Voices of the future: Focalistic to Polo G – GQ South Africa

Posted: August 28, 2021 at 12:02 pm

In search of musics next megastars, each of GQs 21 global editions nominated a local artist across a world of genres from J-pop to flamenco, rap to reggaeton to show us whos shaping the zeitgeist and defining the sounds of tomorrow.

The Pied Piper of Pretorias Amapiano movement

Age 25

Hometown Ga-Rankuwa

Key track Ke Star (Remix)

In 2016, before my career took off, I wrote on Twitter that I would have a No1 hit in 2020, says Lethabo Sebetso, AKA Pitori Maradona, AKA Focalistic. That happened. Post-manifesting, Focalistic broke out on the South African Amapiano scene with a string of tracks that blend deep house, rap and jazz. But he struck a nerve on the continent by holding up a mirror to the youth. My music is about whats happening in South Africa and Africa right now, he says. It showcases the growth in our culture and how dope African music continues to be. Thats why the people who listen to my music and love it can relate to it it represents them.

Right now, Focalistic has hit a stride thats quickly becoming a victory lap. In February, he linked up with Nigerian-American Afrobeat overlord Davido to drop a remix of Ke Star, which clocked millions of streams and got co-signs from Diddy and Alicia Keys. Amid all this, hes doubling down on manifesting his future: I am definitely on my way to being one of the greatest African artists in the world. GQ South Africa

Photographed by Obakeng Molepe in Ga-Rankuwa, Pretoria. Styled by Mira Leibowitz. Grooming by Baby Choma

The fearless reboot of bedroom pop

Age 20

Hometown Kings Langley

Key track Black Hole

When GQ meets Griff, whos clad in a pearly Richard Quinn dress worthy of a Tudor queen, shes overjoyed: its the drizzly June morning her debut mixtape, One Foot In Front Of The Other, drops and Taylor Swift, no less, has just recommended the project to her 166 million Instagram followers.

Its really, really surreal, admits Griff, born Sarah Griffiths in Hertfordshire, just north of London, and of Chinese-Jamaican heritage. Yet its easy to see why Swift would be impressed. Totally authentic on social media and fearless when layering vocals to produce her unique, confessional synth pop, Griff is the consummate modern bedroom pop star gone boom.

Growing up, she felt that pop was always associated with a lot of fake, music-industry, churned-out stuff. Griff, on the other hand, taught herself to use Apples Logic Pro software on her brothers laptop via YouTube tutorials.

That DIY ethic even extended to the dress she wore to perform at the Brit Awards in May: she stayed up the night before to hand-stitch the fabric into an asymmetric gown. Theres a lot of kids now taking things into their own hands, she explains. Theres a credibility attached to pop again. Thomas Barrie

Photographed by Nick Thompson in Shoreditch, London. Styled by Luke Day. Hair by Tomi Roppongi. Make-up by Michelle Dacillo

The man sparking flamencos new energy

Age 29

Hometown Toledo

Key track La Inocencia

You notice that Israel Fernndez is pure flamenco from the moment he walks through the door. He embodies the art, twisting the rich lyrics in his throat and unleashing them as a wholly fresh sound. Its a gift God gave me, he says, and it also comes from my family. I have Roma origins. We grew up singing and dancing from a very young age. This is my way of life.

Fernndezs talent has already caught the attention of the new wave of Spanish artists, like Rosala, C Tangana and El Guincho, who produced Fernndezs recent single La Inocencia.

For this song I didnt want percussion, clapping or an acoustic finish, he says. I was looking for something more electronic and he was the one to do it.

Thanks to his authentic approach to traditional flamenco and his ability to link up with collaborators Fernndez is already considered the most important cantaor of his era. And hes regularly likened to the master, Camarn de la Isla.

