Blog January 2, 2017
Fresh Cuts Vol. Two

This is the second 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 a big lineup for you, from Sudan to Colombia to Nigeria--some really hot stuff. And, in case you missed it, check out Fresh Cuts Vol. One too! Enjoy!

Photo credit: Systema Solar

Systema Solar: “Rumbera”

Que rico! If you haven’t yet heard the technicolor sounds of Systema Solar, you are in for a treat. Here’s “Rumbera,” the first single off of their album Rumbo A Tierra. Systema Solar, from Colombia’s Caribbean coast, describes itself as a musical-visual collective, blending together cumbia, bulllerengue, champeta, hip-hop, techno, house and really anything that makes a body move, into a magnificent style they call berbenautika. As you can see from the video, a large part of their art is also visual, creating joyful, psychedelic, kaleidoscopic visual habitats for their music. This video is a beautiful example of their abundant creativity and exuberance–a radiant party of women in bright outfits and smiles get down to the sunny sounds of Systema Solar. It’s sure to bring some sun to your winter days. Get the full album here.

Daymé Arocena: “Mambo Na’ Mà”

Daymé Arocena is a mighty presence. This innovative young Cuban singer is snowballing into prominence very quickly, and it’s well deserved. Arocena was raised in a crowded house overflowing with rumba. She entered one of Havana’s premier state-funded music conservatories at 9 years old, receiving rigorous training in the breadth and depth of Cuban music. Now only 23, she is soaring to new heights.

She draws the best elements from Cuba’s many musical worlds: changüi, guaguanco, mambo, ballada and beyond. These she melts down and blends with music that moves people everywhere–jazz, funk, hip-hop, disco and the like–into a formidable, stunningly alive musical alloy. She released her fabulous debut album, Nueva Era, in 2015, catapulting into the spotlight after famed British DJ and producer Gilles Peterson worked with her on his Havana Cultura project several years back.

This track is from her forthcoming album, Cubafonía, to be released in 2017 (pre-order here). It has feet in New Orleans, New York and Havana, bringing together supremely jazzy horns, swinging, syncopated drums and Arocena’s own voice, which seems capable of anything. Her voice is explosive and beautifully sculpted: It’s a fearless adventurer, traversing octaves and timbres easily. She scats from the soul–muscular syllables with a light touch. In some songs, smooth, Ella Fitzgerald-esque jazz vibes play out over a current of batá drums. Arocena is a santera (follower of Santería), dressing in all white. She brings the rhythms and melodies from the bembés of Santería into a jazz-fusion setting. In “Madres,” she sings respect to the mother orishas, santas like Yemayá, Oshun and Iya.

Daymé Arocena has set up no boundaries for herself though–she’s got her sights on collaborations with rapper Kendrick Lamar and alternative r&b singer Anderson Paak. Wherever her journey takes her, it’s sure to bear some beautiful fruit. Also, for those in the New York area, check her concert early this January.

Kanazoé Orkestra: “Fantanya”

Hot fire from Burkinabé balafon band Kanazoé Orkestra! Led by viruoso balafonist and griot Seydou Diabate (AKA Kanazoé), this group is mighty. Kanazoé plays his balafon at lightning speed, his sticks moving too fast to see. He comes from a well-known family of griots, beginning his balafon education at age 5. These days he’s making music with the Orkestra, an assembly of talented musicians from Burkina Faso and France. They weave old griot melodies and balafon songs with saxophone, electric bass and drum set to make some real musical magic. Check out the rest of their recent EP here (particularly the song "Faden Yi").

Amy Yerewolo and ATT Junior: “A San Nièfai”

Get ready for this: Here’s a fiery new track from Malian rapper Ami Yerewolo. It’s a hype tune, driven by high energy and unabashed fierceness. Yerewolo’s unrelenting, Auto-Tuned Bambara flow courses over an equally relentless, driving beat characteristic of much contemporary Malian rap.

