uNder: Best New Artists (May 2024)

from Nigeria to South Africa

With each passing year, African music grows further in global preeminence, with its stars racking up placements on the biggest stages, and emerging as main characters at the biggest award shows and festivals. Back home, there has been an upsurge in the demand for more zest and ingenuity within the African soundscape. 

At NATIVE, we are constantly exploring avenues to platform the plethora of emerging talent across the continent. uNder live – a live showcase of emerging talents – is one of such channels powered by NATIVE with the intent of providing a home for music enthusiasts to partake in the rise of next generation of superstars, and a hotbed for emerging artists across different genres to hone their artistry and connect with their audience, at home and at large. Take a look at the last edition of uNder Live, here

For this month’s uNder, we’re spotlighting some of the most promising talent from across the continent who embody the cadence of the streets, and have become the cradle of novelty within continental music. These artists are breathing new life into the music scene and providing a much needed revitalisation of our creative ecosystems.


For fans of: Bella Shmurda, Mohbad and Seyi Vibez

Bariga is still one of street-pop’s most important locales. The lived experiences of its residents continue to inspire some of the most heartbreakingly cathartic music coming out of Lagos as it did when YBNL head, Olamide, broke out of there over a decade ago. In the time since Olamide’s rise, street-pop has evolved as an art form, gaining an emotional core and textural range that is indicative of the sub-genre’s maturity, and the deep pool of talent it’s blessed with. Hailing from Bariga, newcomer Ayo Maff, is a key part of that evolution, distilling his angst, joy, anger, and confusion into songs that place him in the lineage of street-pop’s greatest storytellers. 

Born Mafoluku Ayorinde Ayodele, the singer draws on his experience on the streets and what lessons he took from them in his candid songs. His first official release, Saturday Night,” from May 2023, was an Amapiano-influenced glimpse into the things–money, street cred, and being hip – that motivate him. It’s delivered in a syrupy drawl that gives the song an out-of-body perspective as he recounts his days of being counted out. His next song, Journey,” is a continuation of that theme with a more pointed reflection on balancing his musical dreams with the cost of maintaining daily sustenance. 

Ayo Maff really started to pop onto mainstream radars with his 2023 two-pack release,Jama Jama/ Another Day.” Where Olamide employed hard-hitting bars to send his message all those years ago, Ayo Maff is a wide-eyed singer referencing Frank Ocean on Jama Jama,” a hymnal on his daily struggles. Still, it’s not all bleak as the singer crafts a dancefloor summons with Another Day,” deftly interpolating Mr Eazi’s Bankulize on the quintessential hood love anthem. 

Earlier in 2024, the singer had a definitive breakthrough with the release of another two-pack release, STREET ANTHEM/ 7 Days,” that’s a sharp-eyed deconstruction of hood politics and the constant police harassment that’s still a fixture in lower-income societies across Nigeria. STREET ANTHEM opens with the singer earnestly singing, “EFCC leave my brothers, we’re not scammers o.” It’s a line that anyone who has dealt with the violent, overbearing nature of the Nigerian Police Force can instantly relate to. Still, the most stirring moments come on 7 Days,” a pseudo-dedication to Ojo, a hood brother who died shortly after a stint in police custody. There’s unfiltered pain in how Ayo Maff beautifies the memory of Ojo and links it to his burning desire to work his way out of Bariga but there’s a lingering sadness at how his success will inevitably put some distance between himself and the community he grew up in. 

Further success has come for Ayo Maff following a series of co-signs and a collaboration with Fireboy DML, Dealer,” that explores how both singers seek escapism when overwhelmed with the weight of the world. Next to the YBNL singer, Ayo Maff is calm and assured; it all hints at the arrival of a new king from Bariga. – W.O


For fans of: Omah Lay and Victony 

Kaestyle has an unwavering dedication to excellence that is clear in how he approaches music-making. The mood, lyrics, and composition of his music are all synchronised to maximise his exploration of  whatever emotion he’s working through with auteur-like precision. There’s an almost-obsessive fixation on getting all elements right that comes from his background as a producer. Born and raised in Port Harcourt, Kaestyle channels the genre agnosticism of the popular southern Nigerian city, borrowing from Cloud Rap, R&B, and Soul to create music.  He was discovered when an A&R visited Port Harcourt to scout talent, leading to him inking a deal with Lagos-based record label, KeyQaad. 

