Contemporary African Female Artists in the Diaspora

As the prominence of African hip-hop artists has spread throughout the continent, so have we seen the emergence of influential artists in the diaspora. Particularly interesting, is to further examine the increasing popularity of contemporary female artists in the diaspora and how their style of musical expression often conveys their experiences of being of African heritage, while living abroad and attempting the arduous challenge of achieving success in the hip hop industry. Common themes seen within the music of female African artists in the diaspora include commentary on social issues such as racism, prejudice, feminism and challenging gender norms, as well as topics of identity and heritage. This mixtape includes five select examples of music videos from four different prominent female hip hop artists in the diaspora that allows for a more thorough understanding of the sentiments and experiences faced by female African artists throughout the modern world. Sampa the Great, Enny, ShayBo, and Little Simz are four artists that serve as a great example of the variety of music that can be found among female artists in the diaspora, with each of them having their own individual style and expression. Yet, their lyrical content often conveys similar messages surrounding female empowerment, feeling like an outsider, racism, and social issues; emphasizing the responsibility that many African artists in the diaspora feel over challenging stereotypes and the importance of social activism and engaging in civil society through popular culture.

Sampa The Great serves as a prominent example of a female African hip hop artist that gained traction and success as a member of the African diaspora, while maintaining her roots and using her art as a vehicle for social and political commentary. Born in Zambia and raised between there and Botswana, the majority of her career accomplishments as an artist, MC, and poet have occurred during her time living in Australia, where she has had a fair amount of success, winning numerous ARIA awards, including “Best Hip Hop Single” and “Best Female Artist”. The first song on this playlist, “Time’s Up” Feat. Crown, focuses on her issues with the Australian music industry. Lyrically, it is a scathing indictment of the systematic racism she feels exists in the Hip Hop field, yet the assertive lines take a very explicit stance of empowerment, demanding change versus asking for it. Particularly powerful, is the lyric “F**k the ARIAs”, where she calls out the fact that despite being one of the first women of colour to take home the awards she had won, she and Kaiit (another woman of colour) were not included in the main broadcast, and were instead handed their awards during a commercial break. The second music video is actually closely related to this. “Final Form” is another song that embraces the message of black power and challenges systemic racism throughout the world, especially during a time where there has been particular attention paid to issues of racism following examples of police brutality in the United States that caused mass outrage throughout the world. Thus, instead of using the official music video, the mixtape uses a live performance of “Final Form” streamed in November of 2020 for the ARIA Music awards, ironic, yet a major accomplishment for Sampa given her history of disapproval with the organization.

The next song featured on the playlist is “Same Old” by Enny, a second generation British artist of Nigerian descent. This song comments on issues that disproportionately affect people of colour, such as gentrification, poor living conditions, drugs, and even mentions the effects of Brexit. She comments on the struggles that the black community go through in the UK, and why people are pushed further into poverty and towards substance abuse. Her style is more contemporary and western, different to that of Sampa and others, lacking many elements of Afrobeat influence, yet maintains black pride despite conveying how difficult it is to be part of the black community in London.

Nata is a more similar case to that of Enny, being of Sierra Leonean descent, but born and raised in the United States, thus having to navigate the identity crisis that comes with being both African and American. Her single “Art Thou” is a commentary on the experience that black people face in the United States, with racism present at a systemic level throughout American society. The song, fittingly, was released in June of 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US following the murder of George Floyd. The video itself is explores a beautiful method of expressing, where she has inserted herself and certain movements into famous works of art, expressing her pride in being black, while maintaining a more subtle and calm video to truly let the lyrics speak. “Backseat” is a similar example of a single from a London born and raised artist of Nigerian descent, Little Simz. With a more contemporary and modern style, similar to that of Enny in the sense that it lacks traditional Afrobeat influences. That being said, the majority of the lyrics focus on her feeling of alienation in England, that somehow her identity does not seem to fit a mold of what society accepts.

As can be seen through these mixtapes, female African artists in the diaspora face a multitude of social and economic hardships abroad, yet they use their platforms to speak out and bring attention to these issues. Racism, identity and heritage, and female empowerment are all common themes addressed by these artists and are a representation of their tenacity in effecting change and challenging stereotypes.

Leave a Reply