Ones to Watch 2019

— Features — Editor

As 2019 gets underway, we’re looking ahead expectantly to a great year of music that we’re certain will be packed with phenomenal live shows, a wealth of great new records and plenty of new development throughout the arts. We hope that independent artists, labels and music venues can continue their incredible work and make for a vibrant music and arts scene, across the country.

Without further ado, here’s our list of ‘ones to watch’ in 2019, an overview of musicians, based both in the UK and internationally, who we’re hoping take it to the next level in 2019.

Agbeko

With their recent 7” single, Leaders of the Free World/Submit, Agbeko developed their sound to a point of distinction: strains of psychedelic rock, Ethio-jazz and the New Orleans Brass sound blending with their afro-funk basis to create something deeply danceable, lyrically poignant and importantly, identifiable. The Manchester-based 11-piece played several hometown shows to rapturous acclaim, including stepping up at late notice to fill the headline slot vacated by Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 at Band on the Wall, before packing out The Klondyke in Levenshulme, where they gave an airing to their forthcoming single – an Ethio-prog brooder that the band are shortly to reveal. The group have already made an impression overseas, thanks to sets at numerous European festivals as well as to the hope and solidarity which extends through their music to listeners of all backgrounds. The band plan to tour in the UK this year, with British and European festival appearances and a few new releases too, so there’s no doubt that you’ll be hearing more from this excellent large ensemble, throughout 2019.

Ashley Henry

London-based pianist and composer Ashley Henry recently wrapped a tour with pop powerhouse Christine & The Queens and begins 2019 as one of a handful of talented UK jazz artists heading over to New York’s Winter Jazzfest. Having released his tasty Easter EP 12 months ago, Henry has confirmed on social media that his debut LP for Sony Music will be released this year. His contributions to Makaya McCraven’s critically acclaimed Universal Beings project showcased his adaptability and delicate touch on the rhodes keyboard, but his appreciation for the masters of acoustic jazz piano: from Erroll Garner through to Thelonious Monk, also suggest his deep knowledge of jazz music’s lineage prior to electrification. His solo debut promises to be an expressive and far-reaching affair, if the clever adaptations of tracks by Nas and The Enemy from his sophomore EP are anything to go by!

Buddy

Compton rapper Buddy made his first strides into the music industry at the age of 16, with Pharrell Williams and his i am OTHER label behind him. The opportunity opened a number of doors for Buddy, so much so that when his debut mixtape dropped in 2014, such rappers as Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs were amongst its featured artists, Pharrell and Chuck Inglish contributing from the production side. But it wasn’t a simple formula for success and in recent years, Buddy has striven for greater independence, taking what he learned as a young man developing in the limelight into a 2017 EP with Kaytranada producing, and his diverse debut full-length proper, Harlan & Alondra, released last year. A talented singer, rapper and creative visionary, some of Buddy’s music possesses an L.A. breeziness: solina strings, soaring synth leads, squelchy bass and vocoder harmonies from Terrace Martin, while his hype tracks are hard-driving, austere productions with tough beats and rugged rhymes. The grittier and more dangerous aspect of Compton life, captured in the earlier works of Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and The Game, are less of a focus for Buddy; his work steers a little closer to that of Southern L.A. rappers Vince Staples and Domo Genesis. With his desire to build his own creative team, create music with longevity and capitalise upon his debut LP, Buddy is certain to have the motivation and skill set to make waves in 2019.

Butcher Brown

The pair of records dropped by Butcher Brown go some way to demonstrating just how talented the group are. Camden Session, cut live to disc at Mark Ronson’s Zelig Studio in London (analog signal chains, live lacquer cutting… the works!) captured their precision, grooviness and accomplishment as a live band, whereas AfroKuti: A Tribute to Fela, demonstrated their ability to stretch out with a rawer and more animated style, reflecting the energy of Fela’s live recordings and the concept of his Afrika Shrine recitals. Beyond jazz-funk and afrobeat however, the band have a love of hip-hop, having flipped cuts by Biggie amongst others in DIY live session videos, but also an appreciation for the jazz-rock sounds of Frank Zappa, the soulful hip-hop and RnB sound of D’Angelo – an artist who like the band’s keys player DJ Harrison, hails from Richmond, Virginia. Marcus Tinney is able to switch effortlessly between trumpet and saxophone, something which even he admits is quite rare amongst musicians, but that he feels, with both techniques, is about ‘getting to the same point from two different places. That point seems to be openness’. It’s the band’s openness and musical appreciation that helps make them so adept at hopping between numerous styles. Whatever 2019 brings for them, they’re a rock solid music lover’s choice: a band worthy of wider attention.

