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10 International Artists to Watch at SXSW 2012

From Kenya to the Arctic Circle, New Music Invades Austin

Yes, it’s that time of year again: SXSW is upon us. Even though there will be a zillion bands in attendance (that’s the official count), you are guaranteed to hear about the same ten acts from _____ (select one: Brooklyn, Portland, Austin) over and over again.

We all know there are good bands in Brooklyn, but a lot of the most exciting music happening at the festival is coming in from overseas.  In fact, according to this neat infographic, more than half of the official showcasing artists are from other countries. So wash off the Grimes, take off your Purity Ring, and check out the best of the rest. If you haven’t heard about these ten explosive international artists yet, you will soon.

1. Lady Leshurr (United Kingdom)

Hailing from Birmingham, England, Lady Leshurr is living proof that Britain is seriously stepping up its rap game. Over grimy UK-style beats, she spits rapid-fire verses with tight flows and catchy hooks, drawing comparisons to Missy Elliot and, inevitably, Nicky Minaj. We shouted her out as one of the “best new female emcees dominating mics everywhere.” Take a listen to her single “Lego” (below) and you’ll see what we mean. It’s pure fire, in a British accent.

At SXSW, Lady Leshurr will drum up some buzz for her upcoming debut album performing at the Bass Culture showcase, playing alongside fellow up-and-comers from the UK dancehall and hip-hop scenes. Plus, she’s speaking on a panel about the role of Caribbean culture in Britain and the evolution of grime. After watching this video, we’re hoping that she plans to freestyle the discussion.

2. Apparat (Germany)

Berlin has a reputation as a techno music paradise, but a new generation of producers is proving that there’s more to the German capital than just four-on-the-floor. Sascha Ring, alias Apparat, was a dedicated rave kid for many years (and, as he told once MTV Iggy, he loved his “toxins”). But one day, he decided that enough was enough, and began crafting handsome ambient soundscapes full of layered synthesizers and cooing vocals. So far it’s working out for him. His recent album The Devil’s Walk, released late last year, was roundly praised by critics.

At SXSW, Apparat appears on a trendy bill presented by LA indie radio giant KCRW alongside New Zealand’s Kimbra and Brooklyn’s Oberhofer. For a taste, check out the tasteful video for Black Water, below. Enjoy the interplanetary space winds.

3. Astro (Chile)

South America is exploding with innovative rock bands right now. In cities like São Paulo, Bogota, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo, shaggy haired and mustachioed young people are electrifying the scene with new sounds. In Chile, Astro is one of the names to watch. The band has often been compared to MGMT, and with good reason: there’s a similar breed of catchy synth hook on the tracks and a similar lost boys-aesthetic in the videos. Astro’s Spanish-language take on psychedelic pop has earned them a serious following back home in Chile, and they are poised to do nicely for themselves as the Latin American rock scene continues to expand. With song titles like “Atomic Mushroom” (“Hongo Atomico”) and “Tropical Monkey” (“Mono Tropical”), what can go wrong? Check out the lead single of the new self-titled album, “Cierval.” It means “Deer.”

4. Sonido San Francisco (Mexico)

By now you’ve probably heard of nu-cumbia. From the bottom tip of Argentina up to the chilly discotecas of New York and Montreal, bands have been updating the shuffling Colombian dance genre with club beats, digital textures, and hipster aesthetics. With cumbia hugely popular throughout the country, it’s no surprise that Mexico has a thriving nu-cumbia scene of its own.

Presented at the festival by Mexican indie label Intolerancia, cumbia newcomers Sonido San Francisco promise to get Austin to shake its collective hips this SXSW. With the ever-popular instrumentation of accordion, flute, drums, and MicroKorg, the band combines hot beats and a fun, kitschy sensibility to ignite dancefloors just about anywhere.

5. 2Face (Nigeria)

All of a sudden, everybody seems to be talking about African pop music. A flurry of high-profile record deals for African artists – Nigeria’s D’banj signed to Kanye’s G.O.O.D label, Ghana’s Sarkodie and on Akon’s Konvict label – has finally shone a spotlight on the region’s music, not to mention its growing, untapped entertainment markets.

