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Sudan-born, Ontario-based A7MD is an artist who deserves to be watched closely. Aside from his archives of releases under the pseudonym Skripter, his new moniker and new sound brings a refreshing, original approach to the contemporary trap sounds that dominate North America’s rap scene. His successful single Zombies, produced by DBLCRSS, boasts a distinctive melodic lilt to his bars, and he is equally comfortable flexing his lyrical skill in the verses as he is delivering a catchy mantra in the chorus; “I only did this for squad, and my only witness is God”.
Two members of the Tribal East collective, Somali-born HasH and Hand Bandz combine their creative talents to create ‘Darkside of the Moon’. Bandz’s haunting melody is difficult to shake once heard, and is offset by his emotionally charged bars, delivered over the chilling production of Evrgreen (now known as AKA Blobby).
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21-year-old Egyptian artist Pharaohgamo creates music with a maturity that even veteran artists struggle to achieve. On his debut mixtape Survivor Series, released in December 2017, the Virginia-based wordsmith pens lyrics with an engaging balance of intellectual social commentary alongside clever punch lines and humour. With imposing, gravelly vocals that have iconic potential, Pharaohgamo’s dark tone and contemporary twists on old-school flows is symbolic of the struggle of artists who must rebel against the restrictions of their culture in order to push the envelope for those who wish to follow in their footsteps.
Kenyan born, multi-cultural DJ/producer Suraj, globetrotting German turntablist/producer Max Doblhoff and Kenyan afro-fusion artist Alai K team up to create a contagiously funky track. ‘Bana Bana’ embodies the eclectic energy of East Africa’s finest musical collaborations, effortlessly spanning afrobeat, reggae and house influences.The uptempo beat is carried by raw, soulful vocals and reverberating crooning melodies, echoing a sound Alai K refers to as “Disco Vumbi” – a homegrown form of street dance music. Individually, each artist brandishes a strong personal style, with Suraj known for infamously percussive afrobeat and melodic house, Doblhoff (fka MDgroove) known for roots-inspired techno, and Alai K known for everything from hip-hop to traditional kamba, but together their collaboration paints a fuller, truer picture of East Africa’s contemporary creative sector, innovating both electronic and acoustic genres in unique fusion.
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Producer OKZharp and vocalist, artist and dancer Manthe Ribane work closely with photographer and film maker Chris Saunders to create a unique collaborative audio-visual project. Though all three originally hail from South Africa, OKZharp cut his teeth in London as a member of LV, one of the first acts to sign to pioneering label Hyperdub. When OKZharp left LV, he spoke to Saunders about an idea for a film, and was introduced to Manthe, who was then a dancer and choreographer for Die Antwoord. They hit it off, and upon hearing Manthe singing to herself, they started collaborating musically, releasing two well received EP’s on Hyperdub, recorded in Johannesburg and London respectively. The recording of ‘Closer Apart’ reflects the song’s title – started on tour, with most of the music borne out of “headphone moments” in hotel rooms, planes and airports in the brief periods of time that the trio spent together in Paris and later Vienna. Okzharp describes Manthe as a co-producer; “she selected instrumental sketches and we developed them together, sometimes just keeping the bare bones or a melody or rhythm, or trying different elements or sounds.” In tandem Pearson worked with Manthe to develop an umbilical visual identity, feeding back into the music, for the live show but also for the audio-visual elements of their work. Even thought the album was built long distance, the short periods they spent together were the basis for creativity; Okzharp recalls one particular moment in Milan last year; “we had a whole free day before our flight so we visited the Salone di Mobile design show. We were so inspired by an installation there just walking around, listening to the amazing soundtrack. That evening our flight was delayed, so we sat on the floor of the airport terminal putting musical ideas down for ‘Time Machine’ on the laptop speakers and writing the lyrics: ‘Tic Toc time, we’ll be fine / Airport queues, cerulean blues / Viper trails cross the skies / Lights reflect in your eyes…'” The album has a softness and openness that contrasts the tougher sound of the preceding EPs; Manthe explains that “the new music is a 360 turn. It an expression of my ‘Lady’ side – I grew up listening to jazz, classic and gospel, I am a very soft spoken person, and it resonates with being confident with that. It’s been crazy finding balance and finding a smart way to strengthen my weaknesses, I had to trust the process. I hope everyone feels motivated and inspired to be more after listening to the album.”
