Audio
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.

Interview
Photo: Benoit Peverelli

Interview: Oumou Sangaré Proves Why She's the Songbird of Wassoulou

We caught up with the Malian singer to talk about her new Acoustic album, longevity as an artist, and growing up in Mali.

When Oumou Sangaré tells me freedom is at her core, I am not surprised. If you listen to her discography, you'll be hard-pressed to find a song that doesn't center or in some way touch on women's rights or child abuse. The Grammy award-winning Malian singer has spent a significant part of her career using her voice to fight for the rights of women across Africa and the world, a testimony to this is her naming her debut studio album Moussolou, meaning Woman. The album, a pure masterpiece that solidified Oumou's place amongst the greats and earned her the name 'Songbird of Wassoulou,' was a commercial success selling over 250,000 records in Africa and would in turn go on to inspire other singers across the world.

On her latest body of work Acoustic, a reworking of her critically acclaimed 2017 album Mogoya, Oumou Sangaré proves how and why she earned her accolades. The entirety of the 11-track album was recorded within two days in the Midi Live studio in Villetaneuse in 'live' conditions—with no amplification, no retakes or overdubs, no headphones. Throughout the album, using her powerful and raw voice that has come to define feminism in Africa and shaped opinions across the continent, Oumou boldly addresses themes like loss, polygamy and female circumcision.

We caught up with the Malian singer at the studio she is staying while in quarantine to talk about her new album, longevity as an artist, and growing up in Mali.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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