Im not going to say that I dont like that comparison, but Camarn is unrepeatable, he says. My only goal in life is to bring flamenco to the younger generations without the need to deceive them with something else. F Javier Girela

Photographed by Jor Martnez on Gran Va, Madrid. Styled by Juan Luis Ascanio. Grooming by Sandra Garcia Heras for The Artist Management. Produced by Natalia Torres.

The melodic prince of American hip-hop

Age 22

Hometown Chicago

Key track Rapstar

This summer, as heavyweight rappers like J Cole and Migos returned from hiatus, they found a new face dominating the charts. A shy 22-year-old named Taurus Tremani Bartlett, he calls himself Polo G, after his favourite fashion label and a friend named Gucci, who died at 16. Ive had a passion for rapping since I was 19, he says, but I only recently found a deeper passion for it. Hes reflecting on his new project, Hall Of Fame, which topped the Billboard 200 and feels like one of those pivotal third albums that announce a generational talent (think Kanyes Graduation or J Coles 2014 Forest Hills Drive). On Fame, Polo has transformed from melodic street rapper to megastar, proving he can hang with his idols (Lil Wayne), make big pop songs (For The Love Of New York) and notch a chart-topping hit while retaining his core sound (Rapstar). The title, he says, is a road map. Its about knowing the legacy I want to leave, he explains. But first, hes taking a rest at least for a minute. Im treating it as an off-season, just trying to get better. Championships await. Frazier Tharpe

Photographed by Aaron Sinclair in Granada Hills, Los Angeles. Styled by Jake Sammis. Tailoring by Yelena Travkina. Grooming by Hee Soo Kwon using Dior Beauty. Produced by Danielle Gruberger

A genre-melding force in J-pop

Age 24

Hometown Okayama

Key track Nan-Nan

The music comes first, says Fujii Kaze, one of Japans new breed of YouTube-native pop stars. Let me share my favourite Michelangelo quote: I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. This is the way I like to follow. In the noisy J-pop space, Kaze has distinguished himself by his ability to find marble worth carving. Early on, he won fans and subscribers through a smorgasbord of uploaded covers everything from The Carpenters to Ariana Grande to, yes, the 19th-century romanticist Frdric Chopin.

That borderless curiosity paid dividends on Kazes 2020 debut, Help Ever Hurt Never, a kind of stylised disarray of genres that felt thrilling and fresh. The album changes seasons from verse to chorus and track to track, whirring from jazz to classical to R&B in a way thats neither jarring nor forced. Reflecting on his brand of chaotic harmony, Kaze is serene. I dont want to lie to myself or others, he says. I just want to be myself but a better version, always. GQ Japan

Photographed by Takay in Tokyo Bay. Styled by Shohei Kashima for W. Hair by Asashi for Ota Office

The islands heir to the reggaeton throne

Age 29

Hometown San Juan, Puerto Rico

Key track No Se Da Cuenta

What place will Puerto Rico occupy in music history 20 years from now? Reggaeton singer Juan Carlos Ozuna Rosado, winner of two Latin Grammys, listens to the question and smiles, Boricua pride between his teeth. This is an island that sets the pace for many feet in the world, he says, but I think several years from now we will see the legacy more clearly.

Its a legacy Ozuna wants to be a part of. Last year, he released his fourth album, ENOC, which saw him return to the roots of old-school reggaeton. It also continued the Ozuna tradition of high-wattage collabs, with Sia and Doja Cat dropping in for features.

Ive had the opportunity to collaborate with many talents from the island and abroad, he says, and the truth is there is an artist that I have pending who would love to do something new: Rihanna.

If hes setting a high bar, its only because he wants the island to have its chapter in music history. Decades ago, a seed was sown with [reggaeton pioneers] Daddy Yankee and Wisin & Yandel, from which many of us are reaping the fruits, he says. And many of us want to sow other seeds. GQ Latin America

Photographed by Manuel Velez in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Styled by Omar Rivera. Grooming by Omar Rivera. Produced by Brandon Vega. Special thanks to Edgar Andino

R&Bs link from East to West

Age 24

Hometown Antalya

Key track Kendine Gel

One of the best nights Emir Taha had during the turbulent past year was spent cooped up in an Airbnb, putting the finishing touches on a track hed titled Kendine Gel. The song an R&B number layered with synths and Eastern melismas reckoned with a universal challenge: getting ahold of yourself in difficult times. It dropped last year as one of the standouts of Tahas EP Hoppa Pt1. Just like everyone else, he says, Ive accumulated a lot in my head, which shows through the way I think, live and create music.

