Any Jozi rhythm and blues fan knows of the ray of soulful sunshine that is Melo B Jones.
Having first appeared on X-Factor back in 2014, Melo (a name derived from her first name, Boitumelo) has lit up stages both locally and internationally – headlining Soweto’s NYE Festival on Vilakazi Street in 2015, only to go on to perform at the Festival Week-end au bord de l’eau in Sierre, Switzerland within the space of a year.
I first saw Melo perform at the Bassline in 2016, when she was still the Imbawula musician-in-residence. Her honey-sweet vocals and unique, stripped down take on R&B were delightfully playful, combining elements of old-school and contemporary hip-hop to craft a sound that managed to be nostalgic and fresh all at once. After listening to Jones perform, it wasn’t uncommon to hear a mumbled “oooooh, yes!” at one of her sultry vocal trills, usually coupled by someone whispering: “When’s her album coming out?”
Finally, the 20-something singer-songwriter answers the anticipatory whispers with The Start, a debut EP dripping with the boom-bap soul we’ve come to love her for.
The Start, released on Kid Fonque and Jullian Gomes‘ label Stay True Sounds, deepens Melo’s connection to the kind of music pioneered by neo-soul vocalists Amel Larrieux (especially in her Groove Theory days) and Jill Scott, while keeping its finger on the pulse of the current contemporary turn towards a trap-infused waviness in modern R&B.
Tracks like ‘C&L’, written and produced by Melo together with Kabelo Tsoako (aka KaeB) open up with the iconic hard-shell tick-tick percussiveness of a classic trap beat, only to ooze open with Melo’s saccharine, woozy, behind-the-beat vocals that boast a hardened bad-bad street-smartness reminiscent of current faves like H.E.R. and SZA.
While some of the tracks, including ‘C&L’, veer close to being derivative, Melo B Jones manages to sneak a regionally localised feel into the music, especially in tracks like the syrupy piano sparkler, ‘Mamzize’. With trap often comes the African American-ish vernacular English that feels good to bop to, but often leaves little space for SA’s own gorgeous colloquialisms – an aspect that can only grow as we establish our own relationship to the global currents shifting soul and R&B into the future.
Melo’s The Start is exactly that, a luminescent look into the possibilities and beginnings of South African soul music. It can only get brighter from here.
The full album is available on Apple Music and iTunes here.