The song is dope, but this video brings it to a whole new level. It’s a style of rap video I’ve yet to see coming out of Mali, breaking from the often-repeated formula: cars, crews, dancing women and so on. The video for “A San Nièfai,” directed by Sidiki Goita, is a visceral sci-fi showdown, set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-esque narrative, saturated with special effects, DIY costumes and props made from found materials, calabashes, burlap sacks, CDs and cowries. Yerewolo, her face marked with symbols, crouches in a dark tunnel next to snakes (and a small rodent), rapping fervently in smoke and dim light. She and her two fellow female survivors of whatever devastated Bamako traverse the Malian countryside, pursued by a gang of guys on motorcycles and trucks. Eventually they face down and Yerewolo’s crew takes the upper hand after a game of wits.

The video's director, Sidiki Goita, is an FX specialist in Bamako, running a business called Vortex Groups, which provides 3D graphic design and advertising. He’s making moves to push boundaries and bring his 3D skills to more music videos across the Malian hip-hop scene. Keep an eye out!

Nissi: “Pay Attention”

Nigerian-born, London-based singer/songwriter Nissi appeared on the scene this summer with her debut pop single “Pay Attention,” with a new video for the song showing up this past month. The song begins with a clip of some Fela wordplay: democracy–demo crazy, crazy demonstration. In this video, Nissi uses powerful imagery of war, protest and struggle to convey her message of awareness, empathy and respect. She says, “to me, 'Pay Attention' is…all about us paying attention to everything that makes our life worth the time.” Nissi employs her beautiful voice over grooving, thoughtful instrumentals that sound something like a pop version of the music of Ibeyi. Keep an eye out for Nissi’s older brother, Afrobeats star Burna Boy, in this video.

DJ Spinall with Davido and Wande Coal: “Olowo”

This came to us with the heading “BANGER ALERT.” No joke. “Olowo” is a hot Afrobeats track with a touch of house–it’s got a deep, four-on-the-floor low end, echoing synths and some vocals from Davido and Wande Coal. DJ Spinall is a hugely popular Nigerian DJ–purportedly the first contemporary African DJ to tour the U.S. He’s worked with a lineup of Afrobeats stars: Pantoranking, 2face Idibia, Tekno and others. His style is for the club, rolling out deep cuts that no doubt are bumping nightclubs across Nigeria. Dig it.

Teni: “Amen”

This cut comes from budding Nigerian singer Teni. Produced by Shizzi, this one is a solid Afrobeats jam showcasing Teni’s vocals. Check her “Boluwatife” freestyle here, a very different, laid-back track with acoustic instrumentals. Teni is also a younger sister of another Nigerian singer, Niniola.

Wizkid: “Daddy Yo”

Wizkid hardly needs an introduction these days. The young Nigerian megastar is making waves across the globe, leaving his mark on the biggest of American pop and hip-hop. Wizkid just dropped this track, “Daddy Yo,” which is seriously catchy. For this track, Wizkid hops on the dancehall/reggaeton train, bringing in a bit of patois and that everlastingly funky dance beat. I’ll bet you’ll find yourself singing that chorus later today.

Terry Apala: “Omidan”

Terry Apala is yet another Nigerian musician making his name. He’s got a unique style that he calls apala hip-hop. He’s taking the vocal stylings of neo-traditional apala music and laying them over the more mainstream, international sounds of hip-hop and trap. As it turns out, apala vocals lend themselves well to the sound of Auto-Tune. Cool stuff.

Danay Suarez: “Dejando al Mundo”

This song is a few months old, but it matters not. It’s a solid track from Danay Suarez, and the first single from her forthcoming album Palabras Manuales, due for release early 2017. Suarez is a Cuban rapper and singer whose old-school vibe and laid-back flow have garnered her a lot of respect. She’ll be representing Cuba at the 2017 Festival Viña del Mar in Chile, a festival intended to promote cultural exchange and international music. Back in 2013, she showed up on Afropop’s blog with a response to Jay-Z’s “Open Letter.” Her lyrics in this song, rhyming about staying in the light in the midst of darkness, are political and purposeful but delivered with ease. Be sure to give this one a listen: a collabo with Los Aldeanos and Silvito el Libre covering A Tribe Called Quest's "Check the Rima," in Spanish.

