uNder: Best New Artists (February 2024)

from Sierra Leone to Kenya

As African music continues to take new forms each day, the plethora of talents at our fingertips increases by the second. The purpose of our column, going all the way back to the ‘Fresh Meat’ days has always been to spotlight these budding talents at varying levels of their career and in some ways, predict what’s likely to be the next best thing. If we do say so ourselves, the column has successfully done just that. Long before his outstanding debut with ‘Mr Money With The Vibe’, Asake led the February ‘22  edition as a confident and refreshing contributor to street-pop and Deela’s “rapid fire quips” and “unfiltered sense of confidence,” recorded August ‘21, has earned her a blooming career marked with charming remixes from Flo Milli. So without going into it too much, it’s safe to say that our forecasts are inarguably reputable. 

Since re-evaluating the impact of our column, our limited entries ensure that the best in class acts are brought to the forefront, while still casting the net wide enough to include rising stars from across the continent. This February edition, we’ve brought Labdi, a Kenyan songbird exploring the sadistic highs and lows of life through a solo career with traditional soulful rhythms while delivering Electro-Pop hits with her Norwegian collaborator, Bernt Isak Wærstad, for Unganisha. Joining Labdi are, Fuji-infused Afropop artist FirstKlaz, Laik, a Sierra Leonean crooner armed with gritty urban soul renditions and finally, ALL MY COUSINS, the family-led artist collective from Ghana. With a promising year ahead, these are some of the artists you should be looking out for. 


For fans of: Sun-El Musician & Coco Em

Ladbi’s official entry into the scene goes back to 2018 with “Paro,” an upbeat, electronic record she released under her duo commonly referred to as Unganisha. Together with her Norwegian collaborator, Bernt Isak Wærstad, the collective provided what was undeniably a refreshing perspective to electronic music emanating from these parts. Their experimental outlook, buoyed by a continuous pursuit to merge the worlds of east african traditional sounds with the western sensibilities of club music, birth a culturally resynthesized collection of vibrant sounds. Tracks like “Mamarina,” characterised by jazzy synths and steady rhythms or “Ago,” a high-tempo rendition slicked with heart-thumping vibrations, indicate the pair’s penchant for unbridled exploration. The arrival of their debut album, ‘Mbili Mbili’ half a decade later only reiterates their carefree outlook on creating boundary-free soundscapes while capturing the exhilarating and daunting themes of life. 

Lead vocalist, Labdi, managed this while tracking a path to success as a soulful solo artist accompanied by her Orutu since the start of 2022. The single string instrument, originating from the Luo Community of western pre-colonial Kenya, assists Labdi in communicating her emotionally resonant performances across songs like “Nang’o.” Her incessant need to push the envelope becomes increasingly apparent after learning the vertical fiddle is forbidden to women in those parts but according to Labdi in a 2021 interview, “that was reason enough for me to choose it.” Faced by the male-favoured challenges of the music industry, Ladbi continues to prioritise her craft with honest portrayals that key into indigenous Kenyan sounds such as Benga and Ohangla . Her latest 3-track release, ‘Seche Johera,’ shed light on her detailed storytelling skills and tasteful songwriting as she tracks a long-winded journey of love’s highs and lows. 


For fans of: Hagan, 95ANTNY, SuperJazzClub 

Considering how far the works of this family-formed group have travelled, it’s clear they would not be underground acts for much longer.  The Accra-born artist collective came up in June 2022, from varying music backgrounds interwoven by their love for DJing and the fast evolving rave culture across the world. Initially, ALL MY COUSINS was born by the need to create a network of creatives across the globe with its founder, Ansah Live, and core members including 95ANTNY, Seyyoh, Common Juls, Cozyshrt, Big Leaflet and Narah. The imprint of ALL MY COUSINS can be felt all across several cities in Europe, a nod to their experience in building community through arts, music and nightlife. Together, they lead conversations concerning youth culture through the arts while encouraging freedom and curiosity through various modes of expression. 

