This is the fourth feature in a series we’re calling “Fresh Cuts.” It’s a selection of newly released tracks and videos from across Africa and the diaspora, featuring established and up-and-coming artists and everything in between. Today we’ve got, among other things, rhymes and beats from London, Brooklyn, the Netherlands and Haiti, some haunting electro-folk from Cuba and Tunisia, and an all-female band from Sudan fighting for women’s rights.
Head to the bottom of the page to listen to our YouTube and Spotify playlists of this music–but be mindful that these won’t include every song listed here due to the variety of platforms artists are using to share their music. And, in case you missed them, also check out “Fresh Cuts” Vol. One, Two and Three. Enjoy!
Oddisee: “Like Really”
Let’s kick it off with one of the best rappers in the game right now. Oddisee is a fiercely independent, potent wordsmith who offers lucid commentary on the world he inhabits. On top of that, he’s also got deep skills in the production realm, churning out finely crafted, richly textured, soul-thumping beats. He’s based in Brooklyn these days but came up in the D.C. suburbs with a Sudanese father and African-American mother, a childhood that often gets woven into his songs, either in subject matter or in the threads of old Sudanese pop and folk that add depth to his productions. Spin Oddisee’s instrumentals like The Odd Tape when you want a luminous, vivid soundtrack to a dream world or tune into his lyrics for some fluid wit. This track, like some of his others, offers incisive critiques of contradictions and blindness in the political sphere and the hamster wheel of the corporate music industry. For more of Oddisee, check out his recent album, The Iceberg, and 2016’s Alwasta.
Little Simz: “Picture Perfect”
Little Simz is on top. Simz, A.K.A. Simbi Ajikawo, is a London-based rapper with Nigerian roots. Her rap game’s a mere six years old, but it is consistently on point. Her lyrics are savvy, her beats are deep, warm and moving, and her attitude is both vulnerable and powerful. In 2016, she released the pure gold Stillness in Wonderland, a record that’s something of a concept album, drawing influence from Alice in Wonderland and her encounters with the madness of the music industry. The album is accompanied by a short film of the same name. Also, check out her recent Tiny Desk Concert at NPR.
MHD: “Afro Trap Part.8 (Never)”
Mohamed Sylla A.K.A. MHD is a French rapper with roots in Guinea and Senegal, and is huge in both of those countries. His rhymes, particularly his “Afro Trap” series, of which this is the eighth, rack up millions of views on YouTube and are a good barometer of the sound of popular Afro-European hip-hop these days. We heard from MHD before, in the first edition of Fresh Cuts.
Jairzinho ft. Sevn Alias, BKO & Boef: “Tempo”
The Dutch hip-hop scene has not gotten much airtime here at Afropop, but clearly it deserves some recognition. Here’s Jairzinho, a rapper based in the Netherlands, born in Suriname and carrying the name of a Brazilian footballer. The Netherlands is home to many Surinamese (Suriname being a former Dutch colony), and Surinamese musical styles and languages make their mark on the music scene, though this track has a fair dose of cosmopolitan Afrobeats sound. While you’re at it, check out our rebroadcast of a program all about Suriname and the Guyanas.
Denzel White: “Get To You”
While we’re thinking about Suriname, let’s hop over a country to Guyana. Denzel White is a Guyanese singer living in New York City and brings his smooth crooning to this sultry track. He sings with respect: “It’s something about your smile/Your style and grace/You’re more than just a body and pretty face.”
Sammany: “Min Zaman”
Sudan’s on the mind these days. Like Oddisee, Sammany Hajo has roots in Sudan but lives abroad, in his case, Doha, Qatar. From this emerging Middle Eastern financial capital fed by oil money, this young musician is making some exceptional music. Besides being a talented producer, crafting slick, soulful downbeat grooves laced with old-school Sudanese pop, he’s also an excellent pianist. We highly suggest heading to Soundcloud to listen to his whole album, Suitcase, which is a great piece of work all the way through. Other recommended tracks: “Wain Enta” and “Ya Watani.” Shout out to Sudanese website Andariya for shining the light.