Jodie Abacus: “Keep Your Head Down”

Jodie Abacus, hailing from the vibrantly creative musical scene of South London, recently released this funky, timely single. Abacus finds company in the likes of Gnarls Barkley, Parliament Funkadelic, Elton John (who is a fan), and Laura Mvula (also a fan). His label describes the track as a “soul-laden slice of funk eccentricity,” which feels appropriate. It sounds uplifting, with lush instrumentals and Abacus’s bright voice, but the subject matter is definitely not so bright. His inspiration was from watching a TV segment about refugees. Abacus: “I wanted to sympathize and put myself in their shoes to express what it could be like to flee your country with your family in the midst of war and destruction in the hopes of finding safety in a Western country, only to not be accepted there. That absolute feeling of total unease and desperation.” Although the subject is heavy, the song itself is a real jam.

Chris McClenney: “Headlines”

McClenney is a rising star in the American alternative r&b scene. The Maryland-born, New York-based singer and producer is due to release an EP, Portrait of Two, this coming January–a record he produced, performed and mixed in its entirety while a student at N.Y.U. McClenney is gaining notoriety as a producer, having credits on D.R.A.M’s acclaimed Big Baby D.R.A.M. The 23-year old has a finely crafted musical sensibility and a suave voice that lend themselves well to his r&b vibe. This track is a beautiful song, a subtle jam that laments our headline-focused social media-hungry society. Stop by his EP release concert at the Blue Note on Jan. 14.

Dave: “Two Birds No Stones”

Dave, AKA Santan Dave, is just 18 years old but is already making it big. The rapper from South London has, just a year after his debut, released an EP and a handful of singles, one of which features Drake. In this track, he raps over the instrumentals from Drake’s “Two Birds One Stone.” Dave takes inspiration from Southern hip-hop, the British grime he grew up with and philosophy (he’s studying ethics in university). He’s a thoughtful, sensitive guy: His rhymes are often deep, heavy and raw, expressing struggles and observing the world. In this song, his poetry meditates on the complexities of navigating success, the rap scene, love and money: I'm young and I'm free/But do you know how much it hurts me that they don't love me for me?/ It's crowded in our scene/And people they just want what's hot/That's why I'm trying to sell, see? It's a hundred degrees.

For more London hip-hop, look to the fierce Stefflon Don, called London's new grime queen by the website i-D. She just dropped a smoking new mixtape, Real Ting, and a video for the title track.

Son Palenque: “A Pila El Arroz (Ghetto Kumbé Afro-Rework)”

Palenque Records is a pioneering label promoting Afro-Colombian music to the world. We here at Afropop are big fans of Palenque–a year ago they put together a killer exclusive mix for us. The label has released a ton of excellent music, old and new. A few months ago, in collaboration with the label Galletas Calientes, they released a new EP, AfroColombia Remix Vol. 1, which bridges generations. On this EP, contemporary electronic-minded producers take excellent tracks from established Afro-Colombian bands and remix them into a fresh, new kind of Afro-Colombian magic. This cut, “A Pila El Arroz,” is a song by the much-loved, classic Afro-Colombian group Son Palenque, formed in Cartagena in the ‘80s. Contemporary DJ and producer Ghetto Kumbé took this track and remixed it into a fine marriage of styles. Be sure to check out the full EP too!

Rasha: “Alwa’ad (The Promise)”

Rasha takes it in a different direction than most of our lineup. Full name Rasha Sheikh Eldin, this internationally renowned Sudanese singer recently released this song as a response to the campaign of civil disobedience that has been growing across Sudan. Sudanese citizens are frustrated with unprecedented price hikes of basic goods and cuts to fuel subsidies, leaving many unable to afford their essentials. In protest to these changes and to the al-Bashir regime in general, people have responded with widespread strikes and other forms of disobedience. Rasha, who has been living in Spain since fleeing Sudan in 1992, sings this song in solidarity and in support of peaceful protest: “The Sudan we want can be achieved, it is a reality and it is our time.” “Alwa’ad (The Promise” is a beautiful, plaintive song of yearning for freedom.

That's all for this time, ya'll! Check back in a few weeks from now for Vol. Three. And Happy New Year! Blessings to you all in 2017.

P.S.:Bonus Track, Big Freedia, “Rudy, the Big Booty Reindeer”

Some very fun, very bumping, very raunchy New Orleans bounce for the holidays from the Queen of Bounce herself, Big Freedia. From her Christmas album, A Very Big Freedia Christmazz.

Assembled with help from Akornefa Akyea, Morgan Greenstreet and Alejandro Van Zandt-Escobar.

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