Nigerian R&B singer 2Face is huge in Britain and West Africa, so it’s no surprised he got snatched up by Akon as well. With songs like “If Love is a Crime” and “African Queen” and a silky-smooth baritone, 2Face definitely skews towards the baby-making R&B jam. Check him out in Austin alongside fellow Naija youngbloods like Bez and Naeto C.

6. Just A Band (Kenya)

On the other end of the African music spectrum (and the other side of the continent), longtime MTV Iggy favorites Just A Band will play SXSW this year as well. Founded by a group of hipster art-school nerds in Nairobi, Kenya (yes, such people exist), the group’s brand of high-brow Afro-disco was deemed too “out there” for mainstream African audiences. Then, the music video for “Ha-He” unexpectedly went viral in Kenya when the video’s goofy blaxplotation superhero Makmende took off. Now, the members of Just a Band are unexpected pop stars.

This year, Just A Band make their first appearance at SXSW. They’re appearing on a killer line-up that includes Seun Kuti (Fela’s son), Congolese roots rapper Baloji, and Sierra Leone-via-New York beatsmith Chief Boima. Check out Just A Band’s latest video below, for the song “Huff + Puff.”

7. Yael Kraus (Israel)

Bringing some Middle Eastern flavor to Austin, Yael Kraus is an Israeli singer-songwriter who is hard to pin down. Her music has elements from jazz and soul, as well as traditional Middle Eastern sounds and classic girl-pop. Aside from her solo project, she participates in the experimental group Panic Ensemble, records Bossa Nova versions of Israeli songs, and studied avant-garde music in New York.

Her solo album was produced by Tamir Muskat of Balkan Beat Box, and spans a wide range of material. This song, “Floor,” sounds like a Middle Eastern version of a song Amy Winehouse might have written, in which the horn section is replaced by a whirring Arabic string orchestra and the funky drums are replaced by fluttering traditional doumbek.

8. Carsick Cars (China)

Representing the Beijing underground in Austin, the Carsick Cars don’t just have a legitimately hilarious band name, they also rock out. Really hard. The band came together in college in China out of mutual love for the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, and started making their own lo-fi post-punk. Their music isn’t always pretty, or in tune, and there are frequent interludes of experimental noise. But it’s also catchy as hell, and has a certain rawness that you don’t get on this side of Pacific these days.

Since starting in 2005, Carsick Cars rose to become one of the top underground rock bands in China and have toured all over the world. In 2007, they were invited to tour with their idols Sonic Youth. For a crash course, take a look at the gorgeous video for their song “Mogu Mogu” below. If you like what you hear, watch our video interview with the band!

9. Kimbra (New Zealand)

Ladies and gentlemen, note my prediction: the Australian/New Zealander invasion is coming. Kimbra (who is Kiwi, not Aussie) has officially blown up thanks to the explosive popularity of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” (100,000,000 YouTube views and counting), feat. Kimbra in a duet. Her participation on the neo-disco club-banger “I Look To You” from Miami Horror can’t have hurt either.

All on her own, Kimbra’s doing just fine too – she recently swept the ARIAs, the Australian equivalent to the Grammies, and inked a record deal with Warner Brothers. Her album Vows hits U.S. stores on May 22. It Austin, Kimbra plays the KCRW showcase with Apparat, Oberhofer, and others.

10. Nive Nielsen & The Deer Children (Greenland)

Last but not least, holding it down at SXSW for the Arctic Circle is Nive Nielsen &The Deer Children, direct from the barren tundra of Greenland. On a little red ukulele, Nive sings slow, lovely and lonely songs that could only have been written in a place shrouded in darkness and snow for half the year. Nive is truly a native Greenlander – of the Inuuk people – and she grew up in Greenland’s capital (and largest) city, Nuuk, home to a whopping 15,000 people.

She’s already performed for the Queen of Denmark, won a couple of nice awards and had songs featured in major films. At SXSW, she performs Tuesday , March 13 at the Austin Convention Center.

- Marlon Bishop

(All Photos Courtesy of the Artists)


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