Music, Pop + Trends

9 women of color making gorgeous indie music

If your Spotify has been looking a little male and pale lately, here you go.

Discerning minds recently Photoshopped several startling Coachella posters, showing the sad reality of what the indie music fest would look like with only female-fronted acts. (Spoiler alert: There wasn’t much left.)

But it also reminded me of a recent Pitchfork essay lamenting “The Unbearable Whiteness of Indie.”

And then I got to wondering about the number of women of color in indie.

I’d hate to see that poster if you added an intersectional layer to it.

So here are a few female indie musicians of color that I’ve been listening to lately. This list is limited to artists on independent record labels or DIY-ing their music, and those who sing in English.

If your Spotify has been looking a little male and pale lately, here you go.

Ibeyi

French-Cuban twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz will give you chills with the incredible music they create together as IBEYI. The Paris-based sisters’ often prayerful lyrics swap between English and Yoruba, and their swirling beats reveal similar cultural and religious influences. To get a taste, listen to “River” and “Ghosts.” They match Florence + The Machine’s drama with a fraction of the fuss – tempests in a teacup, if you will.

SZA

Love Jhene Aiko? She’s not the only woman making waves in PBR&B. Check out SZA, who opened for Jhene and has made it onto Kendrick Lamar’s label. (She’s the only woman there – surprise, surprise.) SZA has writing credits on a Nicki Minaj track that features Beyonce, but her own music has a raw and breathy sound I enjoy. She takes on some “witch house”-style synth-y elements, but never goes overboard. SZA released her third EP, “Z,” last year, and more is coming.

FKA twigs

FKA TWIGS recently made the gossip rags for her engagement to Twilight star Robert Pattinson – congrats to the happy couple! – but the British singer-songwriter-dancer is more than that. There’s no one you can compare her to. Her music is sexy, trippy, sophisticated, intricate, yet quiet and simple. The first time I heard one of her tracks, I was a little put off. (The “Water Me” music video is really, really weird.) But after two listens, the beat was ingrained in my head. When I listened to “Two Weeks” – holy whoa. No going back then.

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Juhi

Indian American singer JUHI PATHAK’s voice will make you sit up. By adding her on this list, I’m admitting my secret love of The Voice, where she was a contestant on Cee-Lo Green’s team at the age of 16. There, her covers were fun, bouncy and danceable. Since then, she’s released her debut EP, “Stress Case,” which emphasizes her alternative rock side more. The edgy lilt in her voice, reminiscent of Duffy, electrifies her teen angst.

Thao

THAO NGUYEN is known mostly for fronting folk rock band Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, but she’s also collaborated with a number of other acts and toured solo using her first name. I’m pretty much in love with “When I Go,” a chill Emancipator track she lent vocals to in 2006. Her sound is soulful, unpolished in the best way, and often playful. Unless you’re exclusively a fan of death metal, I’m betting Thao has put out something to satisfy your musical inclinations.

Abi Sampa

ABI SAMPA, who competed on The Voice UK in 2013, will blow your mind with her fusion of Western folk pop with classical Indian instruments and carnatic techniques. Just watch judges Jessie J and Danny O’Donoghue’s heads snap when she adds a little South Asian kick to her audition. She smoothly moves from traditional ragas to Western runs, turning bland British and American tunes into – as Jessie puts it – “something amazing.”

Bat for Lashes

Natasha Khan, known on stage as BAT FOR LASHES, has made a big name for herself in the indie music scene since about 2007. She’s an oldie-but-a-goldie who’s been compared to Bjork, which I reckon is pretty fair considering her very hipster image, and vocalists like Fiona Apple. Her lyrics are haunting, her vocals sublime, her music memorable. Natasha has three critically-acclaimed albums under her belt and is apparently at work on another, though she also contributed a cover track to the “Mockingjay” soundtrack.

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Asli Omar

ASLI OMAR is the lead singer in indie rock band The Tontons. Music journalists have hailed them as Houston’s best band, and without any understanding of the Houston music scene beyond Asli’s sultry vocals, I’m going to blindly nod my head. Their latest album, “Make Out King and Other Stories of Love,” received praised from everything from Rolling Stone to the New York Times. They’re just coming off a stint at SXSW, and hopefully will have more tunes rolling out soon.

Baiyu

Chinese American singer BAIYU creates R&B-tinged pop tracks. It seems like she’s been on the “verge of stardom” for most of career, with mentors like Nelly and international MTV platforms behind her. Even without a breakout moment, it’s worth it to listen to this veritable powerhouse’s two full-length albums and the handful of releases in between.

Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan has worked as the Tech + Money editor and Culture + Taste editor at The Tempest. She's a journalist based in Baltimore, covering underrepresented communities and digital culture. Find her work on her website.

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