8 albums from South African women musicians you need to hear
by: Sabelo Mkhabela - 24 May 2017
South African women musicians have been creating some of the best music to come out of this country. Below is a list of albums that came out only this year, listed in no particular order.
1. Patty Monroe – Malatjie
Patty Monroe’s debut album Malatjie showed a side of the Cape Town rapper fans hadn’t seen before. Her singles prior to the album were mostly jiggy (“High Fashion”), energetic (“Talk”) and dancefloor-ready (“Killin’ It”). But on Malatjie, Patty has some songs that showed her vulnerable side. She also has love songs. Malatjie is an album, not just a random collection of songs. It takes you on an emotional roller coaster – Patty Monroe essentially packaged life in 15 tracks. She picked fitting music – by the likes of Sketchy Bongo, Psyc’ AK, MarazA and Muzi – for the album’s different moods, such as ecstatic (“To The Top”), cocky (“Messi”, “Talk”) naughty (“Good Girl”), somber (“Reminiscing”, “Fighter”, “Whiskey Showers”). She stepped out of her comfort zone, as she hits some notes on songs like “Castles”, “All I Got”, “Oh Na Na” and “Good Girl” giving her brand of hip-hop a mass appeal.
2. Andy Mkosi – This Audio Is Visual
Andy Mkosi’s music is dense. She packs her bars with as many words as possible. She understands that listeners are lazy, though. So, to meet us halfway, she included a lyric book that also has a visual representation of each song on This Audio Is Visual – hence the name. Andy raps about different topics such as politics, race, and the arts industry.
An extract from the song “90s Baby”:
“Demand freedom of the mind of the body of the soul
Enlighten neighbor sister friend father.
Some will say it’s your figment, don’t bother, they are ignorant
You are just a tad different
Ahead of our times, aware of our times, you know of the times our parents were oppressed
90s’ baby an old soul, Rhodes has fallen,
Real freedom is calling”
Even though most of the music leans towards boom bap, which has been her sound of choice, on this project she picked some unconventional beats – take for instance the track “Standards”, where she raps over airy pads and 808s, forcing her to use a different flow. This Audio Is Visual might take you time to digest, but when you eventually do, it will give you a great picture of who she is, and inspire you to be comfortable in your own skin, just like she has chosen to.
3. Kajama – Polarity Prism
Sisters Nandi and Nongoma Ndlovu debut EP is a gem. Their style can’t be boxed into one genre, but sonically their music leans more towards electronic with sprinkles of East Coast hip-hop. Their vocals give their music soul. Nandi handles most of the production, but on Polarity Prism, they also feature production from Micr. Pluto. The 6-track EP showcases the duo’s diversity, as they sing over different soundscapes – boom bap (“Crabs and Crows’), electronic (“Lunar Moonlight”). The production on “Ashes to Ashes” is trippy, and it consists of spacious pads and the vocals are drenched in reverb.
4. Fifi The Rai Blaster – Black Matter
Fifi The Rai Blaster’s debut album Black Matter is not an easy listen. She’s not of this world. The writer Tseliso Monaheng describe her best: “She’s been to the future and intends to manifest all the knowledge she gathered through her sonic inquisitions.” A particular level of spirituality is required to totally get what Fifi sings about. It’s a level I personally haven’t reached but the melodies and natural vocals make her one of my favourite South African singers, which has been the case since the mid-2000s when she sang hooks on Tumi’s “Music From My Good Eye” and Tumi & The Volume’s “Just a Minute”. On Black Matter, she works with one of the most potent producers in South Africa, Kanif The Jhatmaster, who you might know from rappers Tha Hympathic Thabs and Yugen Blakrok’s albums. His eerie pads and creepy basslines provide a fitting canvas for Fifi to paint esoteric messages about spirituality and astrology, and the result is an afrofuturistic album that’s guaranteed multiple spins on your playlist.
5. Zoë Modiga – Yellow The Novel
Zoë Modiga is one of the most promising jazz artists in South Africa. Her latest album Yellow The Novel is an impressive display of her skills as a songwriter, singer, composer and arranger. The album, which is a double disc, is long, but is worth every minute of your time. A varied style of production and ability to use both Zulu and English, make sure the album eludes monotony. Thematically, the album is tied together by the pursuit of happiness and being comfortable in your own skin in a world that’s plagued by all sorts of ills. Songs like “Uh Oh (Sensible Life)” and “Love (Yaweh)” have pop and RnB sensibilities, while “Inganekwane” and “Nantsi Ntswepe” are quintessential jazz masterpieces. Zoë’s done great for herself, and in a few years from now, she will be one of the biggest artists in South Africa. Don’t say we never warned ya.
6. Nyota – Age of Enlightenment
Nyota, a rapper and singer from Cape Town, released her debut mixtape at the beginning of May, and it’s impressive. At 17, Nyota, has the charisma and skill of artists 10 years her senior. On Age of Enlightenment, she raps as well she sings – picture the chilled vocals of Rihanna and the flows of Nicki Minaj, but with a unique twist, as Nyota totally owns her style – she sounds comfortable while delivering complex rhyme patterns. She covers a wide range of subject matter like love, spirituality, conspiracy – topics you wouldn’t expect a 17-year-old to rap so eloquently about. Age of Enlightenment is a decent effort that should get the attention of the industry. She’s one of the most promising young rappers in South Africa right now.
7. Thando Nje – New Age Soul
New Age Soul is a smoky 8-track EP by the Pretoria-based soul singer ThandoNje. The 808s bang, and the singer’s voice sits well over a cushion of cloudy pads and deep basslines. Most of the production is handled by Trust_B1, but Tweezy, who you would know from AKA’s Levels, produced one song. ThandoNje’s take on trapsoul is refreshing – she makes it hers. Her voice is natural, and she hardly ever uses effects and autotune. ThandoNje’s writing is simple yet effective. Peep “Plug”, where sings, “She’s my plug and she know it/ You’re my drug and you know it.” New Age Soul is just that, soul music with new age sensibilities – it’s an oxymoron in that it tells you to chill but still tells you to vibe.
8. Otarel – Dirty All Stars
Otarel is stuck in the 90s, and that’s not a bad thing. If you are into mellow sample-based boom bap and charismatic lyrical flair, then this is your kind of album – what with the scratches from Grandmaster Ready’s cuts, who mixed the mixtape (when last did you hear of a mixtape that’s actually mixed by a deejay?). The clarity in the rapper’s delivery makes her one of the best around. Also don’t sleep on the lyricism on display here. On “Victory Over Failure”, she raps, “I’m tired of the weak/ Street raps come from knowledge ‘cause we inspire the meek”. Dirty All Stars is not designed for the club – it’s for private listening; enjoyed well with headphones an open mind and patience.
Holding image: Patty Monroe performing at Boogie Boutique in Cape Town. (Image: Sabelo Mkhabela)
What other women musicians released great albums this year? Let us know in the comments section, below.