As the air grows crisper and the light filters softly through leaves on the brink of change, the thumping bass and audacious vocals of summer anthems no longer seem quite so appropriate.
September is the time to transition to subtler melodies, gentler voices, and heartfelt songs that wrap around you like a blanket, insulating you from the oncoming cold. To help you set up your autumn playlist in this first month of fall, we at The Folklore have a few recommendations for musical artists who will warm your soul.
Gambian singer-songwriter Sona Jobarteh is more than a musician — she’s a public speaker, activist, and the first female Kora virtuoso within the Griot tradition. As such, the Kora, a traditional 21-stringed instrument played by plucking is prominently featured in many of her songs. By making use of the Kora and other traditional Gambian instruments, like the Seruba drum in her song “Gambia,” Jobarteh looks to preserve and call attention to the rich cultural heritage of her home.
In 2015, she founded The Gambia Academy, a school that aims to teach children about their traditional culture and history. Jobarteh formulated the curriculum with the goal of eliminating obsolete colonial influences and empowering young Gambians to take active roles in bettering their country. Jobarteh uses her own money to fund this project, pouring in funds gained from music events around the globe — though if you’d like to donate, you can do that, too.
Consisting of singer Rebecca M’Boungou, guitarist Arnoud Ester, drummer and bassist Jérôme Martineau-Ricotti, Jérémie Poirier-Quinot on the keyboard and transverse flute, and Viannay Desplantes on euphonium and keyboard, Kolinga's sound is bold and sadly sweet, with an underlying tension — almost a sense of dangerousness — that’s difficult to put your finger on.
Each song builds upon repeating riffs, while M’Boungou’s smooth, powerful vocals float above all else. The group’s most recent song, “Nguya Na Ngai,” sung in Lingala, is dedicated to the Congolese women who have suffered during the civil war. The lyrics speak not only of discrimination against women, but also their immense strength and capacity for love and joy, capturing the complexities of the struggles of women throughout the world.
This Malian artist certainly has "Something To Say" in her most recent album Fenfo. Though her album contains many of the usual tracks about love and loss, her popular "Nterini” single describes Diawara’s distraught feelings about her distant lover.
Her insightful lyrics sung over rhythms from traditional percussion instruments, lighthearted guitar chords, and (on some tracks) wistful strains of cello, Diawara dispenses her timeless wisdom to all who have the privilege of listening.
With a rough, soulful voice and a penchant for heavy piano and driving beats, Jacob Banks creates music that compels you to dance your heart out, then cry your eyes out. Born in Nigeria, Banks moved to Birmingham, England, at the age of 13, where he began attending open mics and drawing an avid following for his music.
Now, after one full album, three EPs, and many more singles, Banks has gained a well-deserved international fanbase. His more upbeat hits like “Chainsmoking,” draw in the listener with gritty guitar and swelling synths, while his R&B-inspired ballads like “Slow Up” feature his unique voice more prominently with slow-moving ambient chords.
Though Banks draws inspiration from a long legacy of heart-wrenching soul, he always incorporates his own special twists. From electronic detailing to experiments with percussion, he consistently provides his listeners with the sweetest of ear candy.
Angelique Kidjo has long been a staple of African music, earning herself a series of accolades including four Grammys. Born in 1960 in Benin (formerly Dahomey), Kidjo experienced the heady first years of independence from France and the chaotic blooming of culture that followed suit.
Her music reflects a deep and abiding sense of joy and hope with bouncing melodies and cheerful instrumentation. Even though Kidjo is now 60 years old, she and her music remain as timeless as ever. She recently released a new track, “Shekere,” with Nigerian artist Yemi Alade, with the intention of passing on the torch to the new generation.
The track draws on the talents of both powerful women to create a pan-African anthem along with a picturesque music video shot in Kenya. As a special tidbit for long-time fans, the song includes interpolations from Kidjo’s 1996 tune “Wombo Lombo.”
Sumney will draw you in with his sweet and breathy falsetto, and then you’ll just be along for the rest of the whimsical, wild ride. His dreamy vocals and wide-open production on tracks such as “Me in Twenty Years” make this South Carolinian stand out amongst an oversaturated playing field of American pop artists.
His sound is almost otherworldly, a welcome escape from our too-real reality into a ghostly, ethereal realm. Sumney has a creative vision, and he knows how to execute it.
Although the artist was born in San Bernardino, California, he moved to Ghana with his parents when he was 10, only returning to America at 16. A slight Ghanian influence can be heard in his music, but it's mostly rooted in the American Indie Rock tradition with a heavy lean into electronic and instrumental experimentation alongside vocal runs inspired by contemporary R&B.
All in all, you'll get a little bit of everything. His most recent album Græ released in May of this year combines it all into a long and winding, but ultimately rewarding journey for the ears.
A Cape Verdean artist, Andrade’s music is in the spirit of the nation's popular Morna genre — but, of course, she puts her own modern twist on it. She turns to an electronic production rather than recording with traditional instruments (most of which trace their origins to Europe anyway).
As a diplomat’s daughter, Andrade was often away from home during her childhood. Nonetheless, she continued to sing in Cape Verdean Crioulo to pay tribute to the distinctive sounds of her country. The title track of her latest album “Manga” is sweet and sensual featuring her clear, sugary voice, front and center.
Other songs, such as “Tan Kalakatan,” take advantage of the percussive consonants of her native Crioulo language to deliver explosive sounds, despite her soft voice. Additionally, she tends to layer intense autotune over her voice in one section of a song, which adds extra spice and places emphasis on that particular moment. Beyond her music prowess, Andrade has served as a celebrity ambassador for “Free and Equal,” a UN campaign that promotes human rights of LGBT+ individuals in Cape Verde.
As mentioned earlier, Yemi Alade recently collaborated with the legend Kidjo to produce the track “Shekere,” but Alade also has quite a hefty musical career of her own. The Nigerian singer-songwriter-actress-activist skyrocketed to fame when she won the talent competition “Peak Talent Show” in 2009, with her first 2014 hit single “Johnny” — which now has over 122 million views on YouTube.
Since then, she has become a prominent international African artist winning award after award, and and you might know her from her role in Beyoncé’s “Black is King."
The songs that brought her to this stardom are the very essence of Afropop: crisply produced, upbeat, and inherently danceable, with a strong beat and melody that’s easy to shout. Equally impressive, perhaps, are her film-quality music videos, which boast a chock-full of aesthetically pleasing visuals for your eyes and ears.
Words by Sarah Ann Stager