Ibeyi: French Cuban twin sisters Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz carry on the musical legacy of their father, Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz. Their sing in English and Yoruba, the African cultural language of their father. Their music sparsely mixes piano, percussion and their haunting voices into an ethereal, entrancing blend.
Laleh: 32-year-old Laleh Pourkarim makes sweeping anthemic pop songs loaded with universally relatable tales of love through hardship. It’s the kind of stuff that resonates with young people in particular, but Laleh’s source material goes much deeper than standard youthful malaise. She was born in a war torn Northern Iranian border town. Her family fled when she was just a year old and she spent the first nine years of her life in refugee camps in Azerbaijan and Russia. A few years after the family had settled in Sweden her father, an artist and journalist who resisted the Islamic regime in Tehran, drowned in a canoeing accident. By 2012 she had become a prominent pop star throughout Scandinavia. That year, her song “Some Die Young” topped the charts in Sweden, and in Norway, a country reeling from a pair of deadly terrorist attacks, it became an anthem of healing.
Courtney Barnett: Last year the Australian singer and guitarist came into the American consciousness and was immediately saddled with roughly 20,000 Bob Dylan comparisons based on her knack for witty wordplay and unexpected turns of phrase. While it’s true, she’s one of the best songsmiths we’ve heard in some time, her blazing Fun Fun Fun Fest set last year, proved that first and foremost she’s a rocker throwing down blistering guitar licks like the best of them.
Little Simz. The young British rhyme slinger alternates between a wicked spitfire flow and smooth heart-tugging hooks she sings herself. Her supporters include Jay-Z, who put out one of her mixtapes and Schoolboy Q who took her on his “Oxymoron” tour.
Natasha Kmeto. Skilled as a singer and an electronic producer, Kmeto weaves her smoky vocals into elaborate soundscapes where futuristic flourishes swirl over bubbling deep house beats. The effect is spellbinding. In 2013 she self-released “Crisis” an impressive, sensual album that caught the attention of TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek. Maintaining full creative control, Kmeto recorded and mixed her upcoming album “Inevitable” in Sitek’s L.A. studio. The album is scheduled to come out on Sitek’s Federal Prism label this year.
Kehlani. With a smooth, lightly smoked voice, the 19-year-old former “America’s Got Talent” contestant makes the kind of classic R&B that ruled 90s radio. She keeps it “trill,” dropping graphicly sensual love songs about love in the internet age and the net loves her for it. With just one mixtape and a handful of singles to her name, her Soundcloud account has over 60,000. She has the right mix of buoyant spirit and solid pipes to become a very big star.
Kam Franklin, The Suffers. The bombastic ten-piece drops rock solid grooves rooted in Gulf Coast soul. They simmer elements of reggae, ska and rhythm and blues into a funky stew to make you move. Vocalist Kam Franklin is a force of nature, cranking out high voltage hooks while radiating warmth and charm.
Tkay Maidza. The 18-year-old accidental phenom was born in Zimbabwe but currently lives in Australia. On a whim, she started messing around with tracks in the studio of her father, a guitarist and drummer and came up with her debut mixtape “Switch Tape.” When she dropped it on SoundCloud last year, it went viral almost immediately, propelled by a spitfire flow and knack for catchy hooks that work well over everything from skittering electronic beats to futuristic R&B. She took a leave from University and has been selling out clubs in her home country ever since.
Lyric Michelle. A couple SXSWs back I left the Fader Fort feeling downtrodden. The party was hot but the dudes rapping were bringing me down. It felt like every song I heard ran the same narrative, populated with a cast of vapid female non-humans dismissively and obscenely labeled who existed only to offer sexual favors. Feeling shut out I moseyed down the street to a quieter hip-hop shindig hosted by Texas rap curation kingpin Matt Sonzala. Right as I showed up, Lyric Michelle, a voluptuous Houston emcee with a killer afro took the stage and fearlessly flipped the script on that dynamic. In a 20 minutes quick set she reminded me of all the reasons I believe in the power of hip-hop. It was exactly what I needed and it’s exactly what hip-hop needs.
Qi Dada Ras. When I wrote about the afore-mentioned feeling of being shut out and then invited back into hip-hop. Chaka Mandla Mhambi Mpeanaji from the hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm hit me up and told me I’d probably like his partner in rhyme, his wife, Qi Dada. He was right. Not only is Qi Dada herself fierce on the mic, she’s a buoyant beacon of positivity for all women. She’s so devoted to helping other women harness their own inner power, she runs #teambiglegs workshops to help them do it. That’s the goddess’ work if ever I saw it.