Fans of R’N’B, soul or quiet storm in search of novelty find their happiness today with the deep and pure voices of neo-soul singers in the 21st century version. Anglophones, young and ambitious, they proudly carry these sounds with multiple cultural influences.
The continuity of a genre inheriting soul and jazz
A musical movement born in the 1990s, neo-soul combines soul, hip-hop, jazz, funk, and house music. Marvin Gaye, Ottis Reading or Aretha Franklin are the references of this modern soul created by Kedar Massengur in the Motown studios. The genre made its first appearances in the person of Sade Adu, the first crush of those nostalgic for soul. Then, carried by icons such as Lauryn Hill with her very famous “Doo Wop” (1998) or Maxwell and her “Ascension – Don’t Ever Wonder” (1996), it definitively imposed itself at the end of the 1990s. From the start, he focused on musical intensity and the transmission of emotions through pure voices and instruments as varied as the electric piano, bass, rhythm machine and electric guitar.
We find these vibrations in D’Angelo, whose album Voodoo marked the transition to the year 2000, with no less than 2 Grammy Awards pocketed and 4 nominations at the MTV Awards for the video clip of “Untilted”, a tribute to the king of pop, Prince, and the king of psychedelic rock, Jimi Hendrix. Surfing on new musical trends inspired by the heritage of the 20th century, that’s what Erykah Badu knew how to do, from the enormous success of Baduizm in 1997, his 1st album which won four awards at the Soul Train Awards, New Amerykah in 2008, initiator of the new neo-soul wave.
Neo-soul or the art of gathering
1st musical current at the dawn of the 21st century, the sought-after lyrics and the vocal prowess that characterize it have not lost their flavor. From odes to love by John Legend to lessons in woman empowerment by Alicia Keys, the themes of passion, introspection and heartache remain the miracle recipe.
By forging links between ever more diverse genres, neo-soul has won over contemporary audiences. Reinventing oneself so as never to run out of steam seems to be the motto of the artists who have taken the path of these smooth, groove and pop melodies. Recently, female artists with voices that are sometimes crystalline, sometimes hoarse, but always powerful, have captured the attention of the audience. Because this timeless genre is now worn by hundreds of artists, a focus is essential. Make way for 3 essential talents of the modern neo-soul scene.
3 talents to represent a current
solange, whose real name is Solange Pianet Knowles, is a multi-talented American artist: dancer, songwriter, model, actress… Born in 1986 into a family on whom success smiles, she is the sister of Beyoncé Knowles. After a childhood on a soulful and jazzy soundtrack, she goes on stage for the first time by occupying a vacant position during a Destiny Child tour. Launched very young in the middle, it was at the age of 16 that she recorded her first album, Solo Star (2002). With his third album Truein 2012, she asserts herself in a classical style, between jazz and ballet, which does not prevent her from joining the great neo-soul family with A seat at the table in 2016, a melancholic album punctuated by original featurings, notably “Mad” with rapper Lil Wayne. His last album, When I get Home (2019) didn’t need feats to mark the spirits, with ever more innovative melodies, as illustrated by the track “Stay Flo”. No need for publicity either for Solange who, very quickly, will be discreet, leaving the spotlight to her sister. The clear flow and the soulful voice take us very high, in the treble, without ever getting lost.
Cleo Sol aka Cleopatra Nikolic, daughter of a Serbo-Croatian singer and a Jamaican bassist also seemed predestined to go on stage. This precious mixture of influences forged this precocious artist who posted her first titles on MySpace at 14 years old. Destined for a commercial career when she signed in 2012 with Davinche, a London grime producer, she radically changed course when she met producer Inflo, the craftsman behind the success of Michael Kiwanuka and The Kooks. He will support Cleo in her quest for the perfect melody, without ever being pressing during the singer’s 5-year break. Indeed, it was not until 2017 that she resurfaced with the delicious “Why Don’t You”. Encouraged by Inflo, she accepts a first feat, “Selfish”, with London rapper Little Simz on the album Gray Area (2019). This project is unanimous and pushes the two young women to renew the experience with the song “Woman” on Sometimes I Might Be Introverted by Little Simz (2021). For her part, Cleo has found her way by offering very intimate soul-jazz pieces on the two superb albums Rose in the Dark in 2019 and Mother in 2021. You can taste the fruit of his artistic reflection, matured for a long time and superbly served.
Celestial Epiphany Waite is our discovery of the year. Born in 1994 in California, she is a British neo-soul singer who borrows as much from jazz as from R&B. Without having released a single album, she won a Brit Award and a BBC Music Award in 2019, before being named a “breakthrough artist” in the BBC’s annual survey in 2020. It must be said that Céleste has raised the waiting with the very promising Build 1.1 (2019) carried by the tracks “Father’s Son” and “Both Sides of the Moon”. We find these pieces in his first studio album, Not Your Muse, released this year. Composed of two amazing discs of depth and vocal maturity, it directly entered the first place of the UK Albums Chart. From Ella Fitzgerald to Janis Joplin, her repertoire has shaped her beautifully scratchy voice, sublimated in the track “Strange”. This last album devotes her to the hope of the modern neo-soul scene, a deserved title for this virtuoso with a bewitching timbre.
If you are not yet convinced by the talent magnet that is modern neo-soul, give the last 5 tracks from the editorial staff a chance to surprise your demanding ears. Chills guaranteed.
Highlight visual: © EP cover Lately Celestial – Celestial (2019)
Visual 2: © Album cover A seat at the table –Solange (2016)
Visual 3: © Album cover Mother – Cleo Sol (2021)
Visual 4: © EP cover Compilations 1.1 – Celestial (2019)