Tahas Hoppa project continued this year with a second instalment, this one an even moodier take on R&B. The pair of EPs epitomise the borderless nature of Tahas sound: you can hear shades of Kid Cudi, Noah 40 Shebibs collaborations with Drake and Majid Jordan, and Turkish pop crooners from decades past. Born in Antalya, on Turkeys Mediterranean coast, and now based in London, Taha has spent his career accumulating disparate influences that he stitches together in the studio. The productions dont show any seams, just a deft combination of tradition and modernity that brings to mind the work of an artist like Rosala. From Ahmet Kaya to Kid Cudi, Duman to Slowthai, everything I listen to is a collection, says Taha. You never know where inspiration will come from. Alara Kap

Photographed by Burin Ergnt in Shoreditch, London. Styled by Lewis Munro

An urgent voice for indigenous Australia

Age 26

Hometown Sydney

Key track Black Thoughts

My dad talks about the feather and the sledgehammer, says Ziggy Ramo. You need to know when to hit someone over the head, but also when to be as gentle as possible. And for me, my art is my sledgehammer.

Born in Bellingen to a Wik and Solomon Islander father and a mother of Scottish descent, Ramo began making music in his teens. But when his first album, Black Thoughts, arrived last year at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, it hit the Australian music scene not just like a sledgehammer, but like a meteor. Black Lives Matter, thats the subject matter, he raps on the albums title track. Tell you to climb, then they burn down your ladder.

The album is both a passionate attack on the systemic racism faced by generations of indigenous Australians and a celebration of the oldest civilisation on earth. It won an International Indigenous Hip Hop award and found fresh acclaim when he performed it at the Sydney Opera House. But Ramo knows this is just the start. One single performance is not going to change the world, says the artist, whose next album will drop this year. But it can be a catalyst for something bigger. Jake Millar

Photographed by James J Robinson in Little Bay, Sydney. Styled by Harriet Crawford. Grooming by Gillian Campbell

Mexicos link from past to future

Age 37

Hometown Coatepec

Key track Mi Tierra Veracruzana

In addition to her career as a singer, Natalia Lafourcade also takes another job very seriously: that of recovering Mexican folks bygone traditions. The winner of two Grammys, Lafourcade has worked to revive elements of historical genres such as nueva cancin and ranchera, prying their old codes out of oblivion and then running them through her signature hazy folk soundscapes.

The path I have walked led me to get closer to the past and reinterpret it with the help of many musicians who walk the same path, she says. It has been a passionate journey to discover so many types of Mexicans that exist their different ways of loving and suffering throughout our musical history.

Though Lafourcade has orbited the Mexican pop scene for more than two decades, this phase of her career has been a pivot. Now shes a bridge between past and present for a country that seems to have left many of its roots and its songs behind. In May, she dropped the second volume of her album Un Canto Por Mxico, recorded to support the Son Jarocho Documentation Center, destroyed in the 2017 Puebla earthquake.

Im on a journey to understand where I come from, she says, and how we sing here. GQ Mexico

Photographed by Karla Lisker in Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico City. Styled by Fernando Carrillo. Hair by Gerardo Maldonado. Make-up by Gustavo Bortolotti

The rapper who bridged Mumbai and Crown Heights

Age 29

Hometown Mumbai

Key track Mere Gully Mein

Just behind Mumbais glittering international terminal stretches a teeming borough called Andheri East. A patchwork of tin, tarpaulin and glass, its a blend of shantytowns and working-class neighbourhoods and home to millions who have arrived, over decades, in Indias city of dreams. Its also where a young boy named Vivian Fernandes discovered hip-hop.

