There is no history of popular African music without the talent and ingenuity of its women. While men have undoubtedly hogged much of the limelight, women have been a critical part of African music’s propulsive journey to the heart of modern pop. From the searing conscious anthems of anti-apartheid singer Miriam Makeba to the ‘70s rock of the Lijadu Sisters and pan-Africanist ideals of Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo, female musicians have been a part of the journey at every step. During the mid-to-late 2010s, Nigerian artist Tiwa Savage made herself the leading female voice of the first generation of contemporary afropop acts to engage with the western world.
Tems is one of the leading acts of afropop’s second wave. Earlier this month, THE FACE cover star became the first Nigerian singer to reach number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, courtesy of her contributions to Future’s track Wait For U. Although the hit includes a sample of Tems performing a live session of her song Higher rather than a newly recorded feature, Future chose to credit her as a featured artist to help promote her work. “Soon as I heard the @temsbaby sample over @atljacobbeatz Instantly connected to my soul,” he tweeted.
Over the last three years, Tems has moved from holding down a stifling digital marketing job to being one of the world’s most exciting new music stars, as the 26-year-old’s beautiful voice and soul-stirring songwriting has blurred the gap between Nigeria’s pop-driven mainstream and the more leftfield altê scene. Last year, she reached number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart with Essence, a collaboration with Wizkid that became the song of summer 2021 (with a little help from Justin Bieber, who hopped on a remix). Mere weeks later, she was tapped by Drake for a sweltering amapiano-influenced belter on his anticipated album, Certified Lover Boy.
Tems isn’t the only African woman enjoying some well-deserved global attention for their music. “Things are changing for sure,” she told THE FACE.“I think more women are believing in themselves, I think more women are coming out and realising that they can do it.”
In part thanks to TikTok virality, last year Ghanaian-American artist Amaarae also hit the Billboard Hot 100 with her Kali Uchis and Moliy-featuring remix of Sad Girlz Luv Money, all while being at the cutting edge of experimental African music and fashion. In Nigeria, Mavin Records’ signee Ayra Starr – who released her debut EP and album last year – received eight nominations for the 15th edition of the popular Nigerian award ceremony, The Headies, and is already regarded as one of the most exciting young talents to watch out for globally.
In the south of the continent, Kamo Mphela, Lady Du and Sha Sha fuelled the amapiano explosion, while the always-distinctive South African artist Moonchild Sanelly is building a base in England following collaborations with Ghetts and Trillary Banks. And let’s not forget about the buzz around Nomfundo Moh, Fave or Nadia Mukami either. The girls are coming – don’t say no one warned you.
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