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Ayanda Jiya. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

South African Women Dropped the Best Debuts of 2019

We highlight 10 noteworthy albums & EPs from a new generation of vocal talent in South Africa, featuring Elaine, Ayanda Jiya, Ami Faku and more.

The South African music scene has seen an uptick in youthful, vocally gifted artists over the years. Much of this is owed to the recent global resurgence of R&B, as well as the increased significance of streaming sites, especially SoundCloud.

From internet-savvy artists creating jazz, alternative soul and house-infused spoken word to radio friendly iterations of pop and Afro-soul, 2019 has been the year of impactful debut performances.

This year ushered in the voices of a new generation of South African female artists announcing themselves to the world.

Here's a lowdown of 10 great releases from talented female vocalists, songwriters and composers marking this new era.

Read ahead below. This list is in no particular order.


​Elaine 'Elements'

R&B singer Elaine has dominated streaming charts with her youthful dynamism since the release of her Elements EP. Her 7-track offering is one of the biggest new independent releases in South Africa, having reached the top of Apple Music's Album Charts. It subsequently earned her recognition as the platform's New Artist Spotlight for Sub-Saharan Africa in November.The Pretoria-based singer offers a mellow blend of trap-soul and R&B with incisive explorations of adolescent love. With tracks like "You're The One," she sets the world alight over production by Clxrity.

Sio 'sbtxts'

Straddling spoken word, house and electro-soul, Sio offers deeply reflective art on her debut album sbtxts. Over production by Daev Martian, Julian Gomes and Atjazz, the Johannesburg native delves into both romantic and melancholic themes across the album's 17 tracks. Sio has an ability to marry the groove of house music with introspective songwriting, owed largely to her poetic delivery.

​Refentše Solo 'Genesis'

A sultry voice over soulful, emotive production sums up Pretoria native Refentše Solo's alluring sound. Fusing Northern Sesotho and English on her debut EP, Genesis, she's as poised as her music is moving. "New Moon" is a standout song on the EP that takes on the angelic tone of its spiritual lyrics, hinting at a vocalist finely in tune with her songwriting.

​Kim Venty 'Practice Room'

Practice Room, by Cape Town's own Kim Venty, is an aptly named 7-song EP. The release is an exploration in two senses: that of self and that of different sounds. With a jazz background and palette for pop music, Kim occupies a space that is influenced by the diversity of her taste. With her take on alt-pop, the singer's open to experimentation as is evident on her Gina Jeanz-produced single "For You."

Ayanda Jiya 'Ayandastand'

The soulful Ayandastand, an R&B project invested in the love of self and others, serves as Ayanda Jiya's debut album. While effortlessly displaying her vocal range on "The Sun" and across the entire album, the singer also taps into her longstanding hip-hop roots through collaborations with A-Reece and Stogie T.

Ami Faku 'Imali'

A project both youthful and timeless, Ami Faku's Imali is a refreshing take on Afro-soul. The singer-songwriter grapples with dream chasing, finding love and the solace of home over the eclectic soundscapes of these 11 tracks. In the truest sense of the word, Imali reimagines a traditional sound and infuses it with an infectious sprightliness.

nalu luvdust 'Tacenda'

Cape Town-based singer Nalu's Tacenda EP is a deeply engrossing listen. On it, she offers honest interpretations of sexuality and relationships while her lyrics are cocooned between R&B-meets-soul rhythms and lo-fi ambiance. The standout quality of Tacenda is its marriage of acoustic riffs and soulful bass, as embodied by the Hanna (the nigist)-featuring "Bedtime Confessions." A distorted interpolation of 50 Cent's "21 Questions" on "Kitty" is also a big EP standout.

​Valerie Omari 'Therefore I Am'

With her Therefore I Am EP, Valerie Omari announces herself to the scene as the quintessential R&B artist. Over palpably raw, echoic production, the Democratic Republic of Congo-born singer traverses the sensuality, heartbreak and addictiveness that comes with relationships. Valerie is at home with the more traditional R&B aesthetic though she comfortably leans towards fusion on the latter part of the EP. This is a voice destined for greatness.

