Social media has allowed artists to grow and release their own material regardless of their physical location or past industry practices, and with these changes, it has become easier for listeners to discover new music from all over the world. Now, emerging genres from almost every continent have received international attention and racked up unprecedented streaming numbers.
Even through the pandemic, where people were confined to their homes and travel was the last thing on anyone’s mind, world music’s popularity continued to soar. Though much of the attention has been on K-Pop in South Korea, Rolling Stone named Amapiano, a dance genre which originated in South Africa, one of its “sounds of tomorrow” in its 2021 Future of Music issue. Elsewhere, Spotify highlighted the surge in Afropop’s global popularity on its For the Record podcast, reporting the most streamed artists from countries such as Nigeria and Ghana who continue to take the world by storm. Now more than ever, music lovers from across the globe are letting their tastes transcend borders and oceans in order to explore what new sounds there are to discover.
As we celebrate World Music Day today June 21, here are seven emerging artists hailing from across Africa and the diaspora that are shaping the cultural conversation and making sure that the industry’s affair with world music doesn’t end any time soon.
Born in Manchester, UK to Nigerian parents, Ezi Emela began making music as a teenager when she started a band with her sister and cousins. Since the release of her debut single in 2014, she has emerged as one of the most refreshing artists in the Afrobeats genre and has worked with African music legends such as 2Face Idibia. In the still largely male-dominated scene, she has carved out a niche for herself as a distinctly female voice who isn’t afraid to experiment with different sounds or styles of music. After permanently moving to Lagos in 2019, she began working on new music, which she recently confirmed would be out later this year.
Though much of the focus on Afrobeats has been centered around Nigeria up to this point, Ghana has its own flourishing music scene which has grown exponentially over the past few years. One of the most talked-about Ghanaian artists of the last year is Tripcy, an Accra-born singer and rapper who describes his music as a mix of Afropop, hip-hop, and dancehall. With the release of last year’s HASTY EP, a collaboration with fellow Ghanaian musician Mega EJ, Tripcy further established himself as an artist who pulls from Ghanaian culture and his personal experiences growing up there while still appealing to an international audience.
The Lowkeys originally formed as a rap group in 2016, but after experimenting with Amapiano beats and receiving positive feedback from friends in their hometown of Pretoria East, the trio decided to pivot and solely focus on Amapiano. This career move yielded stellar results, as they have built a reputation as an in-demand production team for other musicians and have signed with fellow Amapiano artist DJ Sumbody's record label. They’ve also attracted attention for their progressive production and methods of combining their original rap influences with unique instrumentation in order to create their own take on the ever-expanding Amapiano genre. Anyone interested in where the genre is heading next as it gains traction in the mainstream should keep The Lowkeys on their radar.
St. Vincent native Shertz James has been a name to watch in soca since winning his first Carnival Road March as early as 2007. Now, under the moniker Problem Child, he has produced some of the biggest soca hits of the past few years and built up a dedicated fan following. He’s also collaborated with some of the biggest names in the genre, including Patrice Roberts and Machel Montano, which helped him to become known as a force to be reckoned with in the scene. Along with his reputation as an in-demand producer, Problem Child has gained major attention through solo releases of his own, evolving as a writer with each album and pushing soca’s boundaries as he goes.
Though the UK Drill scene has gained a reputation for its use of frank lyrics, straightforward beats, and little room for musical flourish, South London’s BeckMilli has already set herself apart within the movement for her focus on building melodic soundscapes to accompany her words. The rapper, whose real name is Rebecca Aryee, taps into a wide range of influences, including artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Luther Vandross, and Lauryn Hill. The combination of her inventive arrangements and hard-hitting lyrics has allowed her to create her own variety of Drill that packs just as much punch as her peers’ more abrasive production. Fans of British rap seem to agree that she points to where the genre is heading next.
Twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz grew up traveling between Cuba, the home country of their father and famous percussionist Anga Diaz, and France, where they were educated. When the pair began making music together as Ibeyi, they found that the cultural clash of their upbringing informed their writing and decided to embrace it. The result is a unique mix of jazz, electropop, and traditional Afro-Cuban instrumentation, featuring lyrics sung in English, French, Spanish, and Yourba. They first gained international recognition when they appeared in Beyoncé’s short film, which accompanied the release of Lemonade in 2016, and have since gained major exposure for their sophomore album Ash in 2017 and a string of singles released in 2019. This year, they’ve released new music for the film How to Stop a Recurring Dream, and fans are hopeful that a new studio project is on its way.
Though Sudan Archives (aka Brittney Denise Parks) is from Cincinnati and is currently based in Los Angeles, her wide range of world music influences make it hard to pin her down to one genre or location. By combining alternative R&B with sounds pulled from Cameroonian electronic music, classical Sudanese violinists, and traditional Irish folk music, Parks has created a sound which is all her own. The unconventional musical choices are only elevated by the confessional, defiant lyrics that concern her struggles with identity and belonging. After years of writing and producing music on her own, her 2019 debut album Athena was finally released to major critical acclaim and has cemented her status as an artist to watch in the American independent music scene.
Image: Ibeyi courtesy of Instagram Words by Elise Soutar