More and more, the stubborn myopic perception that electronic music is, and always will be, dominated by white artists is being subverted. Through the steadfast efforts of various black and brown artists, producers and promoters and some festivals working consciously to diversify both their line-up and their audiences, the music landscape is slowly seeing a change.
Women and femmes of colour, have always been on the front lines of this innovation. With this listicle, we look to five incredible black artists shattering the glass ceilings in electronic music, while carving out distinctive stylistic spaces of their own.
- Manthe Ribane
Manthe Ribane is not afraid to embrace all things weird and avant-garde. The fearless, boundary-bashing Soweto-born musician, performance artist, fashion pioneer and dancer, is one of the most endlessly innovative artists to bless the region’s arts and culture landscape.
Her debut EP, Dumela 113, merged her eye for innovation with the futuristic sounds of Hyperdub-affiliated producer Okzharp. This unique collaboration gave us gems such as the syncopated pantsula banger ‘Sizzr’ and arrestingly new ‘Dear Ribane’, where Ribane’s vocoded Sesotho vocals tease out themes of race, playfulness and Black girlhood.
That being said, my favourite Ribane track has to be ‘Teleported’. Headlining the Tell Your Vision EP released in October last year, the track opens with a ruthlessly heavy bass-line, only to unravel into Manthe’s agile vocals counting off numbers in a style reminiscent of fahfee – a township tsotsi-taal game popularised by Sophiatown pioneer, Ramalao Makhene.
It’s a ferociously potent track that has Manthe’s trademark avant-garde energy bursting at the seams.
The pre-EP teasers that sister-duo Kajama had already released had us all in the palms of their hands. And with their debut EP, Polarity Prism, only just out, they’re only just beginning to show the world what they’re about. ‘Future-soul’ pioneers Nandi and Nongoma Ndlovu gift us with hypnotic, sonically rich rhythms that are coloured by their global background, having grown up in Zimbabwe, Switzerland and South Africa.
‘Tricks’, the track that first put me on to Kajama’s brilliance, is shaky, frenetic and metallic in all the best ways. Laid over the track’s staccato production are saccharine, slightly woozy vocals that all fit together to create a surprisingly soulful song – but one that still bites with a bold attitude.
- Ibibio Sound Machine
Helmed by Nigerian-born vocalist and songwriter Eno Williams, Ibibio Sound Machine is what you get when you mix Afrobeat and jùjú from Nigeria, highlife from Ghana and makossa music from Cameroon, with the funk, electronic and synth-heavy influences of globalised icons James Brown, Talking Heads and Prince.
If it sounds like an unlikely and heady mix, it is. Having just released their second album Uyai (meaning “beauty” in Ibibio – a Southern Nigerian language that features in nearly all of their music), Ibibio Sound Machine perform songs that are narratively rich, while packing the stylistic diversity of their surrounds into their inventive kaleidoscopic sound.
Their ‘80s synth-pop inspired song, ‘Give Me a Reason’ explores the impact that the 2014 abduction of almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls from Chibok had on Nigerian society. Speaking about her thinking behind the track in a recent interview, Eno Williams explained, “[The abduction] struck a chord in me. Why can’t we just be free to be who we want to be? But on the other hand, we wanted it to be upbeat — we wanted it to be a hopeful song. We just want to make people aware that despite the doom and gloom, there is something that can lift you up.”
- Nonku Phiri
For such an undeniably bright star in the constellation of young South African musicians – having contributed to so many talented others’ hyped releases – it’s amazing to think that Nonku Phiri hasn’t yet even released her debut album. We’re all so ready.
The long list of her collaborators only proves how much producers appreciate how her unmistakably gorgeous vocals can turn any song into gold; Nonku’s worked with everyone from Cape Town’s PHFat and hip hop kings Reason and Tumi, to genre alchemists like Card on Spokes and many more.
Some of my personal favourites include her collaboration with Lisbon-based DJ and producer Branko, which gave us the kizomba-infused, zouk-bass gem ‘Let Me Go’ featuring Los Angeles beatmaker Mr. Carmack; as well the sultry blues-heavy track ‘The Answer’ that came about after Nonku’s collaboration with Swiss-based producer Maloon TheBoom.
That being said, my current obsession is ‘The Siren’s Call’, off of Jumping Back Slash’s new Slow Oceans EP. The track combines Nonku’s jazz and R&B soaked vocals with the UK-born, Knysna-based producer’s glimmering downtempo electronic sound – resulting in a deliciously dark song all about the intoxicating and dizzying depths of love.
- Moonchild Sanelly
With her infectious spirit and shock of bright blue hair, Moonchild Sanelly recently electrified audiences at both the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival and Design Indaba’s Nightscapes event, supported on stage by future-bass producer, Maramza.
Her style, which she describes as ‘future ghetto funk’, is a unique fusion of hip-hop, jazz and kwaito peppered with electronic influences, all creating a street-smart sound as distinctive as her vibrant look.
Alongside many others, I first encountered Moonchild’s music back in 2014 when she released the delightfully cheeky ‘Rabubi’ – the product of a collaboration with BLK JKS drummer Tshepang Ramoba.
In more recent fare, Moonchild teamed up with Aewon Wolf and Durban producer Sketchy Bongo to create ‘Guestlist’ – a party-ready song all about light-hearted and flirty night out with the best of friends.
We can’t claim to know everything that’s happening in every corner of the region, so let us know in the comments who we’ve missed out?