Michael Brun with Lakou Mizik ft. J. Perry: “Gaya”
Straight from Haiti, here’s a radiant, multigenerational collaboration of young DJ and producer star Michael Brun and the phenomenal Lakou Mizik. These Haitian luminaries blend contemporary dance beats, traditional rara music and compas into a dance track that can transcend boundaries. We’ve heard from both Brun and Lakou Mizik, at an event last year celebrating the Arts Institute in Jacmel, Haiti, where Brun studied and whose students produced a video for his hit song, “Wherever I Go”. Lakou Mizik also released an excellent album in 2016, titled Wa Di Yo.
Serge Beynaud: “Akrakabo”
If you happen to be standing in a precarious location or are performing surgery, etc. you might want to hold off playing this song. Ivoirian singer Serge Beynaud turns up the heat all the way on this fire coupé decalé track–you will not be able to keep yourself still. The (unembeddable) music video is a trip too, with Beynaud rolling up to a horse race, on which he places a winning bet against a man dressed something like Saudi nobility.
Skip Marley: “Lions”
Skip, of the expansive, famed Marley family, is a grandson of Bob. He takes the family’s signature political outspokenness in a different musical direction in this song, adopting a grand, EDM sound to accompany his lyrics. He sings proudly of a young generation of activists, “We are the lions…We are the movement, this generation, you better know who we are.” Footage of recent protests are the backdrop for his defiant lyrics in this video.
Jidenna, a rising Nigerian-American singer/rapper, has been on a roll recently, from his breakout hit “Classic Man” to collaboration with Janelle Monaé to his recent Afrobeats-flavored release, “Little Bit More.” He’s at it again, this time with a full-length record that is brimming with hits. Here we’ve got “Bambi,” a track with a singular sound, painting a compelling, catchy sound with a trap beat layered over suave crooning, nostalgic harmonies and what sounds like samples of ‘60s West African highlife or jazz. That clash of vibes comes out in the lyrics too, in which Jidenna sings, yearning for his love, Bambi, who left him because he wasn’t faithful. If you peruse the Genius page for this song, the impression is that he’s placing responsibility for his infidelity on heredity: “If grandfather never had seven wives/Then darling you would be love of my life/Oh Bambi it’s my design.” Both his grandfather and father were Igbo chiefs, and he pays homage to them with the name of his recent album: The Chief.
Poirier ft. Fwonte: “Pale Mal”
Montreal’s Ghislain Poirier, often known as just Poirier, teamed up with Haitian rapper Fwonte for this sunny track with reggae vibes. Over that jolly, upbeat instrumental, Fwonte delivers his verses in Creole hating on the haters who talk behind your back–“Pale Mal” means “bad talk.” The track’s from a 2016 album, but it was recently remixed by two producers, which you can find here.
Ibibio Sound Machine: “Give Me a Reason”
You got to love this sound. It sits somewhere between Nigerian disco, modern electro-pop and the arty, funky sounds of ‘80s new wave bands like the Tom Tom Club. Fronted by London-born, Nigerian singer Eno Williams, Ibibio Sound Machine makes some very unique, solidly grooving music. In their words, “Weird and wonderful folk stories, recounted to Eno by her family as a child in her mother’s Ibibio tongue, form the creative fabric from which the band’s unique musical tapestry is woven. [It’s] evocative Nigerian poetic imagery set against an edgy Afro-electro soundscape.” You can get their new album, Uyai, here.
Dogo: “Von Na Agbeto”
Dogo from Togo! Hailing from the capital of Lomé, Dogo is an experienced musician, having played with bands in his home city, as well as in Washington, D.C. These days, he’s spending more time in Togo and recently put out this lovely track. He offers an interesting history of the music: “The song is based on the simpa rhythm played in the northern part of Togo by the Tem people. Simpa originated from the Sierra Leone’s gumbe (brought by freed slaves who relocated during the 18th century from Jamaica). Gumbe [then] traveled to Ghana, mixed with highlife to create the Ghana simpa…The Ghana simpa traveled to Togo…The Togolese simpa usually goes slow and becomes fast at the end. Dogo decided to keep it slow and acoustic all the way with this song.”
