This is the fifth 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, intimate r&b from London and Chicago, upbeat electronic dance from Côte d’Ivoire via Israel, Afro-Colombian grooves and several different vibes from Sierra Leone. In case you missed them, also check out “Fresh Cuts” Vol. One, Two and Three, and Four.
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. Enjoy!
(Photo of Kamau by Arturo Olmos)
Sampha: “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano”
Sampha sings, “No one knows me like the piano/In my mother’s home/You assured me I had something/Some people call a soul.” This lyric speaks volumes about this extraordinary musician from South London. Centering his music on his emotive piano-playing and his entirely singular voice, Sampha sings songs that live in the heart of feeling – songs that emerge right from that deep soul reflected by the piano. His voice is strikingly intimate – it sounds like it comes from inside your own head, not from the mouth of another human. “Piano” is probably his most intimate, revealing his heart, his deep relationships with his mother and the piano. Although Sampha has already worked extensively, collaborating with the likes of Solange, Kanye West and SBTRKT, he has only recently released his debut full album, called Process. It is a gorgeous, deeply moving piece of work, fed by the intimacy and power of Sampha’s voice. Process deals with Sampha’s roots in London and Sierra Leone and particularly with the death of his beloved mother, for whom he sang “Piano.” Accompanying the album is a short film directed by Kahlil Joseph, who has used his remarkable storytelling craft in Beyoncé’s Lemonade and powerful music videos for Flying Lotus, Shabazz Palaces and others. Be sure to check it out online or playing outside at one of the locations listed on the Web page.
Ravyn Lenae: “Spice”
Ravyn Lenae is still a student in high school, and that’s a lesson to not equate age with ability. She is riding the heights of a new wave of phenomenal neo-soul r&b musicians like Noname, Kelela, NAO, SZA, The Internet and others. Her voice, often breathy and high, reaches into an intimate, deep well of emotion. You can hear the inspiration of her forebear Erykah Badu in her voice and of the producer Flying Lotus in the tumbling backbeats that move the instrumentals. Lenae is a synaesthete, hearing colors – and she surely paints beautiful, richly colored paintings with her sounds. She recently followed up her debut EP Moon Shoes with another gorgeous spread, Midnight Moonlight. Keep your ears out for this rising star. Other recommended tracks: “Thirst” and “Genesis.”
Kamau with Talibah Safiya: “MiNT”
I cannot get enough of Kamau these days. His music is endlessly compelling, grooving and so full of heart. Born Kamau Mbonisi Kwame Agyeman in Washington, D.C., he now lives and creates in Brooklyn, NY. He was nurtured by a childhood filled with music, creativity and family (read his whole story here). These days, he is crafting deeply innovative, potent music led by his stunning, fearless voice. That voice, both reedy and rich, raps biting bars about unbounded police brutality in “PohLease”: “As a black person in America/Say a little prayer to the shepherd/Who let wolves guard the sheep?” His cover of Adele’s “Hometown Glory” is a glorious thing to behold.
Not only is his music brilliant, his videos are works of art (he was a film major at Pratt Institute), particularly those for the songs off his 2016 EP, A Gorgeous Fortune. All the videos feature the same characters and, beginning with the video for “Gaims,” tell a story, each video ending where the clip for the next song picks up. His characters travel through love, jealousy, frustration, disillusionment and brutality at the hands of the police. In this recently released video, “MiNT,” Kamau sings a song of love with the gorgeous voice of Talibah Safiyah over a laid-back soul vibe. Keep up to speed with Kamau on his Facebook here.
Thornato featuring Grupo Taribo: “El Oro De La Tolita”
On this rich track, Thor Partridge, A.K.A. Thornato, teamed up with Grupo Taribo. Thornato is a Swedish-born Cypriot currently based in Queens, NY, whose extensive range of experience in music production feeds his unique, dynamic sound. Up for release on April 14, his newest record, Bennu, is a lush spread of sound, featuring collaborations ranging from dancehall musician Gappy Ranks, Congolese electro-soukous band Kongo Elektro and, on this rich track, Grupo Taribo. Grupo Taribo is a self-described “Afro-Pacific” group dedicated to fusing the sounds of Afro-Colombia and Afro-Ecuador with those from across the globe. You can hear it in this track: Marimba from Colombia’s pacific coast, the artful, driving shaker rhythms and the insistent vocals. Another highly recommended track: “Rhinoceros” with Gappy Ranks.
Quantic and Nidia Gongorá: “Que Me Duele?”
Quantic, A.K.A. Will Holland, is a British musician and producer who is now based in New York after living for seven years in Colombia. His music spans the spectrum of danceable sounds but here we have a new single from a forthcoming album, Curao, out May 12. This album is a new collaboration between Quantic and Afro-Colombian singer Nidia Gongorá (not their first). Gongorá is from the Pacific coast of Colombia and is an artist who lives the deep musical traditions of that region (including, for example, the marimba style that characterizes the internationally successful band Herencia de Timbiquí). This track is a sparkling merger of sounds, with serious guitar and marimba work to get you moving. Check back in May for the release of the full album.
Gato Preto: “Dia D”
Check this duo from Mozambique and Ghana via Düsseldorf. Lee Bass and Gata Misteriosa are Gato Preto, offering up bass-heavy, futuristic beats mixed with djembe and narrated by Misteriosa’s Portuguese raps. Their sound feels very Lusophone, reminiscent of the stylings of artists like Angolan producer Batida, and Brazilian singer Karol Conka. Their album, Tempo, is out now on Bandcamp. Recommended tracks: “Moçambique,” “Dia D” and “Policia” (with Ghanaian rapper Delasi).
