African songstresses: Three of the fastest-rising musicians to watch out for

From left: Nina Ogot, Temilade Openiyi and Ayra Starr.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

As African music grows in global stature, many of the continent’s female artists are also rising to the highest levels of an industry that has for so long been dominated by their male counterparts. This month has witnessed a wave of new albums by the continent’s brightest songstresses who include two Nigerian singer-songwriters who have earned extraordinary success in the last few years and a Kenyan performer who gives a modern twist to the rich musical heritage that influenced her own career path.

Nina Ogot


The fourth album by the Nairobi-born singer, songwriter, guitarist and arguably her most personal album yet was officially released at the end of May. The nine songs mainly written in Swahili are a contemporary spin on rumba, rich in instrumentation, from lively percussions and horns to sparkling guitars. Above all, Nina is in fine vocal form throughout the songs that she wrote over a period of three years.

From the opening track Ungwana to Safari which is based on the traditional Giriama song Safari ya Bamba, the mood is inspired by sounds and experiences from her upbringing. One of the highlights is Ningojee which starts with a mellow horn-filled section as Nina adds taarab influences to her vocals, and hits a sweet climax with an infectious guitar hook.

In Kanye is a sweet ballad in Dholuo seeking out a long-lost friend, while the flute and guitar solo on the upbeat Muziki gives the song an infectious quality. The horn section for the album was arranged and recorded in Germany while the songs were recorded in Nairobi over the past one year.

Ukumbu.KE is Nina's fourth album and arguably her most personal album.

Photo credit: Pool

Nina has come a long way from her debut Ninairobi in 2008 and her sound was transformed from performing in a trio to playing with an 8-piece band that was formed for a tour in Cologne, Germany in 2021. While the last album Dala was mainly recorded with that ensemble of European and Kenyan musicians, this time she is supported by an all-homegrown band to capture all the intrinsic elements of the sound. Nina delivers on her stated promise to take listeners on a musical adventure to fill the heart with nostalgia. No fillers on this album; you won’t skip any of the tracks once you hit the play button.


Born In the Wild

It has been six years since her breakout single Mr. Rebel which makes it seem inconceivable that this is the Nigerian’s debut album (her mother reminds her not to please anyone but God, on a spoken interlude titled Special Baby). In that time, Tems (Temilade Openiyi), who turned 29 on June 11, has become one of the most successful among the new generation of African singer-songwriters: winning a Grammy Award and an Oscar nomination for writing a song for Rihanna on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack and collaborations with Drake, Wizkid and Justin Bieber.

BD Tems album

Tems' Born in the Wild is about her journey of surviving a mental wilderness that comes with life, and coming to a place where one can thrive.

The album is about her journey, “surviving a mental wilderness that comes with life, and coming to a place where one can thrive”. The first single from the album Love Me Jeje “a sweet, happy song about finding unconditional love” (Tems pays tribute to the original 1997 song by Seyi Sodimu, a Nigerian classic, because her mother loves it).

Highlights among the 18 songs include Burning, a smooth R&B tune about the struggles of coping with fame and Unfortunate which speaks about being disappointed by someone you trusted and being thankful when you discover early enough to overcome the setback. Tems also ropes in high-powered collaborators, including Afrobeats compatriot Asake, and US hip-hop star J Cole.

Ayra Starr

The Year I Turned 21

Ayra Starr (Oyinkansola Sarah Aderibigbe) became a global star thanks to her debut album 19 & Dangerous in 2021 a chronicle of her transition from adolescence to adulthood. The sultry-voiced Nigerian who incidentally celebrates her 22nd birthday on Friday (June 14) returns with her sophomore album this month tackling topics that reflect her maturity: newfound love, intimacy, gender positivity, parental loss and mental well-being.

Ayra's The Year I Turned 21 reflects her maturity: newfound love, intimacy, gender positivity, parental loss and mental well-being.

Photo credit: Pool

Her style blends R&B and Afropop with elements of dancehall, highlife, and gospel. Commas is an acknowledgement of the blessings she has received from God, gratitude and determination to keep putting her best into the job. The album packs heavyweight collaborations with Afrobeats star Asake on Goodbye which Ayra describes as “one of my favourite tracks I have recorded”, American Giveon on Last heartbreak Song, and R&B star Coco Jones together with Brazilian Anitta on the Afrobeats/Amapiano banger Woman Commando.

Orun has a bright highlife guitar groove even as it tackles the serious issue of mental health and depression and the album closes on an emotional mood with The Kids are Alright as Ayra gives due respect to her father who died years ago, with the help of voice notes from members of her family.

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