The New Wave of Black Female Musical Storytelling: Tiwa Savage, FKA Twigs, and Princess Nokia

The inevitable end of hot girl summer is upon us. While many loyal Stallions mourn the closing of summer, new projects by prominent Black female artists remind us that the resurgence of Black female storytelling and creativity is not confined to a season, genre or location. From Tiwa Savage to FKA Twigs to Princess Nokia Black female artists continue to surprise us in the ways they redefine structures of traditional storytelling, production, and performance to portray narratives that reflect their experience. 

The music industry occupies a unique space in our cultural landscape as a creative force that is simultaneously informed by and a reflection of its political context. From Fela Kuti to N.W.A., the marker of influential musicians has been their ability to articulate and represent complex narratives of oppression and resilience. These forefathers of hip-hop and afro-beat cultures laid the foundation for contemporary artists that dictate popular culture today. However, the landscape of music, or at least the music that is most often financed and promoted, has rested in the laps of male artists in a staunchly homogenous and misogynistic environment. While we laud the works of iconic male rappers and vocalist, we ultimately cannot separate their work from the violence and vitriol against women they espouse in their lyrics as well as their politics. 

Through the recent heightened visibility of Black female artists in this space I see myself and the multiplicity of women who look like me reflected in popular culture. Multifaceted representations of us are appearing across genres and borders. With an innovative and raw approach to lyricism, production, and performance, here are a few of the Black female artists making big waves today:

Tiwa Savage is one of the pinnacle female voices emerging from Nigeria. She was featured in Beyonce’s “The Lion King: The Gift” album and made headlines for her condemnation of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Her enticing melodies and sultry lyricism speak to various social issues such as her upbringing in Isale Eko, representations of African women, and youth empowerment. In a recent interview with OkayAfrica Tiwa Savage acknowledges that she needed to work twice as hard to reach similar levels of success as her male counterparts in the music industry. Her latest track “49-99” is a commentary on the income inequality in Nigeria, paying homage to Fela Kuti’s famous “49 sitting, 99 standing” line from his 1978 song “Shuffering and Shmiling.” The track is accompanied by stunning visuals in a music video that is intentionally interweaved with symbolism of Black hair, schoolgirl uniforms, and Danfo buses. Black women are featured throughout the video, and Tiwa shares that they were also present behind the camera, as she made an intentional choice to work primarily with Nigerian women videographers, stylists, and editors. The absence of the male gaze is evident throughout the video as Tiwa Savage exudes a bold energy confronting the camera and brazenly dancing on tables daring audiences to join in her expressions of Black female liberation.

FKA Twigs is a British singer and songwriter that shares Tiwa Savage’s bold and eclectic energy. Since the start of her career FKA twigs has been notorious for defying musical genres through her experimentation of industrial, choral, and avant-garde influences. Her new album, “Magdalene” is set to come out October 25th and embraces the brazen Biblical character of Mary Magdalene as inspiration. In 2017 FKA Twigs underwent a painful surgery to remove fibroid tumors from her uterus, describing her temporary disability as an all-encompassing heartbreak. “Magdalene” is an expression of her healing and journey to grace when she was at her most, “ungraceful, confused and fractured”. In her upcoming tour FKA Twigs utilizes “sound, performance, costume, pole dancing, Wushu, set design and lighting” to produce an experience that suspends reality and exemplifies the 19th century concept of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk,’ or ‘total work of art’. On the track titled after “’Mary Magdalen” FKA coos, “I kneel before the fire/True as Mary Magdalene/Creature of desire.” FKA Twigs embraces Mary Magdalene as a heroine, rejecting historical memory that demonized her for her sexual prowess. Through the muse of Mary Magdalene FKA Twigs reclaims a resiliency born out of a painful process of healing and restoring her physical dexterity, sensuality and power.

Princess Nokia is a New York born rapper and vocalist who has long since rejected respectability politics and replaced them with her own brand of raunchy intersectional feminism. Her blunt raps and unapologetic social media presence explore topics such as Black female emo culture, colonial histories, and representations of women of color. Princess Nokia is known for paying homage to her Puerto Rican, Afro-indigenous Taino diasporic ancestry while also making room for a younger generation of women of color grappling with identity politics. In her newest track and music video “Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T.)”, recalling Keli’s 2003 track with the same name, Princess Nokia taunts haters with catchy, fast-paced lyrics over a funky beat. The music video features Princess Nokia and Maliibu Miitch as they crash an ironic beauty pageant. “My revolution is soulful/I’m healing kids with my hands/I’m talking loving my people/I got no hate in my heart,” Nokia raps as her steely eyes look at us through a mirror as she prepares for the pageant. The video ends with Nokia ultimately winning the pageant and passing her crown down to a young admiring Black girl. Through this video Princess Nokia speaks her truth, by condemning hate and violence in her community, while also poking fun at institutional traditions that espouse one mold of femininity, such as beauty pageants. Princess Nokia gracefully and humorously balances critiques of whiteness, heterosexuality, wealth disparities and more through her artistry and inspires her fans to do the same.

Various other Black female artists throughout the international diaspora have emerged with tender, fresh, and spectacular views of the world around them. Exploring the colorful, musical dynamics of Sho Madjozi to the reflective, warm imaginations of Hiba Elgizouli exemplifies the role of music as a mechanism for cultural change. I see myself in these women and I smile, I hear myself in their beats and I dance. With formidable Black female artists at the helm of influencing the next phase of our musical culture I find myself eagerly hopeful for the reverberating impact their art will have on young Black women tomorrow.