Afropop Without Borders
In her catchy manifesto “The Girl Who Fell to Earth” Rwandan singer Iyadede (full name: Sabrina Iyadede) references the cult classic starring David Bowie and grabs a bit of his stardust. With her otherworldly beauty and mystic’s approach to electropop, it seems entirely justified — even if her story isn’t entirely a moonage daydream.
Born and raised in Rwanda, she fled the genocide with her family and settled in Belgium. (She calls her place of birth “a beautiful country I had to leave.”) Making her way to France, Iyadede began her music career, touring with Zap Mama and performing across Europe, singing in French. She alighted again in Brooklyn, and in 2010 released her English language LP Talking to God. New York has been a welcoming port for her, as evidenced by recent high-profile dates with artists like Blitz the Ambassador and Spoek Mathambo.
Perhaps her peregrinations have given her the right perspective for creating the harmonious blends that make her music something to blog about. Drawing on vintage sounds from Rwanda, and the unfettered creativity of post-punk, she refreshes the smooth Afropean tradition of Sade and spikes it with the Day-Glo groove of Deee-Lite and Neh Neh Cherry. She sometimes touches on the gravity of Lauryn Hill or Nneka too — and, like them, she can drop a rap verse like it was a handkerchief.
She might push the envelope for pop, but she’s no quirky novelty. Her voice is too good: warm, human, and distinct — but also strong and unusually versatile, allowing her to step lightly among many styles. Her track “Hello Mista” is ready for a subterranean dance floor, but “Tell Them,” is sophisticated soul, silvery and sublime. Often the chanteuse draws the two poles together, lacing even her most space-age tracks with a jazzy trill and a puckish smile in her voice.
Able to pick up the thread quickly and add her own embellishments, as she did with her riff on Theosophilus London’s “Flying Overseas,” Iyadede is at home with a lot of media. She designs drool-worthy jewelry and raises maintaining a Tumblr to the level of art. As a fashion plate, she puts Spoek Mathambo to shame.
A deft collage aesthetic links all her creative outlets. First, you may be dazzled by the colors and patterns, but then you’ll see the story they’re telling. Iyadede has a lot to say. Right now, she chooses to say it through beautiful sounds and colors. “Brimstone and Fire,” is a heavy track.
In essence, Iyadede has an awful lot of “it.” Enough of it to be a one-name rising star. Lucky for us she decided to fall to Earth.