Cattle & Cane

Teeside-based group Cattle & Cane have been active for just shy of a decade, releasing two full length albums and cultivating a modest but passionate following, so you may be wondering why they’re ones to watch in 2019. The reason is that last year, Joseph Hammill (one half of the sibling duo that lead the full band), released his spine-tingling song Infant Hercules, inspired by the words of Victorian minister William Gladstone following a visit to industrial Middlesbrough in 1862. Hammill’s song captured a palpable sense of history, lineage, working pride and spirit, so much so that Middlesbrough FC decided to have its lyrics printed on the inside collar of their 18-19 season shirts. Such a decision could initiate a relationship between Teesiders and the song that outlives the band themselves, not to mention raising their profile in the North East in the immediate future. But aside from the football shirts, Cattle & Cane’s inclusion is testament to the refinement of their songwriting and live sound, which in last year’s performance with the Northern Orchestra at Middlesbrough Town Hall, is flawless.

Cykada

London-based six-piece Cykada are set to release their debut LP with Astigmatic records this Spring: an eponymous effort recorded at London’s widely-known Total Refreshment Centre after intensive jamming and rehearsing, which over time led to their singular sound. The group features members of Songlines award-nominated outfit Don Kipper, Ezra Collective and Where Pathways Meet, hinting at the meeting of ideas and sonic quality their album will encapsulate. The band’s electronics and keys player Tile Gigichi-Lipere gives their sound a unique slant, processing the acoustic sounds in a dubwise fashion, giving their energetic compositions a hazy, psychedelic edge. A mix and master from the minds behind Polish dub techno project Sarmacja is also certain to give the record a truly unique edge. Aside from the record, Cykada have a live session for Red Bull Music forthcoming and will be playing more UK gigs this year, so keep your eyes peeled.

Farai

Farai’s Rebirth made numerous end of 2018 album lists, thanks to Farai Bukowski-Bouquet’s startling punk poetry, apropos to issues affecting working class people in the UK and beyond, as well as the hard-hitting production of bandmate Tony “Tone” Harewood. Endorsed by Yasiin Bey and getting attention for their NTS and Boiler Room sessions, Farai look set to continue making meaningful and lasting art this year.

Great News

Hailing from Bergen, Norway, Great News released their gorgeous debut LP Wonderfault last year, unleashing a sparkling and expansive indie sound that suggested their vision as songwriters and studio artists. The trio made their first trip to the UK last year and we’re hopeful that 2019 will see the accomplished outfit make their return.

Helado Negro

Singer and songwriter Roberto Carlos Lange, known artistically as Helado Negro, releases his new record This Is How You Smile with RVNG Intl. on 8th March – the label a fitting choice given his work’s growth into more atmospheric and experimental sonic regions. Based in New York, Lange has developed a very considered and personal backstory for the new project, which he articulated as, ‘the soundtrack of a person approaching you, slowly, for 40 minutes’ in the record’s press release. Rolling Stone were quick to champion the new project, interviewing Lange about the subject matter of the record’s lead single. Helado Negro heads out on tour in the US in February and his beautiful new single Pais Nublado is available to stream below.

Jontavious Willis

Young bluesman Jontavious Willis has yet to perform outside of the US, yet within his home country his has supported Blues Hall of Fame inductee Taj Mahal, who calls him ‘the Wunderkind… a great new voice of the 21st century in the acoustic blues’, and multiple Grammy award-winning artist Keb’ Mo’ amongst others. Willis’ innate understanding of the blues lineage, his powerful voice and accomplished guitar playing have endeared him to audiences throughout North America. In recent months, he has struck a winning relationship with blues harpist Andrew Alli, which has elevated the pair’s musicality, hearing them soar like a contemporary Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Jontavious’ debut LP, Blues Metamorphosis, arrived in early 2017 and it’s follow up is certain to knock our socks off. Jontavious tours through the US this year and hopefully will come to our shores soon.

