Black artist spotlight

For Black History Month, our team of writers share some of their favourite and most notable Black artists.

Yves Tumor by Ishmael Silvestro

Some of the most beautiful and most bizarre music is made by Yves Tumor. It’s music that makes you want to dance but also scream inside, a psychedelic blend of art rock, noise and more experimental electronic influences that is honestly impossible to define. Their live shows are something else, a twisted mix of drag, performance art and pure adrenaline. I made the mistake of bringing my mum to an Yves Tumor set at a festival once – she had to leave because it was so disturbing. I don’t think she’s ever trusted me since.

Recommended track: Noid (Safe in the Hands of Love – Yves Tumor)

Gil Scott-Heron by Owen Frost

Often chronicled the ‘Godfather of Rap’, much to Gil’s later documented distaste, Gil was a seminal poet and musician hailing from Chicago. His work remains strikingly relevant in the midst of the ongoing Black Lives Matter Movement – touching on themes of Black agency, socio-economic hardship and racial injustice. His smooth lyrics and sheer talent combined with frequent collaborator, Brian Jackson, form the bedrock of his best work. His 2010 foray into the mainstream with Jamie xx is not as worthy; his main body of work from the 1970s which consolidated his reputation as one of the best Black American artists of the 20th century.

Recommended track: Black History / The World (Moving Target – Gil Scott-Heron)

Gil Scott-Heron. Credit: Pitchfork

Nova Twins by Tom Poole

Wading into a genre as a painfully same-y and whitewash as punk, Nova Twins are a refreshing kick to hardcore. Cornering their own niche of frantic industrial, London duo Amy Love and Georgia South give a unique sound steeped in rock-electronics and bass. 2020 debut album Who Are The Girls? has flown miraculously under the radar, despite winning Heavy awards’ Best Breakthrough Band 2020. Maybe not to everyone’s taste, but plenty to love here. 

Recommended track: Taxi (Nova Twins – Who Are The Girls?)

Berhana by Fern McErlane

Atlantan artist Berhana creates warm and smooth R&B for the romantic at heart, though every track he releases is experimental and fresh; he states his Ethiopian parentage exposed him to a wide range of influences that resulted in his own music. His latest album release, HAN, is a cosy musical microcosm in itself, narrating a simulated flight with its overhead-tannoy-style interlude tracks. It’s easy to groove along to, with his sweetly-toned rap leading the rhythm – though tracks such as the frantically paced rocker G2g may take you by surprise. Berhana isn’t afraid to switch things up.

Recommended track: Health Food (HAN – Berhana)

Berhana. Credit: Denzel Golatt via The Atlantic

Babeheaven by Elle Palmer

Babeheaven frontwoman Nancy Andersen’s soothing voice provided the comforting background noise for most of my lockdown spent essay-writing and news-browsing. Described in their Spotify bio as “channelling the spirits of Massive Attack and Cocteau Twins”, the indie-pop duo’s smooth and calm production is perfect easy-listening for days that blur into one another – as they’ve seemed to for the past 6 months or so. Though they’ve only released a couple of singles and EPs so far, Babeheaven have already cultivated a distinctive style and sound; with dreamy vocals and soft instrumentation, even their name captures their subdued, heavenly vibe. Babeheaven’s debut album is out next month, November 20th.

Recommended track: Jalisco (Suspended Animation – Babeheaven)

Arlo Parks by Milly Waters

Recent winner of the AIM Independent Awards’ ‘One to Watch’, Arlo Parks is exactly that. Based in South London, the 20-year-old poet and singer/songwriter is quickly rising the ranks in the world of music. Touching on themes of race, sexuality, and mental health, Parks explores the genres of bedroom pop, lo-fi, and RnB to create a sweet and timeless style. Heartfelt and raw, lockdown single ‘Eugene’ perfectly encapsulates the tenderness of being in love, and the struggles that come with it as a young bisexual woman. Though unable to complete her first UK headline tour earlier this year, the release of singles ‘Eugene’ and ‘Black Dog’ saw Parks join the list of artists flourishing under the COVID lockdown. In both tracks, as with all her music, Parks utilises her poetic background to create a ductile sound. Her raw and tranquil tone elicits feelings of metamorphosis, providing the perfect soundtrack to the universal circumstances of spring 2020. Arlo Parks continues to grow with us all as this year progresses; tipped to release a debut album before the end of this year, Arlo Parks’ discography is worth diving into. 

Recommended track: Eugene (Black Dog – Arlo Parks)

Listen to all the recommended tracks here:

Header image: Babeheaven. Credit: DIY