Our regular roundup of artists we think you need to know.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
By the time Nathalie Joachim released her groundbreaking 2019 album Fanm d’Ayiti, the flutist, composer, and singer had already spent decades studying and playing classical music. With that stunning work, she began opening up a huge part of her musical life that she’d kept largely private. Born to Haitian parents in New York, Joachim learned to sing on childhood visits to her ancestral homeland, where her maternal grandmother cemented their connection through the folk songs of the Caribbean country. “My earliest musical memories, and probably my real first music teacher, were my grandmother,” she says. Although Joachim had explored R&B in the song-driven flute duo Flutronix back in 2007, she largely put aside her wind instrument that led her to become a member of Chicago’s acclaimed Eighth Blackbird, and instead applied her remarkable voice to songs that had lived within her, adapting traditional Haitian tunes to sing in striking arrangement with the Chicago string ensemble Spektral Quartet.
Soon after the Grammy-nominated album was released, the pandemic hit, and much of the momentum the recording generated was brought to a halt. But liberated by the experience, Joachim embraced the process she had unleashed. She began writing her own songs in Creole, and recording demos at home. “I became obsessed with this idea of sampling and making collage samples of little bits of my own voice. That became the central notion of the record. There are no two voices in the world that are exactly the same, but at the same time, it’s born of your DNA, so there’s maybe a piece of every single person who’s come before you. There’s something really fascinating to me about that. Could I use my voice as a vehicle to begin to understand who I am and begin to make ancestral connections that help me see a little bit more deeply who I am?”
On her dazzling new album Ki moun ou ye, those home recordings are often at the core of the songs, which feature close friends like Sō Percussion co-founder Jason Treuting and former Eighth Blackbird violinist Yvonne Lam. Joachim produced the recordings, singing among clustered, richly harmonized parcels of her own sampled voice. A sampled recording of her grandmother’s voice lies at the heart of “Kenbe m,” which sounds much closer to Bjork than Bach. Joachim even plays flute, grappling with its classical tradition baggage as she breaks the mold of that practice. Joachim hasn’t turned her back on contemporary classical music, but for the first time in her career she’s found an outlet that allows her to express the full diapason of her interests and creativity.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Metal history is full of famous brothers—the Cavalera’s, the Abbott’s, the Oliva’s. Less common are father-son duos. In fact, setting aside Wolfgang-era Van Halen, it’s hard to think of any. That makes Wizard Death’s debut EP, I Am the Night, truly special. The project is a collaboration between Tim Kenefic (Assimilator, Throne) and his young son, Alex. After bonding with his dad over Judas Priest and 3 Inches of Blood, the younger Kenefic got excited about the idea of teaming up to make music. “I said, ‘How about we make a Harry Potter song?’,” Alex recalls. “And my dad just popped up his music-making thing and went to a song that he was working on, and then we decided to work off that.”
The rough sketch in Tim’s music-making thing became “Slay the Serpent,” which features Alex doing his best Hagrid impression on the intro. (The rest of the EP is sung by Kayla Dixon, the powerhouse vocalist of Witch Mountain.) Wizard Death’s first show, with Alex on vocals, will mark the young singer’s third time onstage—after a Veteran’s Day play and winter pageant at school. “Once he’s in his element, it’s gonna be great,” Tim says. “Because at home we’re like, ‘Hey, chill out, man. Don’t yell. Don’t run around.’ But when he’s onstage, I’m gonna tell him, ‘Cut loose, just don’t trip on anything.’”
Beautiful Dust is the sound of Watchglass making up for lost time. In May of last year, the Australian duo released Every Conversation in June, its first album after a two-year estrangement between co-songwriters Mark Vee and Gina Graham. Four months later, they released Only Watching Clouds. Now they’re back with more delightfully enigmatic pop songs built from enchanting melodies and eternal optimism. “At times, I can be a bit down,” said Vee, the group’s multi-instrumentalist and producer. “Whereas Gina gets past the down quickly and looks up all the time. I need that.” For Graham—singer and lyricist—Watchglass provides an opportunity to tap into a well of songwriting acuity that sat undiscovered for decades, and she intends to use it for good. “Even if I’m singing about a desperate situation,” she said. “I always want to put forth that there’s a way forward into a better future.” Together, the two are as productive as ever, thanks to abundant trust, a bit of magic, and a shared commitment to the music. “This is just what we do. It’s part of the daily routine,” Graham said. “Life never gets in the way. In fact, I would say this is more of my life than the other parts of life, in a way.”