Salute Yal Bannot: “Stop”
Also from Sudan, we’ve got Salute Yal Bannot with a message of defiance and authority: “Stop!/Don’t touch me/Don’t cut my wings away.” They’re a stellar group of 11 women based in Khartoum who employ their powerful voices to advocate for women’s rights in English, Sudanese Arabic and standard Arabic. The four instrumentalists back seven singers, rapping, harmonizing and sharing solos, singing about war, love, misogyny, FGM (female genital mutilation), empowerment and respect. One member, Hiba Alaeldin Elgizouli, says, “We hope people everywhere are listening to what we are saying. We want to make a change. We are not just singing.” You can keep up with Salute Yal Bannot, whose name means “respect the girls,” here and check out an earlier hit song, “African Girl,” here.
Hejira: “I Don’t Belong to Anyone”
Hejira, not to be confused with a Baltimore metal band of the same name, nor Joni Mitchell’s album, is a creative, genre-hopping group out of London. In 2016, singer and bassist Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne spent a month traveling around Ethiopia, getting to know a country where she has deep roots–the last time she was there was for her father’s funeral in 2012. The band joined her for a spell and put together a short EP as a kind of reflection on that trip. This track is on that EP, The Lima Limo Ceremony. It’s a spare, hard-hitting groove with Debebe-Dessalegne’s defiant, crystalline vocals on top, singing, “I don’t belong to anyone/You don’t belong to anyone/I don’t belong to anyone/Even to myself.” The video seems to traverse her story: images of Ethiopia–cattle walking up foggy mountain roads, shoulder-shaking gurage dance–flashback photos from youth and Rahel herself decked out in elaborate, Ethiopian-inspired dress with platform shoes. Keep an ear out for sounds to come.
Vaz: “Who You”
Bringing you these soaring Swedish electropop sounds is Vaz, or rather, Jenny and Cecilia Vaz. They’re two sisters from Sweden with roots in Cape Verde who, in their words, “mix traditional African drums with electronic beats and multi-dimensional harmonies,” to crafting their own brand of grand, ethereal pop. Stromae, Cesaria Evora and Tinariwen stand among their influences. Keep up with them here.
Ibeyi: “Lost in My Mind”
The Diaz twins are back with a new track. Taking the name Ibeyi, which means twins in Yoruba, the French-Cuban sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz make enchanting, grooving music. Their eponymous 2015 album was a revelation, a fresh dose of creativity and spirit that they bring to life so mightily in concert. The sisters’ father is the late, great Cuban conguero and percussionist Anga Diaz, who worked with Latin jazz pioneers Irakere, the Buena Vista Social Club and Tata Güines, among others. Upon his death, the young Naomi started learning to play cajón, in his legacy. Cajón and batá drums, piano, electronic drums and synths and the haunting, harmonious voices of these two sisters make up the sound of their music. Their songs feel like invocations at times, and sometimes literally are–Santería praise songs find their way into some tunes, like “Elegguá.”
Emel Mathlouthi: “Lost”
Here’s another entrancing song about feeling lost. Emel Mathlouthi has been called the “Voice of the Arab Spring” for her songs became something of anthems for the revolution in Tunisia in 2011. Her voice has an otherworldly power and her music is haunting, gripping and inspiring, drawing influence from Tunisian vocal traditions, Björk, Joan Baez, and the Lebanese legend Fairouz. Her concert in 2016 at FIAF was unforgettable. Her album, Ensen, is out now and comes highly recommended.
Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita: “Dary”
Omar Sosa, the virtuosic and inimitable Cuban pianist, worked with Senegalese kora maestro Sekou Keita to craft a gorgeous, sweeping album, Transparent Water. This track is the first on that album, and hosts the percussion of Venezuelan performer Gustavo Ovalles. It’s a warm, enveloping sound that offers some much appreciated solace, like cool water on a blistering day. Plus, Sosa’s hat/glasses combo will never cease to be the utmost of cool.
Listen to them all as a YouTube playlist:
OR, as a Spotify playlist:
Assembled with help from Akornefa Akyea, Morgan Greenstreet, Kinte le Prince Heritier, Alejandro Van Zandt-Escobar and Nenim Iwebuke.