For the following artists from across the ocean, music is a sanctuary. Their music is very much a product of their parentage. From their own family histories, they know what it’s like to merge cultures. They create a home that unites, music that defies genres, and music that helped most of us get through a global pandemic. And as we get out into the world again, these acts grants us lessons – on and off record – about being and emancipating oneself truly, so that we as fans and listeners show up different – this time in full spirits.
K.ZIA (otherwise known as Kezia Quental) is a Brussels-born, Berlin-based singer. She was born into coolness. Kezia’s mom is Zap Mama and she is able to call neo-soul legend, Erykah Badu, a family friend. At age six, K.ZIA moves with her mom to the States. At times she travels around the world alongside her mom, other times she stays with her Martinique-an dad. And much like a reflection of her fluid upbringing, she infused her debut album ‘Genesis’ with French trap, a healing dash of English R&B and some Afrobeat. To Belgian news source HUMO, she explains how Genesis is a project of maturation, born out of an intense period. The album holds space for both optimism and the lowest of lows. A trip to Senegal was the reset button.
The song Sanctuary is an early introduction to the album. K.ZIA is her English persona and ZIA is the cheeky and confident French alter-ego. K.ZIA speaks words of care. ZIA is a little younger with a wild spirit. Her music is louder, with fusions of afrobeat and hiphop. “She [ZIA] is the one dancing on cars in the Senegalese countryside and winking at us”. These album nuances are reflections of a young Kezia going to private English diplomat schools as a child versus a French public school. It’s also a reflection of the feminine versus masculine within her. In her own words, the song and the album are a safe sanctuary for the unheard. It’s a heartfelt expression birthed by someone living in all these different worlds. K.ZIA is a universe in herself. The track ‘I Got Your Back’ was written for a friend with depression. It is a song of comfort and it shows K.ZIA’s gentle motherly spirit. The last couple of years have been difficult for some of us and the song acts as a warm hug.
Poupie (born Poupie de Mocuit) was born in Lyon, France, but her dad’s work takes the family to Madrid, the Canary Islands, the UK and Réunion. It makes it difficult to bond with others, having to leave each time, but Poupie now speaks French, English and Spanish. And when she starts writing in French, (the language closest to her that allows her personality to show the most), things just click. Poupie studied management in London. Not having forgotten about her love for music, she decided to bet on herself with a gap year. She participated in big shows, such as X Factor Spain and The Voice France. Poupie created a reputation for herself and signed with Island Def Jam (Universal Music France). From The Voice, her fans from the show have had her back as she released her self-titled debut album ‘Poupie’ and in 2021, ‘Enfant roi’.
Enfant roi means ‘king child’. It’s about being a big kid in a harsh world, staying positive and taking nothing for granted. She identifies with both archetypes of the king and the kid as they both exude a certain level of freedom. “How even with all of life’s trials and tribulations you can make your life look how you want it to” (said in Mudane Mag). It’s an exhilarating journey on which Poupie proves leadership like a true queen, showing all of us what she can achieve by not putting any limitations on herself. She made moving from place to place as a child work for her, as it granted Poupie the magical ability not to be put in a box. She’s moved effortlessly through genres such as Caribbean reggae to rap inspirations, as well as pop and Latin mixes. She also received 45 million global streams, was named spotify EQUAL artist and formed as part of the Spotify RADAR 2021 program and VEVO Newcomer 2021 program.
Alewya (Demmisse) is a Saudi Arabia-born, UK-raised, singer/songwriter, producer, model and multidisciplinary artist. She was born to an Ethiopian mother and Egyptian father. In her childhood household, an eclectic mix of Arabic devotional music, Ethiopian sounds like Mulatu Astatake and her brother’s electronic and alternative rock played. It all started when Alewya modeled in New York, and started painting in between jobs. The drawings we see at the beginning of her videos are by her, and represents the Egyptian goddess, Isis. As her creative juices flow, Alewya bought an Ipad drum machine, put GarageBand on her laptop and then learned Ableton behind the scenes. Her future manager found a video of her making beats on her Instagram, and amidst the pandemic, Alewya emerged with a unique and tantalizing higher sound.
In June 2020, Alewya released her debut single ‘Sweating’. It’s a sexy, sweaty mix of African roots and UK club culture. It’s Alewya’s manifestation of us returning to the party life. She challenges us to reconnect to our bodies and to the music. To her, music is a highly spiritual experience. “ I believe in higher powers and I realized music was just really a way of unlocking a communication with those powers, how I could communicate with the powers, and how I could make sense of my life. It really helped me to unlock my own powers — my superpowers.” (DJ Mag) The track ‘Play’ from her debut album ‘Panther in Mode’ is about her love and gratitude for pleasure and play. Alewya makes music to completely devour and get lost in. It’s club-ready beats that are waiting to be initiated on the dance floor.
Marina Satti was born in Athens to a Cretan mother and a Sudanese father. Bathed from an early age in her own multicultural universe, she feeds on various musical influences; from the Balkans to the Arab worlds. Like a Greek Rosalía, Marina tags these ancestral influences but also gypsy punk, reggae and electronica, along with the fresh introduction of urban music styles. She majored in contemporary writing and production at Berklee College of Music, is a muse for Adidas and is the founder and artistic director of the women’s vocal group group, Fonés and Chórεs – a choir of fifty female singers of various ages.
In 2016, Satti recorded a cover of ‘Koupes’, an old Greek song. She uploaded the cover on YouTube, and soon after, the video went viral. However, it’s the track Mantissa that put her on the radar. Mantissa is about spreading your wings and flying through storms to find what you need. It’s also a story that represents her life. Satti’s dad came to Greece from Sudan, and following in her Father’s footsteps, she too left her country to move in the hopes of further embracing herself. In her case, she went to the United States. It’s a love song to the self. On PALI, the first single from her upcoming album, Marina sings a similar hymn aimed at helping women to blossom in love without forsaking their self-esteem and their independence. “I’m walking on water and sinking again. In the desert I will bloom, I won’t take long. And if you leave me behind, I’ll leave you again” These are the lyrics in PALI, mixed with crop tops, churches, and oriental dance.
Joy Olasunmibo Ogunmakin is born to a Nigerian father and Romanian gypsy mother. Like all the other acts in this list, she moves between places. Paris and New York in her case. She grew up listening to her dad’s soul, reggae and afrobeat, whilst dealing with her mother’s heroin addiction. She wrote her first song at age fifteen, moving from foster home to foster home. With the help of her father, she recorded her first demo at just eighteen, prior to moving to Paris where she’s discovered by a record executive which kickstarts her career as Ayọ, meaning “joy” in Yoruban. In 2006, she rose to fame in Europe with the smash-hit ‘Down On My Knees’ from her debut album, Joyful. Her first two albums were recorded within five days; a sign of her music’s raw immediacy. She is open, unassuming and not here to sound the same as everyone else.
She alchemized her childhood into music full of personal themes for us to relate to. Five albums later, and she’s considered a leading artist on the soul and folk scene. 2020 marked her big comeback with ‘Royal’. It’s an intimate record, full of jazz inspirations. She was going to record an album covering her own songs, but a few days before recording, she went in another direction. Ayo also became a mother, going on to say that, “It is not becoming a mother that has made me into a woman; it’s letting go of my fears … Now, I am fully Ayo, and no longer need to be protected.“ [Munich Talk] Her calming aura explores the possibility of being whoever you want to be, wherever you may be coming from.