There has been an influx of a new generation of R&B acts like H.E.R, Ari Lennox, Summer Walker and Snoh Aalegra, just to name a few. This bug also hit the shores of (South) Africa, and has been gaining traction with new acts making and releasing high quality music that can compete with the rest of the world.
Old school R&B has always been a staple in South Africa and is synonymous with cleaning the house and doing chores on Sundays, among other things.
However, for the longest time, the South African acts that were making R&B would never break through and had to resort to making Afro-pop, Afro-soul, or otherwise being featured on house, kwaito and hip-hop songs.
The success of contemporary South African R&B acts like Shekinah and Elaine, the latter, who recently got signed to Columbia Records, has challenged the status quo, and is testament to other R&B acts that it is possible to make that style of music without conforming, and be embraced, not only locally but internationally as well.
Read: Interview: Clxrity, The Producer Behind Elaine’s Hit Single ‘You’re The One’, is Only Getting Started
Elaine’s debut EP Elements, released towards the end of 2019, has gone on to be the most significant SA R&B projects in recent years (arguably ever). The EP has since gone platinum and, in August 2020, Apple Music announced it as being the most streamed project by a woman artist, ahead of house, amapiano, Afro-soul and gospel releases, genres that are the most popular in the country. The EP’s first single, “You’re The One“, currently has over three million streams on Spotify alone.
What’s also important to mention is that most of these R&B artists are releasing their music independently, with major labels and mainstream media only catching on to their wave a little late.
Below is a list of songs by 10 South African contemporary R&B songstresses to check out. They are sure going to get you in your feels.
Editor’s note: This list is in no particular order and only includes songs released in 2020.
Filah Lah Lah “This Is”
Filah Lah Lah, born Reabetswe Fila Ranamane, started out by putting her music out on Soundcloud, and it gained traction as she already had a following on Instagram. “This Is” is the lead single to her debut EP Filahsofy, which was released in August under Kalombo Records, an Atlanta-based record label founded by Mike Kalombo, who also produced the song. Like Elaine, Filah Lah Lah is from Pretoria and has spent some of her formative years in California and Indonesia. The 24-year-old singer directed the music video of the song herself and is also a model and a law graduate.
“Committed” is a standout song on Ipeleng‘s Unsolicited EP released in March under Ipeleng Music. The 7-track EP serves as her third project, and has accumulated over 100K plays on Apple Music. She begins the song with the lyrics, “Tell me how it feels to know that I care, with all that I am / And while you’re out there chasing all these other people I’ll be right here waiting for you…”, while crooning about heartbreak and love troubles, a recurring theme in her EP… feels.
M’ax “Small Talk”
Taken from her debut 8-track EP Based on a True Story, “Small Talk” is a song detailing awkward post breakup encounters with an ex-lover. “…We were lovers, and now there’s nothing left but small talk,” she sings on the chorus. The song is a rendition of Katy Perry‘s song of the same title. On her YouTube channel, M’ax explains how she wanted to flip the pop song into a ballad because the lyrics were “so deep, beautiful and personal”. The entire EP is based on a failed relationship.
Joda Kgosi “Truth Is”
Like with all of the songstresses mentioned above, most fans got introduced to Joda Kgosi through Twitter and people tweeting about her song(s). She first teased “Truth Is” via a snippet posted on the platform, and people would not stop talking about it—that snippet currently has over 85K views on Twitter. “Truth Is” was produced by talented singer-songwriter Elizée, who also produced a number of songs on Elaine’s Elements. The 17-year old singer describes her sound as a blend of soul and R&B.
ThandoNje “All Love”
ThandoNje has been recording and releasing music for more years than any of the other songstresses mentioned in this list. She first got attention in 2015 through covers that she would post on SoundCloud. In April, she released her full-length album, Frequency. Known for her healing voice, the singer has coined her sound “new age soul”. This speaks to the beauty of the new generation R&B acts not being restricted by style, sound and/or song structures in order to fit into industry standards. “All Love” is no exception, the neo-soul-leaning track sees ThandoNje promising to give her partner all of her love and heart; everything they desire.
Nipho Hurd “Cadillac”
“Cadillac” is taken from Nipho‘s debut 7-track EP, The Ghel, which was released independently in March. Her EP has been categorised as “new age” on DSPs, and when asked about the specific genre of the song, she reveals that she is “baffled genre-wise” as she is not sure what she writes, but would consider this specific song contemporary R&B. “The song is about a girl who finally found a guy to give herself to sexually and freely. A guy who saw deep inside her, not one who just wanted to go deep inside her.” says Nipho. “It’s a song about what’s it’s like when a woman feels powerful and in control of her sex life.”
Courus “Nothing Left”
Courus, real name Courtney Williams, is a Uitenhage-born artist based in Joburg. She is a music graduate, and is both classical and jazz music-trained, which she showcases on her debut EP, I’m Up released independently in August. The singer has sung backup vocals for established artists like Lira and Judith Sephuma. “These songs mean so much and have changed my life completely. I speak about real life experiences and matters that are really close to my heart,” she shared on her Instagram on the day of release.
Naye Ayla “Breathe Me”
“Breathe Me” is the lead single to Naye’s recently-released EP, Every Feeling. The song is produced by Fletcher Blvck who also produced three other songs on her 8-track EP. Towards the end of the song, she sings: “Ndifanelwe nguwe, andifuni ukuphila ngaphandle kwakho,” which translates to, “I’m meant for you, I can’t live without you.”
Thando opens the song with the line “Boy you make me see you in my dreams/ The way you touch me makes me wanna scream/ It’s a feeling I never wanna escape…”, singing over a mellow minimal beat produced by Malicke & Twis Blac. By those lyrics alone, you should know you’re about to be serenaded. The singer wrote her first song ever during the national lockdown in SA and has put out two other singles prior to “Weak.”
Lucille Slade “Perfect Match”
Lucille Slade first made a name for herself circa 2017 with cover songs. We previously featured her on our South African Female R&B/Soul Artists to Watch In 2020, and she has lived up to the expectations, with features with veteran MC Stogie T and highly acclaimed DJ and businesswoman DJ Zinhle. On “Perfect Match”, she questions: “What’s the point of starting a fire to burn it out and opening doors to close them out.” She continues to ask: “What do you do when you find the perfect match?” in the song’s chorus.