​lordkez 'Revenge Season'

Kimberley-born singer Keziah Zoë Meyers explores a range of emotions through the lens of a revenge-wielding scribe on her 6-track debut offering. Deftly floating over instrumentation owed to the trap-soul wave, the Revenge Season EP sees lordkez tapping into themes of love, vulnerability and deceit—all the while with a score to settle. Lordkez's strength is her versatility as an artist, as she unveils layers of her vocal range alongside rhythmic flows that make you nod as much as her soundscapes make you feel.

Thandeka Dladla of Unity Band 'Fabric'

The singer Thandeka Dladla serves as the lead vocalist of the Cape Town-based Unity Band. The Unity band was formed by South African College of Music graduates Lumanyano Mzi, who also serves as a drummer for trumpeter Mandisi Dyantyis. 24-year-old Dladla fronts the eight-piece outfit, which blends elements of pop, funk and hip-hop while keeping jazz at the crux of their sound. Thandeka adds an arresting lyricism to the band's explorative ethos and compliments their unique African take on jazz fusion with her isiXhosa vocals. If the band's debut release Fabric is anything to go by, the young vocalist will be a great addition to South Africa's jazz scene for years to come.

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Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

Freddie Harrel Is Building Conscious Beauty For and With the African Diaspora

Formerly known as "Big Hair Don't Care", creator Freddie Harrel and her team have released 3 new wig shapes called the "RadShapes" available now.


Photo: Courtesy of Radswan


The normalising of Black and brown women in wigs of various styles has certainly been welcomed by the community, as it has opened up so many creative avenues for Black women to take on leadership roles and make room for themselves in the industry.

Radswan (formerly known as Big Hair Don't Care), is a lifestyle brand "bringing a new perspective on Blackness through hair, by disrupting the synthetic market with innovative and sustainable products." Through their rebrand, Radswan aims to, "upscale the direct-to-consumer experience holistically, by having connected conversations around culture and identity, in order to remove the roots of stigma."

The latest from French-Cameroonian founder and creator Freddie Harrel - who was featured on our list of 100 women of 2020 - has built her career in digital marketing and reputation as an outspoken advocate for women's empowerment. On top of her business ventures, the 2018 'Cosmopolitan Influencer of the Year' uses her platform to advocate for women's empowerment with 'SHE Unleashed,' a workshop series where women of all ages come together to discuss the issues that impact the female experience, including the feeling of otherness, identity politics, unconscious bias, racism and sexism.

And hair is clearly one of her many passions, as Freddie says, "Hair embodies my freest and earliest form of self expression, and as a shapeshifter, I'm never done. I get to forever reintroduce my various angles, tell all my stories to this world that often feels constrained and biased."

Armed with a committee of Black women, Freddie has cultivated Radswan and the aesthetic that comes with the synthetic but luxurious wigs. The wigs are designed to look like as though the hair is growing out of her own head, with matching lace that compliments your own skin colour.

By being the first brand to use recycled fibres, Radswan is truly here to change the game. The team has somehow figured out how to make their products look and feel like the real thing, while using 0% human hair and not negotiating on the price, quality or persona.

In 2019, the company secured £1.5m of investment led by BBG Ventures with Female Founders Fund and Pritzker Private Capital participating, along with angelic contributions from Hannah Bronfman, Nashilu Mouen Makoua, and Sonja Perkins.

On the importance of representation and telling Black stories through the products we create, Freddie says, "Hair to me is Sundays kneeling between your mothers or aunties legs, it's your cousin or newly made friend combing lovingly through your hair, whilst you detangle your life out loud. Our constant shapeshifting teaches us to see ourselves in each other, the hands braiding always intimately touching our head more often than not laying someone's lap."

"Big Hair No Care took off in ways we couldn't keep up with," she continues, "RadSwan is our comeback.It's a lifestyle brand, it's the hair game getting an upgrade, becoming fairer and cleaner. It's the platform that recognises and celebrates your identity as a shapeshifter, your individuality and your right to be black like you."


Check out your next hairstyle from Radswan here.

Radswan's RadShape 01Photo: Courtesy of Radswan


Radswan's RadShape 02Photo: Courtesy of Radswan


Radswan's RadShape 03Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

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