Koffee

A number of up-and-coming Jamaican vocalists look set for strong years this year: Jane Macgizmo, Lila Ike and Naomi Cowan (2019 Global Ambassador for the Bob Marley Foundation), amongst them. But still a teenager, Koffee is perhaps the most exciting. Her freestyles with Chronixx and solo performance for 1Xtra in Jamaica this time last year turned heads around the world, with her diverse flow seemingly in touch with everything from roots reggae through to contemporary trap and RnB. Her single Toast, produced by Walshy Fire & Izy Beats, has blown up online and in its video she poses alongside Protoje, one of the artists who inspired her to write songs as a younger artist. Clearly a conscientious artist, keen to positively influence her peers and young fans, she has the business backing and innate talent to make a serious impression in the Caribbean, US and beyond this year.

Mildlife

Melbourne-based outfit Mildlife released one of the finest debuts of 2018 with Phase, as well as making a sensational Manchester debut at The Castle, where disco and jazz-funk grooves, met with freeform jam band sensibilities. They recorded Brownswood basement sessions for Gilles Peterson at the end of their UK tour and released Phase II, a 7” single extending the ambitions of their debut record, which needed three pressings to keep up with collector’s demand. A seriously creative, well-drilled and diverse band, their career could well follow the trajectory of fellow Melbourne acts Hiatus Kaiyote and King Gizzard, seeing them playing bigger gigs and releasing more great music in 2019.

Mortimer

Having released one of 2018’s finest roots revival zingers in Careful, recorded at Tuff Gong with producer extraordinaire Winta James, Mortimer looks set to continue his positive run this year. Following a tough upbringing, the young vocalist and producer became close with Protoje, resulting in a feature on his Grammy-nominated album, A Matter of Time. Careful made its way onto numerous influential reggae playlists last year and has laid the bedrock for creative growth. But as he told Jamaica Gleaner, most important to the 25-year-old is doing what’s best for his young family, although that will likely see him driving his career forward with further features, live performances and releases.

Nubiyan Twist

Leeds-based 10-piece Nubiyan Twist made their first Band on the Wall appearance in 2015, indicating then the great talent that has since blossomed through exhaustive rehearsals and creative exploration. Nubiya Brandon, the band’s chief vocalist, recognises the need for contemporary bands like theirs not to become blinded by comparisons with the 20th centuries greats they look up to, but at the same time, her and her bandmates have a deep appreciation for the Ethio-jazz, afrobeat and R&B music that came out of 60s and 70s Africa and America. Mulatu Astatke and Tony Allen will feature on their forthcoming LP, which is released via Strut records in February and the band head out on a UK tour, bringing this exciting new music to audiences everywhere.

Steam Down

The weekly Steam Down jam at Buster Mantis in London has become popular for its musical spontaneity and lively atmosphere stoked by rhythms rooted in jazz and afrobeat. Led by the saxophonist Ahnanse, who leads the band of the same name, it captures the vitality of the music currently spreading from pockets of London to the world, as well as connecting numerous artists from throughout the scene. Steam Down will record their debut audio-visual project at The Albany this month, who aptly describe their sound as one, ‘rooted in the diasporic traditions of sub-Saharan Africa and its evolving expressions both on the continent and in the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe’. Steam down head on a European tour too, taking their danceable sound to audiences outside of the nation’s capital.

XamVolo

Vocalist and producer XamVolo has been on our radar for some time, delivering a beautiful set from the Band on the Wall stage at Sounds from the Other City last year. He releases his debut full length album with Decca this month, revealing to us a deeply creative concept that he has been carefully and gradually teasing to his fans through a succession of single releases during the past 18 months. His music has been used for ITV drama Cleaning Up, he has been a Vevo discover artist, DJs Mistajam and Gilles Peterson have praised his work, all hinting toward that hard-to-achieve duality of commercial appeal and deeply musical content in his meticulously crafted music. A most capable artist, he has begun working alongside other producers but still oversees all elements of his work. Check out his awesome Colours session below.

Image credits: Agbeko by Pasco photography, Buddy by Daniel Regan, Cykada by Daniel Woodfield, Great News by Linn Heidi Stokkedal, Mortimer by Chance Nkosi Gomez, Nubiyan Twist by Blue Laybourne.

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