Angry Blackmen’s industrial raps thrive on urgency. In their songs, the Chicago duo—composed of co-founders Quentin Branch and Brian Warren—take razor-sharp inventories of racism, capitalism, addiction, and depression. But contrary to the overarching fury and pre-apocalyptic themes of their new album, The Legend of ABM, Branch doesn’t think we’re actually at the precipice. “I want to be optimistic,” he says. “I have faith in people, you know? This is just cautionary as far as I’m concerned. It’s like Black Mirror: It’s fantasy rooted in some type of reality.” The Legend of ABM is a showcase for raw, lyrical acrobatics from Branch and Warren. Their blazing bars are underscored by crushing production from Formants. “I could tell he was putting his foot in them beats,” says Warren, who used the production as inspiration to dig deeper. “Q sat me down and was like, ‘Yo, don’t be afraid to talk about your real, deep inner issues. It’s okay to give the audience some of that.” As Warren raps: “Looking at my homies for the truth/ If they tell a lie, scrutinize, analyze/ Penalize, my back been stabbed a dozen times.” In that way, The Legend of ABM doesn’t just explore crises of society, but also those of the soul.
Cassette, Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
For many artists, a slot on Jools Holland’s long-running annual BBC program Hootenanny marks a milestone. The show blends pop nostalgia with emerging voices and is a beloved New Year’s Eve tradition for music aficionados in the UK. So if you’re a 17-year-old blueswoman from rural Ireland—like Ballybofey, County Donegal’s Muireann Bradley—it doesn’t hurt to be asked along, especially after Holland himself has become a fan. “It was a massive surprise just to be asked to go on,” she says. “We’re such fans of [Later… with Jools Holland], watching the Hootenanny every year—it was all so quick. The offer came just a few weeks beforehand. It was mad.”
Within minutes of sounding her first notes, the guitarist had stolen the show, earning a wider audience with just her guitar and a voice that n carries her take on Rev Gary Davis’ ‘Candyman’ with preternatural clarity. So impressed was fellow guest Rod Stewart, that he handed Bradley his mic during the traditional show-closing round of “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think).”
There’s been an ongoing exchange between Irish and American folk traditions, and Bradley’s ease with the nuances of the ragtime, roots, and blues styles were inspired by her father John’s passion for the genre. “I grew up listening to him playing when I was younger, and he would help me with some of the arrangements, alongside ones that I’ve come up with,” she says. “I have so many memories of listening to the music, and I just love how complex it is. I love learning it.”
Bradley approached her craft wholesale during the pandemic, practicing furiously, learning genre standards, and uploading home-recorded videos for a growing social media following. “I had this wee list in my head of tunes I wanted to learn,” Bradley says. “The first one was [Blind Blake’s] ‘Police Dog Blues.’ [Most of the list were songs] I’ve grown up listening to—just my favorites, the ones I liked the most.” That list forms the basis of Bradley’s debut album for Tompkins Square, I Kept These Old Blues, co-produced by her father and Ballybofey’s Terry McGinty, which captures her frighteningly evident gift for the genre, It also sets the tone for exciting things to come: Next stop, a near-sellout headlining gig this July in Dublin’s legendary Liberty Hall.
New-Zealand-born pianist and producer Aron Ottignon was only nine years old when he saw Baaba Maal perform live, but it remains burned in his memory. “It was really next-level stuff,” he recalls. “At 12, I was fully into hip-hop. But at the same time, I was buying anything I could find with a kora on the cover.” Although he embarked on a career as a musician, it took 20 years for him to come back to the West African music he so loved. With his latest project, Ottignon has come full circle. On Dama Bëgga Ñibi (I Want To Go Home), he joins forces with Senegalese griot, sabar virtuoso, and founder of the Jeri Jeri Band, Bakane Seck, as well as an impressive lineup of Senegal’s biggest stars and emerging talents—including, remarkably, Baaba Maal. “It was the first demo I sent to Bakane, he said he’d get a singer on it, and this is who it was. It really spun me out,” he recalls.
The seed for the project was planted in 2018, when Seck approached Ottignon to produce some of Jeri Jeri’s music, but it didn’t start taking shape until 2020. “Bakane came to a meeting [in Berlin] to see how we could step it up, and then his flights were canceled [due to the pandemic]” says Ottignon. “We did a whole lot of writing, so it was no longer me just producing their stuff. We were making music together.” The album is a love letter to Senegal—to its beaches and people, the mothers who hold everything together, the marabout and the griots who transmit ancient tales from generation to generation, and a poignant reflection on the longing for home felt by so many in the diaspora. Seck serves as a warm and sage narrator, conveying his people’s history and customs through his tapestry of rhythms. But as much as Dama Bëgga ñibi may be steeped in Senegalese tradition, it is also forward-looking and far-reaching: with deliberate disregard for genre, Seck and Ottignon blend mbalax and sabar with jazz, pop, and club-ready rhythms, calling on young artists like Aicha to take the reins. “The idea of this project is also to give [an] opportunity to the next generation, which is what many of the griots already do” says Ottignon. Ultimately, Dama Bëgga ñibi is a joyous celebration of authentic cultural exchange and the free movement of people. It’s the kind of future we can only hope for.