Bhizer featuring Busiswa, SC Gorna, Bhepepe: “Gobisiqolo”
Some hot kwaito from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. After a decade of trying to make it in the music business, Bhizer has a hit track in “Gobisiqolo.” This sparse track is apparently bumping in South African clubs and with good reason. Don’t know how to dance kwaito? Watch and learn.
Sound Sultan with Ghetto Kings: “Ghetto Love”
A dose of fresh Afrobeats from veteran Nigerian musician Sound Sultan. From his early career in the mid-‘90s, Sound Sultan has pushed the Naija music scene forward. This track is something of a super-group collabo, bringing together Nigerian artists Daddy Showkey, Baba Fryo, Marvellous Benji, African China and Danfo Drivers, here grouped as “Ghetto Kings.”
Elisee: “I Dey Shina”
Elisee, born Yves Elisee Samuel Akowendo, is following his dream in Israel. Born in Côte d’Ivoire, the musician ended up in Israel after his church group was invited there to tour. He stuck around, choosing to pursue his lifelong love – music – instead of going forward into the business world. With the support of the Ivorian ex-pat community, he settled in, learning Hebrew and beginning a fruitful collaboration with producer Tamir Muskat. Here’s a recent video Elisee’s ebullient, hopeful track, “I Dey Shina,” meaning “I’m Shining.” He flows comfortably between English and his native Baoule, singing thanks to God for the life he is living and hope for everyone to achieve their dreams through positivity, faith and love.
Janka Nabay: “Santa Monica”
Sierra Leone in the house once again: Janka Nabay is something of a legend in his home of Sierra Leone. He’s a prominent figure in the world of bubu, a traditional horn-and-drum music that has been a deep part of Sierra Leonean culture but not widely recognized beyond the country. Ahmed Janka Nabay, called the “Bubu King,” is changing that. He actually was the central figure in an Afropop program a few years back. Nabay is described on his Bandcamp page as “a spokesperson for the ancient bubu music of his Sierra Leonean homeland, and a self-described “black cowboy” on a trans-Atlantic mission to sculpt his futuristic music with the mindset of a revolutionary artist.” These days, he’s based in New York and just released his second album with his band here: Build Music. It’s driven hard by the insatiable, insistent rhythms of bubu, layered with electronic sounds of synth and drum machine. Build Music is a product of several years of struggling as a musician in the aggressive U.S. music scene, joining new compositions with new iterations of Nabay originals from the ‘90s and tracks produced by friends in Sierra Leone. This track, “Santa Monica,” is described as “a joyous affirmation that relates a traumatic story of being harassed by the Santa Monica police just prior to his performance at the Getty Museum.” Give the whole album a listen – it is a gem. Other recommended tracks: “Bubu Dub,” “Popeneh” and “Sabanoh 2017.”
Here’s a unique, rather strange piece of history: In the ‘70s, Phil Arosa and his partner Marga fled the apartheid of then-Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) for the Netherlands. There they founded the band Zimba, which recorded only one song: “Baleka.” It’s a trippy, minimal mash of percussion, phaser-heavy new-wave synth sounds and fragments of mbira. Nyami Nyami Records recently re-released the track on Bandcamp.
Kondi Band: “Titi Dem Too Service”
There’s something that feels very natural about joining the sounds of electronic dance music with the water-like sounds of the mbira, kalimba or, in this case, the Sierra Leonean kondi. Here’s a very hot example of just that from the Kondi Band, a new, very exciting collaboration between American DJ/producer Chief Boima and Sierra Leonean kondi player Sorie Kondi (Boima has worked with Afropop on several occasions and has most recently been featured on our program “Reissued: African Vinyl in the 21st Century”).
Boima, who has roots in Sierra Leone, initiated the relationship with a remix of one of Kondi’s songs, leading to an effort to bring Kondi to the U.S. for a series of concerts. They release their forthcoming debut album, Salone, on June 2 – this track is a single from the album. Boima describes the album: “[It] forges a direct link between techno born in the black cities of the American Midwest, where I grew up, and roots African music.” This one will be fire for the dance floor.
Shishani grew up in the Netherlands with roots in Namibia and Belgium. Musically, she is rooted in the sounds and languages of Namibia, mixing them with kora, mbira, cello, calabash and guitar. She has toured internationally and also works as an anthropologist and musicologist, specializing in contemporary urban Namibian music. In June 2017, Shishani will be performing in Amsterdam with four grandmothers from the Ju/’Hoansi San community in Namibia. Here she sings a 2016 song, “Itaala,” in Utrecht, NL.
Blay Ambolley: “Afrika Yie”
Gyedu Blay Ambolley is a legend. The Ghanaian funkmaster has 29 albums to his name, first bursting onto the music scene in the early ‘70s with his highlife/Afrofunk sound he called simigwa-do. Afropop has had many encounters with Ambolley, through music or in person, like in this Hip Deep Ghana program. He’s back at it again with album number 30, Ketan, due for release May 12. It’s a fresh revamp of his signature sound with crisp production and a bevy of new tracks. Here for your listening pleasure is “Afrika Yie.”
Assembled with help from Akornefa Akyea, Morgan Greenstreet, Kinte le Prince Heritier, Alejandro Van Zandt-Escobar and Nenim Iwebuke.