Last year, the group showcased their skills beyond the deck with a few singles produced, written and recorded in-house, thanks to the varying creative backgrounds of its members. Largely house-focused tracks, “Tricky” and “ACT A FOOL” are upbeat tunes layered with heavy drum patterns and soothing croons, fit for the dancefloor where the group’s mission originated. Their latest release,  “SOIRÈE,” showcases a string of seamlessly chords helmed by charming lead vocals of 95ANTNY, all pieced together under the shared production credits with Nigerian DJ-Producer, Kikelomo. Pulled in from afro-tech and electronic elements, the production crafts a bouncy yet soulful canvas for the balmy performances that follow. It goes without saying that ALL MY COUSINS is one of Ghana’s best kept secrets, steadily pushing the envelope of Afro-House and reiterating the unifying forces of music. 


For fans of: Fireboy DML, TAR1Q & Taves

Abuja is currently an oasis of creative explosion across cultural formats. The success of the capital city’s bustling hip-hop scene has belatedly cast a nationwide spotlight on the sea of talent that dot its musical scene and the city’s ascendant stars have taken the increased limelight with a mission to prove themselves. Currently, one of the city’s brightest stars is the pop fusionist, FirstKlaz, who warps influences from soul, R&B, and hip-hop with a distinct African sheen that is rooted in the specifics of his lived experiences. FirstKlaz first registered on the scene with the release of his mid-tempo sizzler, “Tonight,” in 2019, displaying a knack for crafting emotive tunes that cut to the heart of his desires while its follow-up, “Jo (Freestyle),” showed a more extemporaneous side to the singer who melded influences from hip-hop and afrobeats over a skittering instrumental. 

More proof of his FirstKlaz’s omnivorous pop appetite was served on his next single, “Gbese,” a feisty collab with fellow Abuja stars, ODUMODUBLVCK, Reeplay, and DJ Nitro Boomin’ accessorized with groovy horns and rolling drums. Another song, “Show Them,” with ODUMODUBLVCK followed in 2021, showing FirstKlaz’s knack for pulling his collaborators into his genre-agnostic, hypnotic sonic world.  Always keen to expand the range of his work, “Ogini,” FirstKlaz’s final release of 2023 offered a glimpse into his star turn on the horizon as he futuristically adapted highlife influences to thrilling effect. Breaking new ground on his 2024 release, “Gen-Z Fuji,” the singer re-interpreted the storied Yoruba oral genre, tapping into the lyrical prowess associated with Fuji while stylistically recasting his delivery scheme. It’s a punt that has borne results for the singer who has seen “Gen-Z Fuji” chart on several streaming charts and positioned him for future success –including a soon-to-be-released second instalment of  “Gen-Z Fuji” with Terry Apala–as afropop heads for an era defined by indigenous sounds. 


For fans of: Omah Lay & DarkoVibes

Laik might live and work in the United States of America but the singer’s worldview is definitively shaped by music from the breadth of the black diaspora and the sounds of his home continent, Africa. Since he started his career in 2017 with the release of “Love Me,” the singer has made it a mission to use music as a tool of effusive expression about the intricacies of love and the uncertainties of life from his point of view. The release of his song, “Talk To Me,” in 2020 set the stage for the arrival of his debut E.P, ‘Wanted,’ a meditative dome on desire and romance that arrived in the thick of the global pandemic that shut off most of the world. Most of the charm on ‘Wanted’ came from the easy-going manner in which Laik fused elements of dancehall, Afropop, and R&B to create highlights like “Wantin” and “Gimme Dat.”

Always edging closer to a refined version of his sound, the singer blended influences from his Sierra Leoneonian origins with a distinctive island bounce on 2022’s “Onika,” another number dedicated to a love interest. 2023 propelled the singer to a more widespread audience thanks to the success of his single, “Story,” which takes listeners on a journey with Laik as he recounts all he’s been through in the last half-decade. A more lively showing on “Kiss Kiss” sees the adoption of more pop-driven production while remaining true to the message of romance that has been omnipresent throughout his career while the year-ending “Ahje” showed a singer at ease with his ability to conquer the world with the power of his music. 


Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE

Words by Nwanneamaka Igwe and Wale Oloworekende