News Brief

10 Black Women In Indie You Need To Listen To

Here are 10 of the best black female voices in indie pop. You should really check them out.

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.

Mélissa Laveaux

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).

Anita Blay (fka CocknBullKid)

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).

Muhsinah

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).

Tiaan

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"

Inna Modja

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"

MAAD

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"

Lulu James

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"

Vagabon

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"

Mapei

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

Francine Thirteen

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"

Popular
Photo courtesy of Sam Soko.

Interview: Sam Soko is the Kenyan Director Behind Sundance Hit, 'Softie'

We meet filmmaker Sam Soko who has made a stirring documentary about the Kenyan protest leader Boniface Mwangi

Filmmaker Sam Soko didn't intend on making a documentary about Kenyan photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi.

The original idea he had was to make a manual of sorts, a short video guide, on how to protest, the do's and don't's. Soko, himself an activist artist who cut his teeth convincing friends to let him create political music videos for their apolitical songs, knew Mwangi's experience on the streets both photographing protests and staging them meant he had a lot to share with others.

But then came the blood. A thousand litres of it, to be precise. And the pigs. Dozens of them, with words like MPigs written on them. Like the graphic photos Mwangi had become known for taking—it was a sight you couldn't look away from. It was a protest Mwangi organized, in 2013, to decry corrupt members of the Kenyan parliament who had decided to increase their salaries, 2 months after taking office. And at his side, through the thick red liquid of it all, was Mwangi's wife, Njere, ready to be arrested with him.

"Once I was witness to his relationship, I started seeing him as a family man," Soko tells OkayAfrica. "Because he's planning a protest and all, but when you look at the footage, you start seeing the kids and you start seeing Njere. That's when it started hitting me, in the sense, that she was with him in such a crazy space."

Soko formed a creative and activist hub, called PAWA 254, with Mwangi, as they became part of the groundswell demanding democratic reforms in a country still left scarred from the division sewed between Kikuyu and Luo people by British colonizers. "We had a new Constitution at the time, and there was this hope that we finally could picket without being tear-gassed or being beaten, Like, our civil liberties could be held up." Instead, the government strengthened its police force into a notorious organization condemned by human rights activists. "That's very salient in the film," says Soko. "If you see how the police dress, for instance, at the beginning, it's very different; they become more militant towards the end."

Soko's debut feature-length documentary, Softie, which became the first Kenyan film to ever premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, earlier this year, is at once a love story between Mwangi and his wife and their three children, but also between Mwangi and his beloved Kenya, under president Uhuru Kenyatta. Central to the film is the tussle between how these different loves bump up against each other: what comes first — love of country or love of family?

We spoke to the Nairobi-based director about making the film, which opens in virtual cinemas, starting this Friday, September 18th.

Boniface Mwangi with his wife Photo courtesy of Sam Soko


OA: Early on in the film, we learn how steadfast Boniface Mwangi is — he talks about being willing to die for the ideals he believes in, which made me think of Nelson Mandela and his Rivonia Treason Trial speech. Boniface is someone in the present day who still shares this belief?

When we were working on the edit, and kind of crafting and thinking about what the story was going to be, something that we found that was really, really interesting is, with a lot of the stories, like the story of Nelson Mandela, you'd never see the other side. That's something we see later, up ahead, as a retrospective. We'd hear about Martin Luther King and then we'd read about Coretta Scott in, I think, 1990, like, 'Oh, this his was her struggle.' That sort of thing. But for me, Boniface and Njere represented a present day reality struggle that showcases what Mandela was going through, what Martin Luther was going through. That was kind of like unravelling the curtain; when you see Martin Luther marching, Coretta's at home, trying to help their kids do their homework. And this is the reality.

OA: And the film poses that question of love for your country versus love for your family, and which one should come first?

Exactly. They see it in different ways. Boniface sees it that if you improve the country, you improve the lives of those who you love. Njere's like, you have to have your family's back first. And that means everything else comes second. And she's right; she's not wrong. And he's not wrong.

OA: The film really is privy to some really private moments in Mwangi's life — how did you gain his trust?

When we started filming the short video, he was really involved with the protests, and we started doing the protests with him. So we were—quote, unquote—in the trenches with him in the protests, and somehow that's how he kind of welcomed us to his home. When you've been with someone in the streets, and you're tear-gassed together more than once, you already have a common bond. But then I started developing a relationship with him that was beyond the streets. Just checking up on him and asking, what's going on, what's taking place? That sort of thing. I think it took a while. And I think even from Njere, we kind of developed a kind of camaraderie that was separate from my relationship with Boniface, because I would actually be like, 'Hey, he said that, how does that make you feel?' And not necessarily on camera. But over time, he kind of accepted us to be there with a camera. At some point, I kind of felt like they were talking to me, and not necessarily the camera; like, the camera is kind of this thing that's there, but not there. That kind of trust, again, was built on a respect that I have for them and their values and what they're doing. I think that's something they saw. It made them trust me with their story and trust me with their family.

You're the director of the film, but you're also producer, writer and cinematographer. Did Boniface's own style as a photojournalist influence you in any way?

The film has three cinematographers, and a lot of my cinematography is within the intimate moments, because that's when they would only engage with someone they trust. But him being a photographer actually, to a point, made the work a bit hard because he's constantly looking at how you're doing it. He's in your face about the angle. He's like, 'Hey, why are you standing there, you should be there.' But in some places he did help 'cause he's been filming in the streets and filming protests for a very long time. So when you're there filming, he'll easily tell you, 'Dude, don't stand there. They're about to start tear-gassing. Go to the other side.' And it's weird, when you're on the other side and you're filming, and all of a sudden you see tear gas, you wonder, 'How the hell did he know?' You do that 234 times and you start knowing yourself, 'Oh, this is how,' and he was really helpful in that sense.

