap beat.
Looking forward to his next musical chapter, Xenlaii is currently working on his next project. In a recent interview, he revealed that his next projects will revolve around awakening, with a stronger focus on his pen game “with regards to content”. As a highly talented artist who’s insistent on putting his stories on wax, Xenlaii’s brand of reality music is equally riveting and resonant—one listen and you’ll be left with a positive impression.
Jean Feier is an experimental lo-fi pop artist who is making genre-mashing relatable bops for black girls like her. From a young age, she developed her skills as a performer and a songwriter, citing artists from Beyoncé, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, and German pop-rock band, Tokyo Hotel as her musical influences while growing up.
Speaking about her inspirations, she says ‘For as long as I can remember I have always expressed myself through art: music and theatre but it was really the feeling I got from listening to music during my toughest years, that fuelled me with the conviction to start this’. Growing up as a black girl in Germany, Jean was subject to bullying and hate speech from her white classmates, and it was through the music she was able to find a safe place.
She uses her music to tell emotionally layered and detailed stories; from her first release, the boss-bitch rap anthem “Ready” to questioning her existence on “Wandering” and even reflecting upon hurtful words from a lover on “Lnly.Grl”, there’s a story in each song if you listen closely.
‘I want listeners to go to therapy with me’ Jean Feier says to us about her music. She’s not sticking to genres but dabbling at a range of sounds and influences, whether it’s rapping about kiss-offs and spilt tea or singing melodiously over airy synths, there’s something for everyone coming to her music.
Fans of ambient rap music have a new artist to obsess over – Tochi Bedford. The Nigerian artist who also doubles as a producer has put out a handful of singles where he layers his melodic raps on to atmospheric beats he produced. His most played song on SoundCloud, “LA” featuring Zarion Uti use droning synths to stir emotions while his lyrics walk haters down memory lane. It’s clear that Tochi’s adept understanding of production plays a huge part in making his songs so endearing.
Tochi taught himself how to make beats while he worked on a game he was designing at a much younger age. His journey into music production soon developed from work into a full hobby that eventually turned into a rewarding career as an artist/producer; a feat only a few others like Pharrell, Timberland, M.I and Odunsi can boast of.
With his self-sufficient skills allowing him to produce and record his songs from where he’s quarantined in Lagos, Tochi is poised for big things in 2020 and already released a teaser announcing his upcoming EP, ‘Eternal Mob’ in June. His contribution to the vast sound of pop music coming out of Africa these days is unique as he funnels rap’s aggression through hypnotic instrumentals. Despite his sing-song vocal pattern, his lyrics tend to focus on darker and harsher subject matters than you might imagine. “Pour that Henny/ Grab a semi/ Shoot him in his tummy”, he sings on “South” featuring Zamir and pairs his dominance asserting lyrics with gentle piano chords that stir emotions. It’s the type of song that stands out in whatever context you choose to see it.
However, it’s Tochi Bedford’s production which has earned him his reputation as one of the culture shapers of Nigeria’s self-publishing music era. His production credit on Odunsi’s recent body of work, ‘Everything You Heard is True’ is only one of the many he has garnered over the last 2 years. He’s aiming to prove he’s among the best emerging Nigerian rappers with his project expected to benefit from the increasingly mass appeal of Nigeria’s alternative music scene.
Featured image credits/NATIVE
Words by: Dennis Ade-Peter, Adewojumi Aderemi, Tami Makinde, Djaji Prime & Debola Abimbolu