In current pop music, it seems like outside of Beyoncé and Rihanna, not many other black women seems to exist and be able to carve out a career. In the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s, there were more black women who were pop acts, but things tend to be more polarized now.
On the bright side, black people already dominate the hip-hop genre, which is pretty much on the verge of becoming the new pop music because of its ability to cross-over and reach different audiences. But there’s a price to pay for worldwide mainstream appeal.
The fact that hip-hop is such a massive part of our music industry means that it’s even more complicated for black women to exist in genres that aren’t R&B, neo-soul or rap. Not everyone can write pop music in its truest sense of the term, that is, popular music that borrows from other genres by creating radio-friendly and catchy tunes. But the definition of ‘pop music’ is also constantly shifting and evolving as times change. Some R&B acts are forced to be more pop to get mainstream appeal and fail to be successful because there’s so much you can pretend when your music doesn’t follow through.
In this context, where are the black female pop singers, let alone the alternatives ones who are not Solange, SZA or Erykah Badu? Which ones are showing that there’s more to them than just being a pretty face singing the chorus on a rap song? They’re all in the indie scene.
Indie music is not the most black female-friendly space, but it is one of the few genres that allows artists to have a multitude of musical influences and create diverse music from all kinds of genre.
Here’s a list of the best black female voices in indie pop that you need to listen to. It’s time to put the spotlight on talented ‘indie’ black women who are going beyond what’s expected of them musically, breaking stereotypes linked to their gender and race.
The Paris-based Canadian singer and songwriter has slowly but steadily carved her way in both the Canadian and French pop-folk scene since her first album, Camphor & Copper dropped in 2008. It was followed by the critically acclaimed Dying Is a Wild Night in 2013, on indie label No Format. As a second generation Haitian migrant who then moved to Paris, Mélissa Laveaux explores the conflicted feeling of longing for a country she doesn’t know and the difficulty in settling in a new one, as seen in songs like “Postman.”
Haiti is one of her biggest inspiration when it comes to her art. She’s currently working on a musical about Lasirèn / the Mamiwata. It explores her travels, the bodies of black women in European art, and Laveaux killing the artists she believes have done her wrong. Laveaux is currently touring in Europe and her new album, Radyo Siwel, will be released at the end of the year.
The song you need to listen to: “Triggers,” from the album Dying Is a Wild Night (2013).
British singer-songwriter Anita Blay first appeared on the pop scene in 2008 with her first single, “On My Own,” later dropping her mixtape, Adolescence, in 2010. For a while, she struggled to carve a way for herself as a pop singer in the grime-dominated UK music scene, especially in a country where the last black women to do so were Alesha Dixon and Jamelia in the early 2000s.
She’s also known for singing the theme song of the popular BBC 3 teen show Some Girls and writing songs for British bands Little Mix (“Hair”) and Blue (“Home”). She changed her stage name for CocknBullKid in 2010 and released her album Adulthood in 2011. Blay’s pop songs, like “I’m Not Sorry” or “Hold On to Your Misery,” tend to be cynical and bittersweet. She’s now is part of the duo Antony & Cleopatra and released her lastest single “Love Is a Lonely Dancer” last year.
The song you need to listen to: “Mexico” from Adulthood (2011).
American pop-R&B singer Muhsinah got a Grammy nomination for “Daykeeper,” her 2010 song with The Foreign Exchange. She released her first EP, Daybreak 2.0, in 2008, which generated interest from some famous rappers such as Common, with whom she worked on a track from his album Universal Mind Control, as well as other acts such as Flying Lotus. Muhsinah regularly self-releases EPs for her fans, which include 2014’s M. In 2016, she launched a project where she released an EP for every month of the year.
The song you need to listen to: “One” from the EP, Gone (2011).