While Baraka’s energy on stage is wildly contagious, his vocal control on record is skillfully composed. He sails across heavyweight beats with a light tongue, perpetually crafting a free-flowing stream of consciousness. Touching every consonant with clear articulation in an effortless delivery akin to unique wordsmiths like Smino, Baraka carves the wave of his signature “future bounce” beats produced mostly by Bahati Bookings – a collective he founded with fellow Nairobi artists Ekumbo & Stephane. Gathering a fast-growing following with their consistently evolving content online and passionate live performances, Baraka and Bahati Bookings are being paid close attention by established acts in the Kenyan alternative scene, excitedly supporting their unstoppable rise.
The producer Stephen Of Kent has linked up with rapper 2Lee Stark to create some of South Africa’s most cutting edge contemporary hip-hop. Kent’s first commercially released body of work, ‘There May Be Wolves’ is a joint EP project between the two that draws inspiration from the popular TV series Game Of Thrones; 2lee’s name references the House Stark, whose symbol is a wolf, with the tape’s concept revolving around the fable of “the boy who cried wolf”, framing this project as the genuine breakthrough they’ve prophesied so often before.The pair worked on this album in the OFF BOYZ Recording Label “Winter” campaign, which will also include two upcoming individual singles from each from the artists.
Ondi is a Kenyan artist who considers her poetry as important as her music. Her voice is reminiscent of the soft, husky haze we attribute to classic blues legends like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, and although Ondi looks young enough to be a high school student she performs with a soberly mannered, delicate movements of someone twice her age. While she is considered a cultural outlier, moving indiscreetly through the shadows of the alternative scene since parting creative paths Nairobi based funk/soul band Yellow Light Machine some years back, she has continued to influence the city’s collective growth in independent artistry through self-released music, pop-up art installations and impactful community-focused events that challenge traditional societal norms through musical gatherings. Her forthcoming crowd-sourced album is composed mostly on the ukulele, featuring stripped down compositions of bare instruments and vocals, much like the spacious atmosphere of her beloved song ‘Empty Pages’.
Botswana born singer-songwriter Mpho Sebina incorporates hip-hop, soul, jazz, traditional Setswana music and folklore into her sound. Authentic and experimental, the self-taught musician has built a loyal audience through her signature a cappella mash-ups including Brenda Fassie with the The Fugees and Boom Shaka with Erykah Badu. She’s performed in venues across Botswana and South Africa, as well as hosting a monthly live music co-operative ‘NakedSoul Sessions’, curating a performance line-up of yet to be discovered local music and merchandisers.
Sebina released her debut EP titled Neo in October 2017 with the first single ‘Black Butterfly’ a soulful hip-hop track with sonic facets of the new generation of melancholic trap-soul. “My music is autobiographical; the stuff I’ve written is self-reflection time for me,” she says. “As a 28-year-old African woman my music is about the journey to discovering one’s self through this world. I would like to stir up that quest for self, to bring about a healing type of vibe. It’s a lot about overcoming and focusing on the personal stuff. Sometimes we get wrapped in anxiety, myself included. My music is about providing an outlet for listeners to forget.”
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Pounding palms against African drums while simultaneously performing live beatbox patterns with seasoned vocal versatility, poet & hip-hop artist Checkmate Mido splits his verses between slang Swahili-English and an intricately crafted, multi-cultural rap language all of his own. Channeling a fearless MC’s cadence akin to the legends of the London underground, Mido is a Kenyan artist who, whilst known in the old school hip-hop circles of Nairobi, has made a conscious effort to collaborate with the city’s nu wave of artists and producers such as Ukweli and Nu Fvnk of EA Wave, who worked with Mido to create the haunting blend of electronic and organic sounds and styles featured in “Maria Salaam.” Renowned for his intensely energetic shows, he released a studio EP “Box Of Beats” in 2016 that expressed the artistry beyond his stirring live performances.
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Sounds drenched in reverb and reversed synth textures echo together to create a dreamy musical backdrop, painted with Jim Chuchu’s intimate lyrics. With vocals seemingly inspired by 70s psychedelic crooners like Robert Plant, Chuchu is part of a new wave of artists transcending the traditional pigeonholes of creative media. Known today as one of Kenya’s bravest contemporary filmmakers – he grabbed attention at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival for his locally-banned, internationally-acclaimed indie film based on true stories of homosexuality in Africa – Chuchu rarely mentions his core musical role in Nairobi’s legendary group, Just A Band. While co-producing the band’s first three studio albums alongside Dan Muli and the renowned “Blinky Bill”, Chuchu also largely drove the group’s visuals, including the beloved music video “Ha-He” – which CNN, Wall Street Journal deemed Kenya’s first viral internet meme. After breaking away from the group to pursue his solo career and co-founding film platform “The Nest Collective”, Chuchu continues to produce and release his own music.