I can imagine that filming during the protests must have been one of the big challenges of making this film but what else did you struggle with? There were death threats for Mwangi, did that happen to you as well?

It's so funny, when you're filming and when you're in the protests, it's adrenaline talking. So you're not really thinking about whether you're going to be okay. This one time, I got arrested because the cop said I was a spy for the protesters. [We had everything] from cameras breaking to sound equipment messing up, but when it became a more political story, with death threats, it became scary even for editing the film. Because you don't know who's watching you. This one time, I was with him in the car, filming, and we were being followed. So we kind of had to be very careful who we are telling about the story. It was a very deep secret that we were making this film and there are people who are watching it now asking, 'How could you keep this from us from all these years?' Because we had to do that. Especially when the family was in the US. We had to do that for the sake of safety for him, Boniface, for his family but also the film team. I remember doing the pitches with different names. But then we were also lucky that we had our co-producing partner in Canada, Eye Steel Film, so they were able to house the edit there. I went to Canada to edit and that kind of also gives you a kind of freedom to think and work and create. That was the reality, and now I think we have PTSD from the film. I can't film another protest. I'm sorry. I'm out. Like, it tapped me out.

There are similarities to the Black Lives Matter protests here in the US, against police brutality and violence but the slogan takes on a different resonance in places like Kenya, where the police force is particularly heavy-handed. How do you see these protests as being similar but also different?

There are two things that you learn with the film. One, our voices can never be silenced. They will try, but I think humanity is like a pressure cooker. The more you boil us, the more you put that heat, the more explosive we become. And through people like Boniface's life, you see that there are human beings who exist, who do extraordinary things.

The other thing is the idea of activism doesn't necessarily just speak to the person who's on the street. It doesn't necessarily speak to the person who's holding the placard. An activist is someone like Njere and her life, and her family. And Khadija [Mohamed, Mwangi's campaign manager]. She's such a strong and powerful activist in her own right. She was Boniface's campaign manager for free. The work they did was so powerful. And you have these other people in the background who are doing such incredible things. The sum total of what they've done is [to] instigate… We have an election next year, but I am so sure that we are going to have so many candidates who are going to be like, 'We want you to donate to our campaign. We have these values and beliefs; this is what we want to do.' That is how we need to go about change or add on to the conversations of change.

The same thing that's happening with the Black Lives Matters movement. Yes, there are people going to the street and we should keep going to the street. But we need to push people to engage in policy and make sure these policy changes are made.

We need to stand for what we believe in, as filmmakers in spaces where we feel oppression exists. Like the rules that have come out with the Academy Awards, these are rules that should be celebrated because they add on to that conversation of diversity and representation. All these things—that sum total—is what makes the difference. It's going beyond the streets and going beyond our Tweets, going beyond our Facebook messages, making films and sharing films. We just need to keep pumping up the volume, keeping the heat up, keep pushing. It's gonna take a while, but we'll get there.


Photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi during a protest in Nairobi, Kenya Photo courtesy of Sam Soko


That's where you as a filmmaker come in—this film was the first Kenyan film to get into Sundance, where it won a special editing prize.

There's another film I'm producing and, and, yes, I had my film at Sundance, that's great. But there's this other filmmaker who's making another film, and it's so cool, and this is the thing—we need to keep bouncing off this energy and this light and this vibe, and just keep pushing and making sure that the wheels keep turning. That's what we're all about.

How do you renew your strength, as a filmmaker but also as a Kenyan and as an African?

Being a Kenyan is hard. I think being an African is hard. Like, it's hard. There's a line I heard Boniface say once: 'I love my country, but I am afraid of my government.' But the way in which, personally, I find energy is when I meet new filmmakers, or you know, people who are like starting out and they want to make films that sound totally crazy. And they believe that they can do it. And I'm like, 'yes, yes, keep going!' We are planning to do a premiere. We have not confirmed the date yet but we're thinking it's around going to be early October in Kenya, because Kenyans haven't watched it. The government gave us an adult rating. They're putting us on the same level as porn.

This is the same government that banned Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki because of its homosexual theme…

Exactly, that's what we're getting but the lemonade that we've made out of all this is, 'Guess what? This is cinema!' We're going to take it to a cinema. People are going to come to watch it in a cinema or watch it at home or watch it in the best way possible. And the people who've watched it have appreciated it as a film and a story, and their story. They've seen a reflection of themselves. That gives me so much joy because the Kenyans who've watched it, when they give you feedback, they say, this is truth; this is our truth. And they don't see just an activist. They see a couple struggling with love. They see our history in the last 10 years. And they're like, 'What the hell, we lived this?' and they see the things that are unresolved — and many things are unresolved. Seeing that reaction gives me so much strength and hope. But it's hard. It's very hard. Because, you know, you have to wake up and see the policeman getting a bribe. And you're like, 'Homie??'


"SOFTIE" Movie Poster



Watch the trailer for Softie here.

Softie | Official Trailer | A film by Sam Soko www.youtube.com

get okayafrica in your inbox

popular.

Whoisakin Channels His Love For Anime In the New Video For ‘Magic’

The single, featuring Olayinka Ehi, comes off his latest EP Full Moon Weekends.