Last month The Guardian posted an article titled ‘The 100 Best Albums of the 21st Century’, which included some excellent choices (D’Angelo Voodoo, Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly) and some questionable ones (Charli XCX Pop 2 - haven’t listened to it but Fancy with Iggy Azalea was more than enough). One thing about the list stood out in particular; nearly all the albums were from UK/US artists and were sung in English which, given the title of the article, seems unlikely. It should be obvious that the ‘best’ music isn’t limited to a certain language or location. But, it's difficult to know where to look when music is consumed so disposably now that we don’t really tend to venture outside of whatever’s in arms reach.
Every October we enter Black History Month with the same amount of confusion as we did the year before - why only a month and not all year round? Why does it take a specific month to acknowledge the contribution of black men and women to society and culture? Why is the teaching of black history at times so reductively limited to slavery? All valid questions that need answers and none of which this blog will be discussing. That said, in honour of Black History Month - and as we aim to do all year round - this post is about celebrating soul music from black artists but specifically black artists throughout the diaspora, beyond the Afrobeat and Bashment favourites that are slowly entering the mainstream catalogue.
1. ACE TEE FT KWAM.E - BIST DU DOWN?
German-Ghanaian rapper, songstress and all around force of nature Ace Tee brings nothing but 90s neo soul sensation on this song. Tarin Wilda Schröder aka Ace Tee, who also directed the music video, has captured the quintessential 90s spirit with all the trimmings. It’s hard to tell what ‘Bist du down’ (‘are you down’) is really about - even the translated lyrics don’t really clarify this - but I’d say the general take is: ‘Tell me, are you really down for honesty in togetherness? / You have to decide on your own / Do you really want to be free? / Be pure without ulterior motives?’. Plusma Beats does a masterful job with the production, using the swelling synths to give an almost hypnotic feeling to the track. The top YouTube comment on the video really hits the nail on the head: ‘Black is lit in every language’.
2. SEBA KAPSTAAD - THINA
This group have something very special. Seba Kapstaad is a 4-piece neo soul group fronted by vocalists Zoe Modiga and Ndumiso Manana. The band spans two continents and three countries - South Africa, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) and Germany; the breadth of cultures from which to draw inspiration makes their music diverse in every sense. Thina, taking its name from the Zulu word for ‘us’, is the title track from their second album and best exemplifies what is so palpable in their sound - freedom! They play with texture and rhythm so fearlessly but it doesn’t ever feel chaotic or unintentional, in fact it's a confirmation of their ‘telepathic chemistry’, the kind you won’t have seen since Hiatus Kaiyote.
3. GAIDAA - MORNING BLUE
Morning Blue blew up as part of the #BlueForSudan campaign, encouraging social media users to change their profile pictures to a shade of steel blue in solidarity with the protesters of the crackdown in Sudan. Dutch-Sudanese singer Gaidaa is new to the limelight, this song is her only release to date, but if this is only the start then we are in for something special. Gaidaa’s voice is effortless, she doesn’t litter the song with riffs and tricks but lets her tone speak for itself, which coupled with the minimal production is melancholic yet captivating. At the beginning of the chorus she sings in Arabic which is a goosebump-inducing moment every time the chorus repeats and a reminder that another language can add so much colour to a song even when you don’t know the meaning. Gaidaa shows you can’t pin her down as just a gentle soul-singer in the bridge where she switches things up with a rap (well more of a rap-sing) that is unexpected but welcome.
4. LUEDJI LUNA - ACALANTO (REMIX BY DJ NYACK)
Brazil has entered the chat with Luedji Luna who performed a soul remix of her MPB (Brazilian pop) record Acalanto, for the Colors YouTube channel. Of all the tracks so far Luna has the most early 2000s soul feeling here, think Goapele and Amel Larrieux, and even though its a total transformation of the original song it works so well. This isn’t strictly soul however, there are moments that feel like Bossanova and others that feel like Jazz which makes it a more interesting listen but also a good place to start if you’re a soul lover who wants to branch out into other genres, whilst still maintaining the main ingredients of soul.