Although afrobeats is a musical force to reckon with in Africa (to be fair, mostly in West Africa), there are multiple genres still thriving in smaller scenes—and R&B is one of them.
Created in America in the 1940s, R&B went on to spread all over the world, giving birth to other musical styles such as ska, funk, and rock. Contemporary R&B appeared in the late ’70s, as disco was dying. Many African artists grew up listening to the genre and eventually made it their own. In Africa the genre is even more female-dominated than elsewhere in the world. Here is our list of the R&B artists from the continent you should check out.
The Nigerian singer-songwriter and producer Tems‘ early singles like “Mr Rebel” and “Try Me” became instant hits. Her first EP, For Broken Ears, released in 2020, offers a mid-tempo sound, relatable lyrics and a deep voice that make her music standout. Tems is a force to be reckoned with, here to change and shape the musical scene.
Zimbabwean singer and songwriter Thando started out by posting a few viral videos of herself singing, inspired by TikTok clips. She then released her single, “First in Line,” about wanting to be treated better in a relationship. Her debut EP A Force to Be Reckoned With is out now and features her single “Weak,” which gained momentum for the beauty of its lyrics. Thando’s sound has a classic feel to it with some contemporary additions, from trap beats to afrobeats, with her deep voice making everything even more soulful.
Ayra Starr started posting videos of herself singing online and became one of the youngest artists signed to Mavin Records. She has just released her single “Away” from her eponymous debut EP, which explores themes such as coming of age, heartbreak and love. Her strong voice reaches many emotions, from sorrow to regret to relief. Ayra Starr’s music is a well crafted mix of a deep bass sounds, choirs, slow drums and occasional trap beats.
Ghanaian-Burkinabe singer-songwriter Ria Boss decided to launch a musical career after graduating from high school, despite her shy personality. For two months in 2018, the prolific artist released weekly EPs as part of a project called #ThankGodForRia. Her rich voice and slow tempo songs make her music haunting, with lyrics that aim to empower women. The multitalented artist also dabbles in fashion and is the new face of Ghanian-Canadian brand Osei-Duro.
South African singer-songwriter Hunter Rose released her debut album, Love & Trust, in 2020. It was two years in the making but well worth the wait. Inspired by artists like Anita Baker and D’Angelo, it was a way for the artist to experiment with her music. The album’s themes run deep and are relatable: sorrow, lust for life and love. Hunter Rose’s songs are warm with a classic feel to them.
The cultural shock that Senegalese-American singer Marieme experienced when she moved to the US, had a big impact on her music. Her single “Leave,” for example, is a song about resilience and independence supported by her powerhouse vocals. Growing up in Senegal, Marieme says that she wasn’t allowed to listen to music but that changed in the US, when she discovered Mariah Carey. Her 2020 track “Lovechild” conveys themes that are important to her such as being understanding of others, freedom and love for ones self. Her stunning visuals are inspired by manga, and animation, showing her as a powerful, confident figure.
South African singer Elaine released her single “You’re The One” while juggling law studies, then it became a hit. In 2019, she self-released her first EP Elements, gaining national and international accolades, including becoming the most streamed woman artist in the country. The album was certified platinum, leading to her signing a deal with Columbia Records. The rich timbre of her voice and whispering vocals take the listener on a journey, as she sings about loneliness and lost love. Her sound retains a very modern feel to it with its use of trap beats.
The South African R&B singer popped up in the scene with an old school sound, dramatic violins and lyrics about heartbreak, losing someone, and accepting it. These are universal themes that his growing and loyal audience can relate to. D’Angelo, Caiphus Semenya and Musiq Soulchild are some of his many inspirations. His talent was such that many artists, including Black Coffee and Spoek Mathambo, have approached him to work together. He recently released his first album Langa. His single “Intiliziyo” with Loyizo is a haunting, soulful and sad song about the power of regrets,