Female Musicians of Color Killing It

Writing by Elena Robustelli

If you’re an avid music listener like I am, you’ll notice that regardless of genre, the artists that we listen to are so often male n’ pale. They can be great musicians, don’t get me wrong, but in 2016, I think we’d all like a bit more diversity in the music industry. Not to fear! These noteworthy ladies of color are changing the scene, even if they aren’t necessarily getting all the praise they deserve. By tackling themes like race, gender, sexuality, and independence, these women in indie music are incredibly empowering and representative, so let their songs be your new instant classics.

Photo by Ebru Yildiz Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Mitski: Your Best American Girl

Mitski’s raw honesty shines through on this track, which is the lead single off of her upcoming album “Puberty 2”, set to be released June 17. As she reflected on her music in an interview once, much of her work deals with a pervading feeling of being “half Japanese, half American, but not fully either”, and this lush, melodic, and gritty piece is no exception. “Your Best American Girl” clearly deals with the different worlds interracial couples often come from and never feeling like you can fully connect with your significant other because of cultural differences, but it is in its purest form a love song.

Laura Mvula: Make Me Lovely

Laura Mvula’s arrangements are consistently full and complex, and her powerhouse but not over-sung vocals completely support the diverse instrumentation of “Make Me Lovely” as well as much of her other music. While listening to this song, I could practically hear hearts breaking across the world—that’s how hard-hitting “Make Me Lovely” is. And yet, there’s a quiet ounce of hope that starts to break through the surface in the couplet “I don’t need love to rescue me/I’ll be all that I choose to be”. And that’s pretty darn lovely in it of itself.

Yuna: I Wanna Go

Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna made major headlines at the end of May when she told the world that wearing her hijab makes her feel “liberated”, and her 2013 song “I Wanna Go” is nearly as freeing. The song’s lyrics are simple, concise, and clear, and it’s awesome that Yuna shows us that as long as you are engaging in a healthy relationship, one in which he “stares” at her “politely”, being in love can bring its own independence.

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: Hand to God

This stunning track off of Thao Nguyen’s latest concept album, articulating her estranged relationship with her father, speaks heavily loud volumes even though the arrangement as a whole holds within itself a fairly soft confidence. This artsy rock tune certainly strays from the band’s previous work, and Nguyen could not sound happier about it. The juxtaposition of a Regina Spektor-esque vocal, an unusual song form, and verging-on-funky guitar licks and bassline reminiscent of Rubblebucket makes “Hand To God” distinctly uncommon, but it somehow gels really well together.

    Image via Kiah Victoria’s Instagram/ by @lydia_garnett

Kiah Victoria: Cold War

The best way to describe Kiah Victoria’s debut single is dynamic. Starting with a slow roar and snaps and eventually mounting to a triumphant chorus, Kiah is skillfully drawing a metaphor to the actual Cold War, as she feels like she is at a standstill in her relationship that “heaven only knows”. I was singing the insanely catchy chorus during my first listen of the song! Given that she is a graduate of the prestigious NYU Clive Davis Recorded Music program, a 2013 recipient of an ASCAP award given to a young singer-songwriter, and the fact that “Cold War” was released only at the end of May all make me highly doubt that this is the last we will be hearing from Kiah Victoria—and I can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Malia: Dull Aches

“No one seems to follow the yellow brick road without a distraction”, sings up-and-coming acoustic singer-songwriter Malia on a song titled “Dull Aches” off of her self-titled EP. That kind of quiet but precise description is found in all of Malia’s hauntingly gorgeous lyrics, and perfectly paired with sparse instrumentation, her lyrical abilities shine through on this track. Like her daffodil yellow EP cover featuring the singer with her corkscrew curls, Malia is effortlessly natural, reminding me of Corinne Bailey Rae. So often does one hear a technically talented singer like Malia use every second to belt and run away from the core melody, but Malia has no need to show off her undeniable vocal chops with loudness—she’s just that good.

Natalia Lafourcade: No Más Llorar

Mexican songstress Natalia Lafourcade won a Grammy this year for her spectacular latin alternative album “Hasta la Raíz”, and still, with all of my hours spent listening to music, I only found out about her now! What I find so special about Lafourcade’s velvety voice and deliberate strings is that without knowing all of the words in her all-Spanish songs is that it still strikes a painful nerve and it is still equally empowering as it is emotional. I think that “No Más Llorar”, in particular, is a standout off of her latest release, because it can have a double meaning. On the surface, Lafourcade sings about a love that can never be, but she cannot cry about it anymore. However, in concert, Lafourcade dedicates the song to the people of Mexico, who continue to face a multitude of political domestic issues. When I first heard this song, it stuck with me for the rest of the day, even as I continued to listen to much more music, and that hard-hitting impact is essential for in finding artists that I truly love.

Bat For Lashes: Joe’s Dream

It’s rare to find a ballad with a constant pulse, but that’s what “Joe’s Dream”, the newest single by Pakistani-English singer Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes gives us, and it’s extraordinary. “Joe’s Dream” is devastating, romantic, and eerie all rolled up into a vocal drenched in reverb. I’m fascinated by the seemingly tranquil terror of this track, and while many singers talk about themselves, the first line of this song is “there’s a tear in my lover’s eyes”, though Khan is feeling just as much pain as he is. Khan’s voice is seamless and filled with darkness, so be sure to check out Bat For Lashes’ brand new concept album, The Bride!

Lianne La Havas: What You Don’t Do

Lianne La Havas flawlessly combines the retro with the contemporary on “What You Don’t Do”, an upbeat empowerment anthem off of 2015’s stunning album Blood. When La Havas soulfully sings, “I know you love me, I don’t need proof”, you hear her authenticity shine through. She’s refreshingly pop, but not in a Top 40 way, and she’s always oozing artistry and taste through every note. Her NPR Tiny Desk concert from last year clearly shows how her voice is organic and never strained- so check it out, I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.


Elena Robustelli

Elena Robustelli is a teenage singer-songwriter, reader, writer, lover, and leader from New York. She loves a cappella, avocados, and asking questions. Follow her on Instgram @elenarobo & Soundcloud.

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