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Born into a Christian family in Makwarela, a small town in the northern region of South Africa, Unarine Rambani learned how to produce music, play the drums and piano at a church founded by his parents. Dubbed “The Venda Pop Star” by his growing fan base, the 22-year-old producer/songwriter/vocalist recently dropped a 6 track EP ‘Wavy Baby’, his second commercially released project.
The first track, entitled ‘Good Intentions’ (featuring songstress Thabsie), gently lures the audience into his world, offering a melodic fusion of genres from reggae, soul and trap. This is evident in stand-out track “Murder” which features Nigerian-based singer and songwriter Shayee-Shay and co-producer C-Tea. Una Rams describes the EP as “a love story about a boy and a mermaid. And I know it’s the craziest thing to say to anyone but it’s because a lot of people get into relationships when they are both from 2 different worlds, things fall through the cracks because you don’t understand each well enough, so this EP takes you through the different stages of the relationship, and unfortunately it’s not a happy ending.”
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Wanja Wohoro and Jinku’s DUST EP is a Nu-Nairobi gem. With melancholic yet inspirational songwriting, the soulful combination of Wohoro’s sultry vocals against the canvas of Jinku’s delicate production is shifting the perspective of contemporary Kenyan audiences. Where the acoustic and electronic scenes once remained intensely separated, such collaborations are a testament to the scope for these two styles to fuse seamlessly. Underground singer/songwriters and bedroom producers have been experimenting with genre-bending ideas for some time, and the results are beginning to pierce the veil of the mainstream. Following in the footsteps of pioneering Kenyan artists who have stepped out before into the global spotlight such as Karun Mungai and Blinky Bill, Wohoro is on a mission to overcome these barriers, taking the stage beside Jinku, who is perhaps best-known beyond the African continent for his collaborations with globetrotting artists like Jojo Abot.
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Mvroe and Joseph Kiwango are two artists whose continual musical collaborations have bred a unique fusion of trap and R&B within Nairobi’s diverse sonic culture. On ‘Love’, Kenyan Mvroe and Tanzania-born Kiwango offer a bitter-sweet blend of lyrics that combine sensual imagery with poetic romanticism over a brooding, ethereal instrumental landscape, featuring arrangements of both auto-tuned and raw vocals. The single is lifted from their forthcoming collaboration album “Let Her Come Over”, a project which is the product of a broad range of influences, reaching across English and Swahili, live and electronic instruments, African rhythms and psychedelic textures. Produced by elite Kenyan producer collective EA Wave, the track has become a late night anthem in the underground Nairobi club scene.
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RMBO began his career as founding member and drummer of the critically acclaimed South African rock band BLK JKS. Born Tshepang Ramoba, his second EP ‘Zone 3’ is a six-track electronic afro-house journey with catchy kwaito choruses and an exquisite selection of vocalists from the southern African region, including musicians from Malawi and Lesotho as well as his native South Africa. Opening track Bona Bona features Radio 123’s Scarface Manolo and Lesotho’s shepherd musician, Morena Leraba, who also features on ‘Mzabalazo’, a kwaito-driven track with skittering drums and buzzing synths. RMBO explains that “‘Mzabalazo’ (or ‘mosabalaso’ in a Sesotho tone) is a borrowed word from the South African liberation struggle and it’s synonymous with rebellion/revolt or rather, a word coined originally in South Africa, toyi-toyi.”
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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Karun is a musical chameleon within contemporary African culture, bridging the alternative Kenyan scene with an approachability appreciated by her increasingly global audience. First finding fame in her teenage years, as a member of Nairobi hip-hop group Camp Mulla, after the group parted ways in 2013 she embraced her capability to write songs, play instruments and produce, and enrolled in Berklee College of Music in the US as an electronic music major. She collaborated with Kenyan producer collective EA Wave on the ‘Indigo’ EP in 2016, and on returning home she co-founded the collective Cosmic Homies, becoming a key player in the burgeoning ‘Nu-Nairobi’ scene. Occasionally using the alternative moniker ‘Runka’ (created by scrambling the letters of her birth name), she self-produces a large part of her own work but often collaborates with other innovative artists, as heard here in this track ‘Under’ with Mr.Lu.
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Mx Blouse doesn’t hold back on their latest release. Embodied in the title, the Zulu word for ‘idiot’, Blouse laments people whose idiotic behaviour serves to hinder the freedom of those who are trying to live their lives and have a good time. As always, the Johannesburg artist endeavours to keep their content socially critical and relevant, while ensuring that the music is a party starter too.
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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.