This LA-based, Australian singer makes pop-soul-electro music that’s both dreamy and intimate. Tiian has mentioned that she was inspired by her musician dad, Doug Williams, as a child. She dropped her first EP in 2014 on the Swedish label Aristotracks. The same year, she was invited by a Swedish brand HunkyDory to perform at the end of their show, and moved there to work on her upcoming album. Her latest single, “In The Sunshine” featuring Cali Satellites was released last month and she recently performed at Pitchfork Fest in Chicago.
The song you need to listen to: “Black Cars”
Malian-French artist Inna Modja started singing as a child, influenced by her family. She worked as a model for a while before deciding to focus on her career as a musician. Modja describes her sound as pop-soul. In 2008, she began working with French pop singer Sliimy on a few songs of his, as well as with Jason Mraz. She released her first album, Everyday Is a New World, in 2009. Her single “French Cancan” found some mainstream success, which she followed up with her second album, Love Revolution.
Her third album, Hotel Bamako (2015), was inspired by her Malian roots. The music video for her single was heavily inspired by the photographer Malick Sidibe. When she was a child, Modja and her sisters got circumcised against their family’s wishes. It had a strong impact on Modja, who became a an anti-female genital mutilation advocate, deciding to mix her music with her activism. She recently started the project #wingsforfreedom with her boyfriend, in which she photographs people standing next to painted angel wings they spray on a wall, to give hope.
The song you need to listen to: “Tombouctou”
The New York-based singer, songwriter, DJ and model dropped her single “Black Ice” in 2016, followed by her debut EP, Lé Funk, this year. Her sound is Pop&B as well as disco-punk, influenced by Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Kaytranada. Her stage name came after her mom would frequently called her ‘mademoiselle.’ She kept the MAAD but as a positive term: when one is obsessed with things, whether it’s art, life or other things. She’s currently touring in the states as well as in the UK.
The song you need to listen to: “90s Love”
British electro-pop and soul singer Lulu James begin her career with the release of her EP, Rope Mirage, and got signed by the formerly indie label Black Butter Records. Inspired by James Blake and Gil Scott Heron, she too had to prove that she didn’t want to do R&B but make her own music. She’s worked alongside producer and close collaborator Domzilla on most of her music. James released the singles “Closer” and “Sweetest Thing” in 2013 followed by her latest EP, Colours, in 2016. She recently performed at Glastonbury 2017 and is currently on tour in the UK. Her newest single, “Terrifying” was just released last month.
The song you need to listen to: “Sweetest Thing”
The American based indie pop-folk rocker Laetitia Tamako is behind Vagabon, who has been making waves since she started putting her music on Bandcamp in 2014, with starting with single “Vermont.” In the indie pop-rock scene she still feels like an anomaly but is carving her own space in her own terms for black women like her to be represented. “I love that community, but a lot of people who look like me aren’t in that community. I can’t reach them if they can’t see me, and that’s what I want to do,” she’s told Pitchfork.
Her debut album, Infinite Worlds, was released in February on the indie label Father/Daughter. Vagabon is currently touring the U.S. and Europe.
The song you need to listen to: “The Embers”
Swedish/American singer Mapei shot to fame in 2013 with her single “Don’t Wait.” The single caught the attention of of Chance The Rapper and Kingdom, who both remixed it. Like many indie singers, she had been active in the scene way before hand, releasing her first EP The Cocoa Butter Diaries as a rapper in 2009 on Downtown Records and collaborating with Major Lazer on the song “Mary Janes.” She came up in a small pop scene in Sweden at the same time as her friend Lykke Li. Her debut album, Hey Hey, was released in 2014 and her latest single, a feature with Decco on the song “Shooting Stars,” was dropped last year.
The song you need to listen to: “Change” form Hey Hey
The American singer mixes storytelling, Afrofuturism and poetry in her spiritual pop music—but don’t expect to hear some Christian music. Though Francine Thirteen grew up in a Baptist household, she’s inspired by paganism. Her music is influenced by traditional African spirituality and aims to subvert the standard tropes of the patriarchy by empowering women. She’s working on her upcoming release, her EP Lust Heals, Give Me My Sin Again.
The song you need to listen to: “Sovereign, Song of Auras”