There’s an underground movement right now some of us may be unaware of: the rise of new-age neo-soul female artists. We are blessed with musical goddesses such as Lauryn Hill, Eryka Badu, India Arie etc., who are now diverging into other parts of the entertainment industry. This leaves room for exemplary new artists like Yuna Zarai, Janelle Monae, Nneka, and Asa. Rather than being controlled by the industry and the notion that sex sells, these women have taken matters into their own hands. They control their own brand; the soul and the message is the main priority.
Recently, I started listening to Yuna Zarai, a Malaysian singer/songwriter who has gone from an underground artist to a rising star. Zarai’s music evokes nostalgic feelings about past lovers while making you feel rejuvenated. In an interview with Elle Magazine, Zarai mentions how Lauryn Hill’s music inspired her growing up, affecting her music today. Yuna also touches on the subject of her religious beliefs and how it coincides with the music industry. The main purpose of her music is to speak beyond barriers and make people feel something.
Another admirable artist, Janelle Monae, a 28-year-old, Kansas City-born soul artist known for her quirky personality and her black and white tuxedos. Monae paves the way for herself and establishes a balance between the artist and the character. She is sophisticated, charming, exuberant and, most of all REAL.
After deciphering two of my favourite music videos, Q.U.E.E.N. featuring Eryka Badu and Cold War, the messages were simple and clear. The Q.U.E.E.N. video prompts you to think outside the box, step away from the crowd and start your own revolution. The Cold War video speaks on the conflict between Janelle Monae and the music industry, the battle between staying true to her artistic self and the opinions of the majority who want to put her in a box.
Something that really caught my attention was an interview she did in 2013, NiteCap with Peter Bailey. She mentions growing up in one of the poorest counties in Kansas City. Everyone around her was “walking dead,” going about their day-to-day activities with no life or excitement, so she used music as a tool to encourage those who feel hopeless.
Asa and Nneka
Other examples of women paving the way for modern-day neo-soul artists are African Princesses such as Asa and Nneka. In 2011, CNN listed both women among Africa’s ten biggest music stars. Both artists are eccentric, philosophical and soulful. Personally, I am a big fan of Asa. She is relatable and her lyrics stay true to her Nigerian roots. I love how she can go from singing in English and easily melt into her native tongue.
Overall, the message is the most important thing when we look at these female artists. They show us there is more to the artist than the gimmick. Passionate women making music for the intellects, while paving a way for other women in the industry who struggle to reveal themselves without taking off their clothes.