Words by Sajae Elder
Like much of the entertainment business, music in the West Indies and the Caribbean diaspora has largely been a boys club, with only a handful of women on the mic and behind the boards. As we continue to strike the perfect balance between the talented women of the islands and the recognition they deserve, we’d be wrong not to mention some of the latest female forces from across the region’s many genres. From dancehall and Cuban jazz to zouk and reggaeton, there’s no shortage of women leaving their mark. Here’s 10 of our new favorites.
While this year’s “Workout” alongside Kes was Nailah Blackman’s first soca hit, the 19-year-old Trinidadian singer is no stranger to the scene. She comes from a long line of legends, as the granddaughter of soca pioneer Lord Shorty (aka Ras Shorty I) and daughter of Calypso Queen Abbi Blackman. While her usual output mixes soul, pop and electronic sounds, time will tell what lane the young singer will find her groove in. Either way, with honeyed vocals and a witty pen that lends itself to catchy pop hooks like the one on “Cigarettes,” this is just the beginning for Nailah.
With roots in Guadeloupe and Martinique, Lylah’s music mixes French-language R&B with zouk and Afropop sounds; something that works considering how much the lines between Afro-Caribbean genres continue to blur and blend. She’s no stranger to making records, having been part of short-lived girl group Les Déesses, with singles like “On A Changé” spreading across la Francophonie. Following the success of her single “Mine” alongside British-Nigerian artist Lola Rae, her most recent single “No Be Joke” sounds straight from the streets of Lagos complete with lyrics in Pidgin and English. It’s clear that this sound chameleon can master mics in any genre.
Shenseea just ah roll double six like Loodi! As her Vybz Kartel collaboration “Loodi” and solo single “Jiggle Jiggle” make headway in dancehalls from Kingston to London, this 20-year-old Jamaican seems to be popping up everywhere. Armed with sharp lyricism, a bad-gyal persona and a heavy presence on social media, she’s already drawing comparisons to more established female dancehall artists like Spice. Success is never an overnight thing but, with her recent singles “Reverse” looking like potential summer anthem, her rise from a promo and bottle service girl to a focused and established artist appears to be complete.
The Wixard (formerly The Wizard, she recently substituted a ‘Z’ for an ‘X’) is descended from reggae royalty — her father is Beres Hammond. But she’s seen blazing her own path by connecting the world of dancehall with electro vibes as Jamaica’s baddest female producer. With her own singles like “Mash It Up” and “Like A Pro” garnering millions of streams, she’s also cut remixes for Nelly Furtado and produced an entire album with Mr. Lexx (We’re still waiting to hear that one, though…) Her latest release, Mexo Project, mixes ‘90s bashment with newer sounds as artists like Nyanda, Chedda and Assassin add their own flavor to the riddim.
As one of the new queens of reggaeton, Dominican-born and Madrid-based La Insuperable mixes empowerment anthems with a spitfire flow over dembow beats. With songs like “Cero Goga” blurring the lines between reggaeton and merengue and “Que Me Den Banda” toying with Afropop grooves, the artist affectionately known as Mami Del Swagger continues to forge a lane all her own.
Portland, Jamaica-based dancehall artist Mystic got her start as a dancer/choreographer on stage and in music videos for everyone from Beenie Man to Vybz Kartel, but it’s her work with production outfit Major Lazer that has shifted her focus to making the tunes herself. She can be seen as the main dancer alongside Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire in 2013’s “Watch Out For This” video, and also provided the purring vocals on Major Lazer’s following hit single “Bubble Butt,” alongside Bruno Mars, Tyga and 2 Chainz. However, her music career dates back a few years earlier — dancehall devotees may recall her appearance on Leftside’s “Want Yuh Body” remix, from 2010. Mystic’s latest release “No Long Talk” might pull from Lady Saw’s 1996 classic, but Ms. Davis is bringing nothing but new energy. Witness “Mystic Strings,” her recent collaboration with fellow Portlandites DizTroy:
She might be only in her mid 20s, but Daymé Arocena delivers a timeless, mature brand of Afro-Cuban jazz, with powerful vocals that switch seamlessly between English, Spanish and Yoruba, over dazzling horns and soulful percussion. With her latest album, Cubafonia, the crossover potential is undeniable, and recent single “Mambo Na’ Mà” mixes Cuban and New Orleans Jazz with pop sensibilities in a brand-new way.
Hailing from a musical family in Barbados, Nikita Browne has had plenty of time to hone her fusion of soca, R&B and soul. When she’s not hosting her own show on the island’s Slam 101 FM, she’s making the perfect tunes for Crop Over like the De Red Boyz-produced “Bun It Up” and her latest drop, “Treat You Right.” Having shared the stage with greats like Machel Montano and Patti Labelle, worked with fellow Bajan artists Alison Hinds, Rupee and King Bubba FM, Nikita is making her very own lane, picking up accolades like Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the Barbados Music Awards along the way.
This New York-based Jamaican got her start on social media making humorous videos on Instagram but Dyrana, better known as Dy Dy, has surfed her own wave into studios and stages, taking her followers along with her. While her videos landed her her own advice segment on New York Caribbean radio station WVIP, it’s her move into the music arena that has people talking. Her debut single “2 Can” takes a poppy approach to dancehall, giving it plenty of mainstream crossover appeal that still works at any jam. It’s been garnering positive buzz, shows and appearances and radio spins, and with the current obsession with island fusion sounds, it’s right on time.
Kreesha Turner has been a mainstay in Toronto’s music scene since the mid-2000s on the Pop-R&B-Electro wave, but her latest forays into dancehall and soca, coupled with a huge social media following, has sparked wider interest in the Jamaican-Canadian singer. Earlier this year she hopped on the popular Lip Service Riddim to serve up “I Will Be Here” just in time for Trinidad Carnival. The single serves as a strong follow up to the TOK-assisted “Sexy Gyal,” and her role as a villain and main dancer in the Nick Cannon-directed King Of The Dancehall pushes her deeper into island territory.