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Photo by Noah Pharrell.

Back in 2017, Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia opened an article with the statement that by this time, it was no longer necessary to explain “who is Rosalía Vila.” The rest of the world may have taken a bit longer to notice, but the global eye is definitely watching her now. The past year was big for Rosalía, accomplishing feats of performing at major venues, like flamenco sacred ground Plaza de Colón. The show from last October, a packed crowd in Madrid singing along with her to the biggest hits from her second studio album, was the culmination of Rosalía’s senior thesis, and really, years of work, the impeccably choreographed, visual manifestation of El Mal Querer, that celebrated the album’s release. Her story charged ahead, landing in major music and culture magazines, and her voice found space on global reggaeton artist J Balvin’s latest album, Vibras. …


William Onyeabor (Own-ye-bar) is from Nigeria, we know that much. The details, and even the big picture, of his life and career are harder to come by. He was born in 1946 and passed away in 2017, after gracing the world with eight albums released in as many years, not counting the five or so compilation albums released recently. Each of the albums contained around five songs and was pressed within the Wilfilms recording studio and pressing plant, owned by Onyeabor himself. The label released albums by only five other artists, all Nigerian, in addition to Onyeabor’s personal discography.

Wilfilms studio was in Enugu, Nigeria, Onyeabor’s hometown, and pressed vinyl using an LS76 Lathe, designed by Larry Scully in the 70s. Only about ten of these lathes ever made it from production into the world, but Onyeabor got his hands on one, along with Moog synthesizers, Yamaha mixers, and other recording and pressing equipment that he may have gotten from studying film in Russia, record manufacturing in Europe, or from doing something else entirely in an unknown location. …


Morena Leraba grew up in the rural village of Mafetang in western Lesotho and has worked for much of his life as a shepherd. Spending considerable time alone, surrounded only by sheep, cattle, and the natural landscape, Leraba filled his mind with music, and began writing and practicing his songs.

This pastime would materialize into more public work as he became more connected to both local and global music scenes. He met a number of people in Lesotho and South Africa, including the filmmaker Carl McMillan, who connected Leraba with The FreeRangers, who recorded a song, “Do You Know Lesotho,” praising the local way of life and featuring Leraba rapping in one of the verses. He had told McMillan the he wanted to fuse modern and traditional music, and since his first feature in 2014, has been doing just that. The various works Leraba has lent his talents to sound distinct from each other, due in large part to the styles of contributing artists and producers. His voice shines through each lens, seeming to belong as much in a ballad as in trance and hip hop. …


Both the mentality and the core elements of trap style, namely the deep bass, sputtering, low vocals, and overall haze, have carried over and diffused through the music dominating Latin charts and radio. Most Latin trap artists cropped up around 2016 (a year we might call “peak trap”). One of the biggest names is Bad Bunny, and he’s one of the few Spanish-language artists that applies the trap vocal style of rapping in triplets (Vox has a great video explaining this). He’s from Puerto Rico, and despite not having released or announced an album, is signed to the label Hear This Music, has collaborated with nearly every current star in Latin pop and reggaeton, is on a world tour, currently has 21.7 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and is synonymous with the Spanish-language trap movement. …


If you haven’t heard of trap, you’ve likely heard it all the same. Over the last year, it has become a buzzword of current culture, especially in music, but had loose parameters as far as definitions go. In an unofficial survey of friends, I found that everyone had heard of the genre, but no one could nail it down. Trap was overtaking music charts to the point where most people listening to popular music or to the radio had heard trap. Trap artists were winning awards, trap albums going platinum, trap music videos going viral. …


Sometimes we (self included) treat the public like we treat teenage girls. What they like can’t be worth much of our attention; if they like it, it must be too easy to consume. Images of mama birds chewing up food for their young, rivers with strong currents, sessions of hypnosis come to mind. Of course, the public can be wrong on many counts (and is), but when something manages to top the charts, to draw a crowd, to get really and truly popular, it may just be worth suspending our cynicism to experience it for ourselves.

So, pop music. It’s a broad designation that encompasses a status as well as a sound, with everything from Drake to John Mayer thrown in. It can feel like a passive decision or a passive taste, to listen to and like popular music. The song came on the radio and we didn’t turn it off. Soon, we’re hearing it wherever we go and it seems fine, maybe even enjoyable. More than surrender by frequent exposure, pop music does something to us that breaks down the defenses we may put up when experiencing art in other realms to let us feel, experience, and enjoy. The more skeptical, critical listener can relax a bit, while the casual listener can simply listen for fun, but both have the opportunity to dig deeper and find out why that hook is so catchy, what history the artist is referencing, and how the track fits into a broader social context if they wish. …


There are more than a handful of strong artists from Lebanon who give the established alternative music scene in the country (and its capital city, Beirut) a global name. The majority of these artists release songs exclusively in Arabic and push the boundaries on the continually evolving Arab identity. “Most Arab youths live in an intersectional socio-cultural experience,” El Rass, a hip hop artist from Tripoli, told The New Arab: “Art…creates fields of movement that break social barriers.” These musicians came of age during the civil war that resulted in the death or displacement of large numbers of the Lebanese population and that birthed a generation seeking to define itself. …


The music, like the history, of Cuba is long and layered from many centuries of migration, both voluntary and forced, and the resulting exchange of cultures on the island. While the island was under the colonial rule of the Spanish empire (from the 1500–1800s), an estimated one million Africans were brought to the island to work as slaves, mostly on tobacco and sugar cane plantations. Many Spaniards, too, immigrated to the island in the 1800s when Cuba, unlike most of continental South America, was still a Spanish colony (as was Puerto Rico). …


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Photo by Pablo Alzaga

Bad Gyal has a long time love for Jamaican culture, specifically dancehall, and has used the Afro-Caribbean beats she heard in the Barcelona clubs she used to sneak into as a teen as the driving beat for her brand of dance-centered, multilingual tracks. She has been steadily releasing music for the past few years, with the aid of a number of producers, including Dubbel Dutch, Fakeguido, El Guincho, and LOWLIGHT.

When she achieved her dream of going to Jamaica and working with local artists and choreographers last year, resulting in the track “Unknown Feeling” with Qraig Voicemail, she realized it was just a jumping off point in her music career. Although Spanish media has named her “the Queen of Dancehall,” in an interview with El Bloque she said, “It’s hard even for me to define my sound,” because it incorporates a variety of influences, like reggaeton, hip hop, trap, and electronic music, in addition to Jamaican dancehall, all centered on beats, movement, and energy. …


Deva, a rising trap-soul artist from Santander, has landed hit after hit on her own self-made journey, expanding the music scene in Spain along the way. Her releases so far, one EP following a string of singles, read of the major influences on her life, both musical and personal. She grew up listening to Rihanna and pop hits from the UK, followed trap and neo-soul in the US, and was drawn to dancehall and Afro-Caribbean rhythms.

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Taken from Twitter.

Deva has worked with LOWLIGHT, a production duo who have made a name for themselves in urban music in Spain, as well as Kaydy Cain, a trap artist with whom she recorded “No me ames.” Most of her tracks, though, she’s written on her own, including “Nothing’s Forever” and “Checks,” both of which she composed in under ten minutes. Her youth and her creative edge come through in her playful lyrics and the energy in her music, that centers on themes of unabashed self-confidence, and the necessity of putting in work and celebrating life. There’s an element of braggadocio, too: on “Vibes,” she says, “After two songs, sigues sabiendo que no hay nadie tan real as me,” “After two songs, you’ll keep thinking there’s no one as real as me.” …

Macy Lethco

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