In 2022, he put out his official debut, “True Love,” with Victony, to explore the pleasures of a blissful romance over a percussive instrumental. It was soon followed by “Moving Mad,” a true arrival for the singer that served as a lodestar for his 2022 debut project, ‘Kae’s Study.’ The six-track extended play is meditative and relaxing as he explores toxic masculinity, growth, and love. The project opener, “Better,” is a wholesome declaration of romantic intent that interpolates 2Face’s “Right Here” off his debut solo album, ‘Face2Face.’ Fellow Port Harcourt-raised star, Omah Lay, joined for an ode to material breakthrough on “Blessings.” 

2023 was a similarly busy year for Kaestyle who opened the year with the Afrobeats-leaning “Soundtrack” before returning to his neo-R&B roots on ‘Asylum,’ a five-track joint project with LeriQ that has more moments of Kaestyle’s dulcet vocals gently riding mid-tempo beats and bringing listeners along for an immersive ride into his world and the motifs that define him. “21” is an artsy dedication to a female interest that the singer is unabashedly attracted to while “YOLO,” built around dense drum loops, details his desire for carefree fun. Keastyle has hit the ground running in 2024;a two-song pack titled “My Dealer” is quickly becoming a fixture of the year. Teaming up with Omah Lay again, Kaestyle is letting the world know how important his weed dealer is to him in the moments where he’s facing uncertainty and heartbreak. The other song on the pack, “Egberi,” is a drill-inspired cut that melds the specificity of the singer’s songwriting with the explosive bounce of the Chicago-pioneered sound. It’s a delicate but vibrant collage that displays Kaestyle’s knack for fusing sounds from all over into a distinct vision. – W.O


For fans of: Labdi and Janice Iche

Nabalayo’s penchant for experimentation, harboured from a very young age, has taken her from exploring various creative outlets to pioneering her own genre. But before delving into her boundary-pushing music charged predominantly with Jazz sensibilities, the Kenya-born musician sought to gain formal education on her craft, only to be met with pushback from trained ears for refusing to follow the rules. When the classical training route didn’t meet her vision, she hypothesised new ways to shape her sound, with emphasis on the production landscapes she leaned towards. 

All this prompted Nabalayo to start her own genre where she could openly explore complex compositions of East African music that would otherwise be classified as non-traditional. Changanya, according to the genre’s pioneer, is defined by its versatility, evident in the english translation of the Kiswahili word which means “mix.” “[The music is] ethereal, combining light airy vocals with complex African idioms and heavy electronic sounds to give her listeners an experience that is out of this world,” Nabalayo explained, while discussing the making of a modern legacy in an interview with Tangaza Magazine. 

Paying homage to Kenyan Folk music, Nabalayo touches on common themes of hope, love and pain, all the while maintaining the unique essence and qualities she loves about her origins. She also comes armed with the Obakano, an eight-stringed bowl shaped lyre whose soft strums accompany Nabalayo’s messaging. Her official debut in 2020, “Mwana Wa Gorofa” delivers loud, cry-like chants over soft, melodious croons and a slow rhythmic base. With soothing vocals like no other, Nabalayo’s music demonstrates a refreshing perspective to musical storytelling. While the soundscapes are consistently slow-paced and punctuated by slow hums and drawn out chords, Nabalayo easily translates a range of emotions through her warm vocal renditions. From her genre-inspired debut album ‘Changanya’ to ‘Her Garden,’ Nabalayo’s unbridled childlike wonder has allowed her to create genre-fusion sounds that tell stories which capture the diversity of various African landscapes. – N.I


For fans of: Elaine and Rowlene

Mo$hpit Cindy’s R&B gloss over trap-like beats sets her apart from many South African artists. Drawing from relatable experiences and pairing rhythmical beats with candid lyricism, Mo$hpit Cindy’s music is as intentional as it is carefree. The 24-year old Zimbabwean-born singer channels music as an outlet for her authentic and unapologetic nature. 

Based in Johannesburg, the artist earned her stage name after losing her shoes in a mosh pit frenzy during Ricky Rick’s famous Cottonfest Festival in 2019. The following year would see her kick start her music career and forge a work partnership with Johannesburg-based producer, Lee Global. 

So far, Mo$hpit Cindy has notched two EP’s in her catalogue, and toured with acclaimed rapper, Nasty C, but her greatest success is her ability to appeal to different audiences with skittering versatility; often grazing through Hip-Hop, R&B and trap influences and baring her most intrepid thoughts in mellifluous ways. – J.F

[Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE]

Words by Wale Oloworekende, Nwanneamaka Igwe & Jim Falola.