5 artists who are breaking genre barriers

These musicians from around the world are teaching us a new musical lexicon.

February 22, 2018

During the 1990’s, the term and catchall categorization of “world music” helped international talents—such as Cesaria Evora, Buena Vista Social Club and several others who fell outside of western mainstream genres like pop, hip hop and R&B—gain a foothold into the broader music market. But today, with critically acclaimed artists like A Tribe Called Red, that mix indigenous sounds with hip hop and EDM, and French/Cuban sisters, Ibeyi, marrying island beats with R&B, the term world music seems to be far less relevant.

Bridging the gap for artists who draw from indigenous or ethnic/culturally specific sources, and mainstream recognition, is the music festival Mundial Montréal. Now over 7-years old, artists such as Tanya Tagaq, Iskwé, as well as the artists mentioned above, have all showcased at the event, often before receiving wider international attention. The five artists featured in this piece are standouts of the latest edition of Mundial, each creating music that is both disarming and intimate.  


 “Most of my influences as a kid came from soul music and R&B,” explains Aveva calling from Israel and citing artists like Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, and Etta James. Building her initial sound on American genres, in the last few years the Israeli-Ethiopian singer-songwriter has expanded on those influences, digging deeper into her own heritage. “I started listening to Ethiopian music from the more traditional to the contemporary music—Aster Awake, Gigi, and Tilahun Gessesse.”


While she likes the title ”Afro-soul” to describe her music, her ability to draw from a myriad of sources proves that she’s not limited by it. “My music touches different genres.” Her upcoming album is currently in the works which will include pop mixed with Amharic-Ethiopian language—and, her first love, soul. She’s recently released an acoustic version of one the album’s first singles, “Black.“ [It’s] inspired by the great words of Martin Luther King.”

Kaia Kater

Kaia Kater’s blues-fuelled debut album, Sorrow Bound, delivered a banjo-folk epiphany to a genre that often obscures the ever-growing presence of young, women of colour. Her follow-up record, Nine Pin revealed Kater to be an artist uniquely linked to the history and evolving sound of folk. In so many ways, the rising singer-songwriter dabbles in much more than just folk. Her stunning cover of Frank Ocean’s Swim Good suggested that Kater is shapeshifting musically without completely deserting the sounds that put her on the map.

“I’m looking forward to expanding my horizons musically and globally,” she shares from her home in Toronto, which includes a trip to her father’s native country, Grenada, to write and record some of the new album. “Exciting times ahead!” she says. With her sophomore album, due this year, its end product is bound to surprise.

Leyla McCalla

Drawing musically from literature, folk stories and songs via New Orleans via New York via Haiti, McCalla’s sings in creole, French, Haitian and English, and plays the cello, guitar and banjo. Her powerful folk driven music is captivating live, at times conjuring the great Cesária Évora. And her ability to draw on the past though her sounds and stories to reflect today’s politics and struggles is making her a musical force to be reckoned with.

Major changes are afoot for Leyla McCalla: a new album due in fall, and first time motherhood.“I worked harder and traveled more for my music than I ever have in my life in 2017,” shared the New Orleans based artist on her Facebook page. “Somewhere in there, I managed to record my third album, Capitalist Blues, set for a Fall 2018 release. But the real big news is that we are pregnant with twins!”

Lacey Hill

Last year, Lacey Hill took a creative leap of faith by quitting her full-time job to devote herself to music. Her self-produced sophomore album “M” (528 Vol. II) was one of the most gut-wrenching, intimate and passionate albums of 2017. “It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of this new indigenous wave of artists,” explains singer-songwriter Lacey Hill of the Oneida Six Nations. “We have great sounds coming from all nations. It’s a very beautiful thing and I’m so proud to engage with non-native communities. We have a place. We are here!”

This year, a new album is in the works for the fiery singer whose soulful voice and evocative lyrics has brought audiences to tears (including this writer). Hill says that she is also ready to bring more artists into her work. “I’m always looking to do collabs,” she shares. “It’s a great way to bridge artists and communities.”

 Nive and the Deer Children

Described as “inuit indie,” the Greenland-based group, Nive and the Deer Children, play spellbinding folk-rock. And while lead vocalist, Nive Neilsen is pleased to be part of a growing number of artists from various nations that are receiving the recognition their music deserves, Nielsen makes it clear that it is the music that warrants the well-deserved attention, not just the makers. “It’s about the quality of the music and not necessarily about the ethnic background of the maker. Or so I hope,” she shares via email after returning to Northern Greenland from L.A. 

“There’s something super thrilling about hearing certain new indigenous music and feeling both a continuation of ancient, very rooted traditions–albeit they don’t have to be all that obvious nor audible as distinct elements–in fact I dislike that; I prefer them to be an undercurrent, almost undetectable but very essential. And perhaps because of that [it brings] a slightly different approach to today’s popular music. It’s beautiful. And it makes me proud.” For fans wondering, when new Nive and the Deer Children music is coming out, frontwoman Nive Nielsen assures them that the time has come. “[I’m] working on a new album which should be out fall 2018.”


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