Mauricio Santana/WireImage; David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for COS; Jemal Countess/Getty Image; background: Pavel_R
Meet five Black female rappers and singers—from Cuba to South Africa—who have the world spinning.
You’ll love her if you like: Cesaria Evora and Ella Fitzgerald
The lowdown: The renowned BBC radio global music tastemaker Gilles Peterson wasted no time in offering Arocena a deal with his Brownswood Recordings after seeing the then teenager perform in Havana. The singer—who, growing up, listened to R&B, was classically trained in a conservatory and learned jazz—situates the Afro-Cuban spiritual practices of her faith right at the center of her lush jazz and rumba mix. So far, music lovers in New York City, Miami and Philadelphia and at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, have witnessed her transcendent stage show. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world joins in.
Tune in: “Cry Me a River” from The Havana Cultura Sessions.
You’ll love her if you like: Amel Larrieux and Lianne La Havas
The lowdown: East London’s Neo “Nao” Joshua has had two well-received EPs, which propelled her onto the BBC’s coveted “Sounds of 2016” list. But it was her guest turn with Disclosure that’s setting Nao up to be a future R&B queen.
Tune in: “Superego” from Disclosure’s Caracal and “Bad Blood,” a sensual primer for her promised summer album.
You’ll love her if you like: Syd tha Kyd and Monique Bingham
The lowdown: Slowly but surely, South Africa’s best-kept secret is being unearthed. Nonku (née Nonku Phiri) has a distinct original sound: hip-hop, R&B and house music wrapped in a delicate bow of left-field electronica.
Tune in: “Things We Do on the Weekend,” her slow jam influenced by old-school Kwaito, as well as her South African dance music chart toppers featuring collabos with the likes of Crazy White Boy and Jack Parrow.
You’ll love her if you like: Janelle Monáe and Solange
The lowdown: At a time in R&B when it feels like the more mopey the song, the greater the traction, Miss Tati has been a wash of pure sunshine with each of her three critically acclaimed singles. Complete with whistled melodies and infectious pop choruses, they’re a thing of joy. On her latest, “Again & Again,” she reprises her old and new genre mash-up routine, this time blending traditional R&B and nineties house with winning results.
Tune in: Her string of songs over the past two years—”Don’t Let Go,” “Shakedown,” “Be Free”—will hopefully culminate in a long-playing project soon.
You’ll love her if you like: Missy Elliott, M.I.A. and Major Lazer
The lowdown: Conka is not afraid of anything. With her pink hair and self-described “weird” style, the 28-year-old rapper is not scared to consider changing the world’s narrow stereotyping of Brazilian women as sexy, sambaing, bikini-clad eye candy.
Tune in: All this fearlessness is finding expression in Conka’s recent single, “É o Poder” (“Is the Power”). But on 2013’s Batuk Freak, Conka’s lyrics—over beats that blend Afro-Brazilian rhythms with percussion and bass—called out sexism, racism and self-hate.
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