Influential Women in Afropop, Part 2: Women Under 30

By: Toni, Ella Okunmwendia
03/31/2022
en
Thumbnail courtesy of Mal Peterson

For International Women’s Month, Formation is celebrating women trailblazers in Afropop. In part two, we are celebrating iconic artists under 30.

Broadly speaking, Afropop (sometimes referred to as Afrobeats) is a popular African music genre with roots in Nigeria and Ghana. It combines elements from traditional West African music with global pop music, R&B, hip-hop, and dancehall influences. Artists under this Afropop umbrella may refer to their individual styles with different labels, such as Afrofusion, Alté (an alternative genre), and Banku.

Afropop has grown monumentally across the last decade, with global stars topping global charts, breaking records, and selling out shows across the world. However, female artists have spoken about the scene continuing to be male-dominated. EnVi is shining a light on women artists who inspire as record-breakers, tastemakers and trendsetters.

Aya Nakamura

Born in Mali as Aya Danioko in 1995, the French pop sensation and songwriter takes her stage name from the NBC Heroes character. The most popular French-speaking artist in the World was listed in The New York Times’s 15 most important European acts for her musical and social impact. She broke Edith Piaf’s record, as the first French female artist to top Dutch charts since the “Non je ne regrette rien” singer. The French star has also been recognized in Forbes’ most influential Europeans under 30 and was the cover star for Forbes’ 40 women of 2021 as “the Francophone artist of the year”.

Nakamura’s chart-topping style is a product of her Malian background and the multicultural Parisian neighborhood she grew up in. Her pop sound is influenced by African and Caribbean music. Nakamura’s lyrics incorporate slang from young people of the suburbs, peppered with expressions from English, Arabic, and her parents’ language, Bambara. Covering topics like love, break-ups, and cheating, the singer’s style of storytelling is influenced by her griotte mother, who performed at parties. 

Nakamura gained online attention when she released songs like “Karma” and “J’ai mal”. Her most recognized song is the global hit “Djadja,” which was inspired by a true story about a man who lied about sleeping with her. The song became an anthem for female empowerment and the singer’s likeness was used on posters during protests addressing violence against women. The singer has also spoken about her experiences of domestic violence on the show Femmes Puissantes (Powerful Women).

Nakamura is viewed as an important figure for Black women’s representation in France, in an industry where colorism and misogynoir are rife. “I grew up with no French black female icons,” Nakamura has commented, “it’s time to change that.” The singer has also been praised by one of her role models, Oumou Sangaré. “The way she has built a name for herself in a male-dominated world is a source of inspiration for so many young girls and women,” said the Malian singer.  However, Nakamura is reluctant to talk about feminism directly and rejects the romanticized idea of a powerful black woman. One of the 26-year-old’s  motivations is to be a good example for her daughter. 

 EnVi’s Recommendations: “Djadja,” “Jolie Nana,” “Copines,” “Oumou Sangaré,” “Plus Jamais ft Stormzy” 

Amaarae 

Country: Born in New York, grew up in Accra (Ghana) and Atlanta (USA)

Before going viral with “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY” in 2021, Amaarae had established herself as a front-runner of alté in Ghana. Living in a country with a preference for Afrobeats and highlife, Amaarae promoted her music in Nigeria, leading to people mistaking her for a Nigerian. Her unique style, sultry vocals, and exquisite lyricism earned her collaborations with Nigerian alté leaders such as CKay, Cruel Santino, WurlD, and more. 

Amaarae’s journey to fame began with her debut EP, Passionfruit Summers, in 2018. In April 2018, she gained recognition from Apple Music and was named Africa’s Favorite New Artist. In the same year, she became a featured artist for Apple Music Beats 1. With the release of “SAD GURLZ LUV MONEY,” featuring fellow Ghanaian artist, Moliy, Amaarae achieved many feats, which were a first time for any Ghanaian act. The single peaked at Number 1 on the Global Spotify Viral Chart, and the U.S Shazam chart. 

In September 2021, Amaarae teamed up with Kali Uchis for the remix of “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY.” The remix entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart, debuting at Number 80. This feat earned her the title of the first Ghanaian female artist to break into the chart after the legendary group Osibisa

Amaarae’s influence transcends beyond music to fashion. In 2018, she gained recognition for her stylish hairstyles, earning a feature in Vogue Magazine online as one of four women across the globe with buzz haircuts. In addition to being nominated as Artiste of the Year at the Glitz Style Awards in Ghana, she was listed as one of Vogue online’s Top 100 Style Influencers of 2018. 

Following a successful 2021, Amaarae earned a spot on Billboard’s list of R&B/Hip-Hop Artists to watch in 2022. In January, she was named Spotify’s Equal Africa Artist of the Month

EnVi’s Recommendations: “Fancy,” “Fluid,” “Spend Your Time ft Wande Coal,” “JUMPING SHIP ft Kojey Radical & Cruel Santino,” “Leave Me Alone

Tems

Country: Nigeria 

Known for her husky and deep voice, Tems introduced a new wave of genre fluidity and fusion to the alté scene called “Spirit.” The Nigerian singer made her debut with the self-composedMr.Rebel” in 2018 and “Looku Looku” in early 2019. Her breakthrough was in August 2019 with “Try Me,” a self-composed single which topped Nigeria’s Apple Music Chart. Since then, Tems has enjoyed massive success on the charts. Her latest single, “Crazy Tings,” peaked at number three on the UK Afrobeats Chart and debuted at Number seven on the Billboard World Albums chart. It also held a spot at Number nine on the Heatseekers Album chart. 

Tems gained international fame after collaborating with Wizkid on “Essence.” The single off his Made in Lagos album made it to Barack Obama’s favorite songs of 2020. “Essence” gained massive success in the US, topping the Adult R&B Airplay Chart and the US Shazam Top 100 charts. It earned Tems her first entry into the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at Number 54  and a debut in the Billboard Global 200 chart at Number 159. Tems clinched a couple of awards with “Essence,” including a Soul Train Award for Best Collaboration and two awards at the 53rd NAACP Image Awards. 

Aside from her unconventional songs, Tems has multinational and smashing collaborations in her catalog. Before going global with “Essence,” Tems had featured on the Afrobeats remix of Khalid’s “Know Your Worth” with Nigerian artist Davido. She later joined forces with Drake on “Fountain” off his Certified Lover Boy album. The song debuted at Number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, gaining her a second Billboard entry. In 2021, she featured Brent Faiyaz on “Found,” from her If Orange Was a Place EP. The song hit number one on the UK Afrobeats Chart, number 17 on the Hot R&B Songs chart, and number 33 on the New Zealand hot singles chart. 

In October 2021, Tems was named Billboard’s October Rookie of The Month and landed on Billboard’s list of R&B/Hip-Hop Artists to watch in 2022. Adding to her accolades, Tems has bagged nominations at the BET Awards, MTV Europe Music Awards, Soul Train Awards, NAACP Image Awards, Soul Train Awards, and the Grammy Awards. 

EnVi’s Recommendations: “Damages,” “Crazy Tings,” “Try Me,” “Essence,” “Rebel

We hope you enjoyed this celebration of trailblazing women in African pop music! Interested in more African icons? Why not check out our roundup of women in African pop over 30!