He first encountered the culture on a friends T-shirt emblazoned with 50 Cents face and on a borrowed CD stuffed with dozens of songs by Tupac, Biggie and Wu-Tang Clan. In 2015, Mere Gully Mein a track he built online with Naezy, another young rapper on the rise went viral on YouTube, spawning the gully rap subgenre. Divines seminal verse, delivered in his local Bambaiya Hindi dialect, was brash and rebellious yet honest and clean.

In 2019, Nas signed him to the label he co-owns, Mass Appeal, giving Divine international distribution. In December, his face flickered on a mammoth Spotify billboard in Times Square. And earlier this year, he scored features from Pusha T and Vince Staples. When sounds merge, he says, magic is created.

But Divine remains tied to the streets, launching a venture called Gully Gang Entertainment that helps elevate talent from underrepresented groups. The people made me. I can never forget that, he says from his home studio in 59, still his postal code. Im just a guy with a mic. To stay grounded, be rooted in your culture. Thats the only way to go. Nidhi Gupta

Photograph by Mohit Mukhi/Gltch at Ballard Estate, Mumbai. Styled by Neha Bajaj

The chameleonic queen of So Paulo

Age 26

Hometown So Paulo

Key track Bonekinha

In Brazil, a new generation of pop stars is on the rise: artists like drag singer Pabllo Vittar, trans rapper Urias and Gloria Groove, a drag performer whose music blurs the lines between funk, rap and soul. We are leading a major revolution in Brazilian pop music, Groove says emphatically.

Born in So Paulo as Daniel Garcia, the 26-year-old singer undergoes a Superman-like transformation inside the glam wardrobe of Gloria Groove. As a drag queen, her choreography brash and powerful is in total opposition to Garcias shy demeanour. And really, these are more than dance steps. For Gloria Groove, theyre a call to war.

The dolly doesnt fool around, goes the refrain in Bonekinha, a thumping track from Grooves recent project Lady Leste. She plans to continue teasing songs through the year, all through a kaleidoscopic set of sounds that swerve from rap to pop to funk carioca. I am the descendant of an era in pop music where the artist is in a constant process of reinvention, she says. And no kryptonites stopping that. GQ Brazil

Photographed by Hick Duarte in Jardins, So Paulo. Styled by Bianca Jahara Hair by Perukelly. Make-up by Gloria Groove. Special thanks to Renaissance So Paulo Hotel and Teatro Unimed

Frances flyest chanteur is a weirdo for all

Age 27

Hometown Crteil

Key Track Kid

Three years ago, Eddy de Pretto became a national pop idol within a few weeks. With a sound somewhere between chanson, rap and spoken word, he grew up in a project a few miles outside Paris, listening to a steady diet of hip-hop and Jacques Brel. I was considered a weirdo at school and now I put this weirdo and his feelings at the centre of my songs, of my interviews, says de Pretto. I turned him into a sun.

Coming up, he caught eyes in industry circles with his striking stage presence and when he released his debut album, Cure, in 2018, the people concurred: a week after it dropped, Cure hit the top of the French charts.

Openly gay, de Pretto ruminates on toxic masculinity (he cites Frank Ocean as a role model) but has no desire to be a poster boy for the French LGBTQ+ movement. Instead, hes singing for every freak, every weirdo and every bastard. And thats the very title of his sophomore album, released last spring: Tous Les Btards. Its cool to be in love with ones own imperfections, with ones differences, he says. Thats the only way to find strength in them. GQ France

Photographed by Romain Laprade in Saint-Germain-des-Prs, Paris. Styled by Vanessa Pinto. Grooming by Cidji Humbert

A cyborg making pop human again

Age 33

Excerpt from:

Voices of the future: Focalistic to Polo G - GQ South Africa

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