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Jorja Smith’s rise over the last couple of years has been meteoric. From the success of breakout hit Blue Lights, the Walsall-born singer-songwriter’s emergence as one of music’s most exciting new talents has transferred into real star power as she’s scored global successes with singles ‘Teenage Fantasy’ and ‘On Your Mind’, working with US rap royalty and receiving critical acclaim along the way. She’s consolidated this ascendance in her debut album ‘Lost & Found’, capturing the moment perfectly as her silky smooth vocals glide over warm soulful production from the likes of Charlie Perry, Cadenza, Tom Misch and Felix, showcasing her songwriting ability with a grace and maturity that belies her youthful 21 years.
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As his name suggests, Jamaica’s Alexx A–Game never comes with anything less than 100%. His own smooth brand of dancehall is infused with influences of classic RnB and hip-hop, creating a slick, soulful sound that allows him to showcase the strength of his sweet vocals and motivational lyricism. After three successful releases on UK-based label Swing Ting including last year’s standout Braver, he returns with his first release of the year ‘Go Harda’, a steady groove with an uplifting message.
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Over the last few years Parisian artist Myth Syzer has built a reputation as one of France’s finest hip-hop producers . On his debut album ‘Bisous’ he rises to the challenge of using his own voice on his beats for the first time, creating a melancholic yet sensual style inspired by 90s French pop and using the music as a therapeutic means to move on from a painful break-up. On Full Metal, the beatmaker links up with Aja of rock band La Femme to deliver a smooth, passionate lullaby, imploring a lover not to leave.
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Ethiopian-American artist Kelela’s first entrance came in 2013 with her mixtape ‘Cut 4 Me’; since then, hundreds of thousands of listeners have gravitated towards her masterful ability to fuse pop and RnB with elements of modern cinematic sounds and neo-soul. Take Me Apart, her 2017 debut studio album, received critical acclaim for its original sound and refreshing energy; standout track ‘Frontline’ demonstrates the breadth of Kelela’s range, with choppy raps acting as a powerful contrast amongst airy, effortless vocals. Since her youth, Kelela’s Ethiopian roots and perspective on music and freedom of movement has influenced her nomadic style and unique approach.
Born and raised in Nairobi, RU.BY has been singing professionally since 2016. Few young artists in the city are able to say that their first release was the result of a collaboration with one of Kenya’s most well known artists and a highly respected pioneer of East Africa’s alternative/indie music scene, but the co-sign of Blinky Bill comes as little surprise given her confident delivery and natural knack for melody and playful rhythms. She cites the overwhelmingly positive reception of that debut song as the reason she was encouraged to keep creating, inspired by the “amazing journey of self discovery and mind blowing interactions with people” provided by her new path in the music industry.
With ‘Rival’, Sudanese artist Hiba Elgizouli has proven herself to be one of 2018’s most exciting talents to watch. The track seamlessly transfuses the classic neo-soul sound with distinctly Sudanese intonations and patterns, as Hiba’s ethereal incantations coming from all directions illustrating an internal conflict and conversation. This style is hugely reminiscent of classic Sudanese music, which makes heavy use of responses from a choir to the lead singer. The track’s stunning accompanying visuals boast the art direction and cinematic directing talents of Hiba’s sisters, May and Sally Elgizouli, adding an entirely new dimension to the song and revealing the beauty of Sudanese culture and tradition.
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Paris neo-pop group Isaac Delusion pay tribute to French rock legend Eddy Mitchell with a stirring version of 80s classic ‘Couleur Menthe À L’Eau’. The mysterious quintet inject a new elegant electronic ambience to the original track, which tells the tale of a shy man intimidated by the charms of a mint-eyed woman being carried away by the Hollywood dream.
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Kenyan musician Kato Change’s distinctive sound is the product of a unique combination of influences. While his nuanced guitar licks and elaborate playing style indicate a jazz background, he often strays into rock territory and flirts with classic hip hop and R&B grooves. His signature sound is marked by his own, original hybrid guitar tuning, drawing from traditional African instruments, blues scales and elements inspired by his time touring in Brazil.
‘Mr. Music Man’ features trumpet player Owuor Arunga and singer Lisa Oduor-Noah (whom Kato cites as “his favorite Kenyan vocalist”), and gives a perfect example of Kato’s adventurous collaborations, pairing his instrumentalism with vocalists and artists who stretch across various styles. The track provides a snapshot of how musical worlds collide in the contemporary Kenyan scene, where gifted artists from different disciplines come together to produce fascinating original music.
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Grammy-nominated producer Gwen Bunn takes an official step out all on her own with her debut solo project ‘Safe Travels’. Incorporating rich jazz and funk influences, ‘Yours’ is the the stand out track on the eight-track EP, a soulful affair filled with sultry vocal tenderness exploring themes of desire and commitment.
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LVRN/Interscope’s newest R&B starlet, Summer Walker, dazzles with her earworm of a debut, ‘CPR’. With classic instrumentation, smooth production and her own raw approach towards songwriting, the Atlanta native is creating music that captivates listeners with her sultry vocals and alluring melodies.
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Oakland’s own multi-talented artist Elujay comes with brand new energy on his fresh soulful single ‘Starchild’. Though more commonly known for his approach to melody through the rap lens, Elujay is no stranger to classic crooning, and his husky vocals take the lead on this love letter written with sensuality and vivid imagery.
Moody, luscious, and smooth. Maryland’s Dijon Duenas of Abhi//Dijon delivers a third solo single, a classic love song with beautifully fluid instrumentation to create a dreamlike environment for his audience.
California’s Keith Tutt II is heaven-sent. On his debut single, the multi-instrumentalist and composer explores the ‘sometimes overwhelming distance fear puts between our dreams and our actions’, as his sumptuous vocals effortlessly put the mind at ease.
Sit back and enjoy the journey on this first-class acoustic excursion.
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Fena Gitu grew up in a musical family in Kenya, exposed to gospel, soul and jazz from an early age, and while her music has explored the contemporary sounds of hip hop, R&B and dancehall, her original influences can be heard in church-style chorus vocals and consciously positive lyricism. Honing her craft through collaboration with an array of producers across the African continent, Fena’s music combines powerful production with a careful blend of live instrumentation and soulful backing vocals. Her skilled pop songwriting retains a playful edge, often rapping in quick cuts of Swahili before switching back to English choruses intoned with fearless energy.
Kijo is a Kenyan artist known her strong and sensual vocals as a member of Nairobi-based group Yellow Light Machine. While her magnetic presence has brought soulful songwriting and vocal skill to the band’s live performances, her solo releases are establishing her as an artist in her own right. She’s attracted attention for her new music, a blend of tripped-out beats banging fearlessly beneath a bed of sweet live instruments, as her fusion of hip-hop rhythms and jazz melodies creates a dreamy vintage futurism all of her own.