Berita, Ami Faku & more: meet SA's new generation of fierce female artists
Four talented young women are making their voices heard in the SA music industry. We spoke to them about the pressures of being innovative and the future of local music
Hardly a year goes by without a new music genre pulsating through our playlists or favourite hangout joints. With fingers firmly on the pulse of South African music, female artists have dominated in all these genres. From the sultry new wave sounds of soul to the definitive beats of gqom, the industry is opening up and making space for women to take over.
After her debut on the second season of The Voice South Africa, Ami Faku is steadily becoming a household name. Her debut album, Imali, has left an indelible footprint on the digital music industry, with three songs featuring in Apple Music's Best Songs of 2019. She was also on Spotify's Top 10 most streamed female musicians in SA.
Another woman rocking the local music industry is Gugulethu "Berita" Khumalo, who's advanced from newcomer to taste maker in her journey as a musician. She now runs her own record label, Assali Music, which has created opportunities for other female artists to break into the industry.
Keziah Meyers, otherwise known as Lord Kez, is a young singer who's made strides as an indie artist. At the age of 20, the young star has created complex musical work that is as layered as her thoughts on the music industry. Not easily tamed by the demands of becoming a mainstream artist, the shy girl who used to play the organ for her church choir has grown into a self-actualised mover and shaker in the same vein as her intoxicating music.
Rounding out our list of up-and-comers is R&B sensation Lucille Slade, who's caught the attention of many in the industry. With collaborations boasting heavyweights like Stogie T and DJ Zinhle (who was recently honoured with the Forbes 2020 Woman Entertainer Award), Slade has been able to warp her singing and songwriting skills into genres as diverse as rap and amapiano.
We spoke to these four talented young singers about their individual sounds, the pressures of being innovative and the future of South African music.
What was the catalyst behind you becoming a musician?
Ami Faku (AF): I felt that I was the thing the local music industry was missing. There was nobody like me here. I knew I would definitely stand out if I was original, true to myself and told my own stories.
Berita (B): I'm originally from Zimbabwe but my parents are now dairy farmers in New Zealand. When the political and economical situation in Zimbabwe started going downhill my parents were offered an opportunity to work overseas and they saw it as their chance to take us, as a family, out of the country. I stayed there for three years and then moved to SA to study and to secretly pursue my music career.
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Lord Kez (LK): I started playing the organ and singing in church - that's where my musical background comes from. Different people have different ideas about how you're supposed to go about pursuing a career in music but for me it felt so natural, like I could have done it in my sleep.
Lucille Slade (LS): While at university at AFDA I had to choose what I would take as a major. I had gone there for a degree in television. But when it came to deciding on what to pursue as a career, I chose music.
How would you describe your sound?
AF: It's modern Afro-soul - very meaningful music.
B: For my new album, Songs in The Key of Love, I looked at two of my favourite artists, Oliver Mtukudzi and Ed Sheeran. It is deeply rooted in African music - I spent a lot of time with Oliver, who was my mentor. But because of my many travels, which have influenced my music, I also have a pop sound.
LK: We seem to always box things into R&B, neo-soul, house or dance. My music covers all of those genres. I don't like to box my sound because I feel like I can do so much more than stick to a particular form and I don't want to be genre specific. My sound is a fusion of different genres.
LS: It's more R&B/pop, but the collaborations I've done, like the one with Stogie, sound like hip-hop with a rhythm and blues hook. The song with Zinhle is an amapiano song.
A glimpse behind the process of writing your music?
AF: It's simple. I don't have a technique that I use. I have to be really hungry for time in the studio and need to be in the right state of mind.
B: I have a home studio, so sometimes I'll lock myself in there and explore everything I've been feeling. For my new album I took people that I've admired away for a holiday in Strand in the Western Cape for a week. All we did was make music and generate ideas.
WATCH | The music video for 'WAE (When All Ends)' by Lord Kez
LK: The process is different for every song. All my songs mean something, they have a different story. I envision what I'm feeling and visualise what I want to say. I never want to say anything fake deep - I want everything I express to be bona fide.
LS: Sometimes someone will send me a beat and I'll write around that sound. Sometimes I go into the studio and work on a vibe with no production - we just create from the top. I usually write from experience, but if someone has a concept I can tap into, that works as well.
Do you feel pressure to innovate with the music you create in an age that's flooded with talent and new technologies?
AF: I do, I have to. I always have to look at different ways to grow but they have to feel authentic to me. I'm inspired by other artists. Making new music is demanding but you can't succeed if you don't feel pressure.
B: I was in an Uber the other day and I played a new song - that's the best place to test your music. The driver was wowed. That authentic pleasure from my sounds makes the pressure worth it.
LK: Dude! I make a song and I want it out right now. And then I get told to calm down and that I need to package all of my music.
LS: I've been lucky enough to not be drawn to a particular sound. Sticking to making the music I enjoy works for me. I'm not saying don't hop around, because musicians are very versatile, but always do what makes the most sense to you.
Who would you most like to collaborate with musically?
AF: Black Coffee
B: On my last album, Bekezela, I had Amanda Black, Mo T from Mi Casa and Bongani Sax - these were dream collaborations for me.
LS: I think something with the girls in music right now … especially women who sing.
LK: Elaine Mukheli, a South African R&B/trap soul singer and songwriter.
We're stepping into a new decade that has seen a number of artists use social platforms and viral fame to catch new and bigger audiences. Where do you see the music industry in SA going in the context of the control young musicians have over their music?
AF: There are a lot of things that are trending right now. Maybe a new genre will come up that we can develop without the help of music publishers and record companies.
B: I see our local music as distinct and unique. You can listen to something once and know that it's unmistakably South African. Even if you are in the US, Spain or Madagascar, when you hear a South African song you know it has an authentic sound. We have such a rich culture. We're opinionated. In isiXhosa we say unebhongo (to have humble pride). We're proud of who we are. I am Zimbabwean but musically I feel South African.
WATCH | The music video for 'Velvet' by Lucille Slade
LK: The first thing that came to my mind when you asked that question was Cotton Fest and how Riky Rick put together a bunch of new artists and how all of us are growing together. We're in a critical space. I think of these young creatives, all my friends who are creating different music. It's new, it's fresh and not a lot of people understand it. So, at some point the indie artists are going to get their time. The industry is going to grow, the doors are busy opening.
LS: We have to figure out how to market our music on different platforms to cross over into international territories because you have all these playlists that international artists are a part of what we listen to. Certain people have figured out the algorithm . how awesome would it be if we could be on international playlists?
What can people expect from you in the near future?
AF: More collaborations, touring more, travelling more and growing into what I want to be in this industry.
B: I started the year really well. One of the first shows I did this year was called Sisters with Guitars. I did a collaboration with Amanda Black called Siyathandana. I look forward to being in spaces where, as women, we are supporting each other. My Songs in the Key of Love tour is going to be hitting the finest venues all over SA. We're putting the finishing touches on the logistics and we'll be sharing that on social media.
LISTEN | 'Yours' from Berita's latest hours 'Songs in the Key of Love'
LK: Definitely some new music because I've been working hard on that. I have some very exciting things coming up, [like] Priddy Ugly and also Wichi 1080. I love working with artists who ... are all about the music.
LS: Yoh, it's a lot. The music video with Stogie is coming out. So is my EP and I'm going to shoot some visual experiences. 2020 looks amazing for women vocalists. It reminds me of the renaissance of hip-hop.
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